Liqueurs (also known as cordials) contain a wide variety of flavors and is primarily a sweet concoction, but there are exceptions!

LIQUEUR History / Production

Liqueurs and cordials by definition are a spirit that has been flavored and sweetened.  They are obtained by treating the spirits with fruits, aromatic herbs, flowers, plants or with pure juices.  The spirit base can be derived from many sources: brandy, rum, malt whisky and plain / neutral spirits from grain, cane, potatoes and other vegetables.  The sweetening is primarily done with sugar.  The sugar can be refined or unrefined and in some cases the sugar is honey.  The finished product must contain at least 2-½ % sugar or dextrose or a combination by weight.

History shows that Hippocrates recorded that the distillation of aromatic plants for medicinal purposes was practiced in the fifth century BC.  Research also shows that Francois Vincent Raspail invented a liqueur to destroy parasites in the human body in 1847.  The “Church” played a key role in creating and expanding the use of liqueurs.

Liqueur is derived from the Latin word liquefacera, which means to dissolve. The words liqueurs and cordials have the same meaning and are used interchangeably.

They are grouped into five broad categories according to types of flavor.

          1.Fruits          2.Seeds          3.Herbs          4.Peels          5.Crèmes 

There are three basic methods of production and they can be singly or in combination.

          1.Percolation          2.Maceratiion          3.Distillation

Percolation is a method that is easily described since it compares exactly with percolating of coffee. With cordials the percolator is a large tank.  Spirits are put into the bottom of the tank and fruit is placed in a basket-like container at the top of the tank, or in some cases suspended from the top of the tank in cloth bags.  The spirits are pumped over the basket / bags repeatedly until the entire flavor has been extracted.  This process is also termed “hot infusion” and the flavoring agent must be stable to heat.

The maceration method used in making cordials is not unlike the brewing of tea.  The fruits or other flavorings are allowed to steep in the spirits until the entire flavor has been extracted.  It is a very slow process in which the flavoring agent is soaked from twenty-four hours up to one year.

For most liqueurs and cordials, percolation or maceration is only the beginning.  After the flavors have been extracted by these methods, the heavily flavored spirits are redistilled, resulting in the delicacy of flavor desired by the maker.

The distillation method in some areas of production of cordials / liqueurs is the only process utilized.  The leaves, peels, seeds, etc. are placed in a still, covered with an alcoholic spirit and distilled.  The distillate carries the flavor of the various ingredients and when finished is a high proof product.  This high proof product is reduced in proof by the addition of syrup (sugar and demineralized water) and adjusted at bottling.  One of the adjustments if necessary is the addition of coloring materials.

The major flavoring agents of liqueurs/cordials fall into five categories.

1.      Fruit liqueurs: example; Peach, Apricot, Cherry & Blackberry Brandy

2.      Citrus liqueurs:  example; Orange Curacao / Grand Marnier, Southern Comfort

3.      Herb liqueurs:  (Herb-Seed-Flower-Roots) example; Benedictine, Chartreuse

4.      Bean and kernel liqueurs:  example; Kahlua, Crème de Cacao or Menthe

5.      Advocaat:  * example; Baileys Irish Cream

* The weakest of all liqueurs (17% alcohol by volume, 34 proof) and one of two that does not fall into any preconceived category.  First looks like custard, and is made from egg yolks and grape brandy.  The other is Baileys Irish Cream, whiskey blended with cream. 

Cordials are commonly identified as either being proprietary or generic.  A proprietary cordial is produced exclusively by the firm, which markets the brand name (i.e., Benedictine, Drambuie, Grand Marnier and Cointreau).  Whereas a generic cordial is one that identifies a commonly produced type such as apricot flavored brandy, crème de menthe, triple sec, etc.