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Liqueurs, Bitters, and Vermouth

Liqueurs, Bitters, and Vermouth


  • Some liqueurs are among the oldest known spirits. Although it is hard to pinpoint the first production of liqueurs, the Dutch were certainly early practitioners; particularly Lucas Bols and the de Kuyper family in the 16th century. By the 19th century, taking an herbal liqueur was a common way to end a meal. Today liqueur remains popular, although their primary use is as an ingredient in cocktails.

    The definition of a liqueur is fairly loose. In the EU, the only requirement is that it is "…a spirit drink having a minimum sugar content of 100 g/l produced by flavoring ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin or a distillate of agricultural origin or one or more spirit drinks, sweetened, and possibly with the addition of products of agricultural origin such as cream, milk, or other milk products, fruit, wine, or flavored wine".

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  • There are four methods for flavoring a spirit:
    Compounding flavors by adding a sugar solution along with concentrated flavoring,
    Infusion/Maceration/percolation flavors by incorporating aromatics in the form of fruit or herbs prior to distillation,
    Distillation is normally used for elements that do not release aromas easily, and
    Finishing flavors by aging in oak.

    It is normally after the flavoring that the liqueur is sweetened, either with sucrose, corn syrup, RCGM, or honey. At this point, the liqueur is also often colored.

    Cream liqueurs also incorporate solids (up to nearly half of the volume of the finished product) in the form of butterfat, sugar, caseinate, and non-fat milk solids.

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  • Herbal liqueurs
    One very old types of liqueur is Chartreuse, created by monks in the French Alps. Today they still produce the Elixir de Chartreuse (71% ABV), as well as a number of other products (green Chartreuse, yellow Chartreuse, Chartreuse VDP [long aged], etc). Other examples include Jagermeister, Benedictine, Galliano and others.


    Fruit liqueurs
    The original fruit liqueur was Curaçao, which used oranges from the same island mixed with orange blossom and other flavorings. Orange Curaçao is perhaps the most well-known of the modern-day fruit liqueurs. More examples of fruit liqueurs include Italian limoncello and Maraschino. Crème de cassis is flavored with black currents, and sloe gin is flavored with sloe berries from the blackthorn bush (sloe plums). Southern Comfort is blended with peach liqueur.


    Whisky liqueurs
    Another traditional style, this includes Drambuie and Southern Comfort, and Rock ‘n Rye among other liqueurs.


    Seeds, nuts, and kernels
    Many different seeds and nuts are used to flavor liqueurs. The first was Kümmel, dating back to 1575. Anisette also belongs to this category, as does Amaretto (using bitter almond oil and apricot pits), Kahlua and Tia Maria (coffee flavored) and others.


    Cream liqueurs
    Bailey's Irish Cream was the first and is still very popular. Although this category is growing slowly at best, it still retains a large share of this market.

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  • The use of bitter herbs in alcohol harks back to the original medicinal uses of liqueurs. There are essentially three categories of bitters. Aperitif bitters are normally consumed either alone or in cocktails prior to dinner in order to whet the appetite. This includes Campari as well as Cynar, Aperol and others. The main ingredients in Campari include bitter orange, rhubarb, and cinchon.

    Another use of bitters is to digest a meal. Some of these, such as Averna and Unicum are sweet, while others, such as Fernet Branca and Jagermeister are bitterer. This type of amaro usually involves bitter orange, gentian, cassia bark and are quite sweet with a neutral spirit base.

    The final use of bitters resemble a very high-strength elixir. Angostora is one of the original cocktail bitters, created in 1824. Fees aromatic bitters are very cinnamon, while mixologist Gary Regan's are light and elegant and those from Hermes are very bitter.

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  • Vermouth is a wine, not properly a spirit, but are most often associated with spirits. The name vermouth comes from the German wermut or wormwood. These wines are most commonly flavored and fortified with grape or grain spirit. Carpano is thought of as the first commercial vermouth (produced in 1786), followed by Cinzano.

    The Italian style is sweet and red, and the French style is white and dry. Generally, vermouths are produced by blending together wine and brandy (both flavored with herbs, roots, bark, and flowers) along with mistelle or unfermented grape juice stabilized with brandy. There is an AOC in France for the vermouth produced at Chambery in the Alps.

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