By Matthew Latkiewicz

As seen on DrinkTV’s original series, Drinktionary. Watch all the A to Z’s of alcohol here.

L is Liqueur. I don’t how to say it… and I don’t how to spell it. And for the longest time, I didn’t really know what made it different than liquor. Like was it just a French spelling for a word that already seems kinda French?

In a French accent: “Yes, monsieur, I’ll have a glass of that liquor” 

Liqueur is the great miscellaneous of the booze world. “Is it beer?” No. “Wine?” No? “Uh, a spirit?” Well, it was a grain alcohol that I infused with bark… and then some other bark. “Ummm, put in the liqueur pile. What about yours?” Rum that I added coffee syrup to. “Got it. Uh. Liqueur.”

So liqueur is a liquor that has been modified using anything from botanicals to chemicals, which means there is not only a wide array of flavors out there, but also a wide array of quality.

The original liqueurs were medicinal in purpose. Not long after distillation was invented, Medieval Monks noticed that alcohol worked as a solvent, extracting the medicinal and flavor compounds of whatever herbs and traditional medicines they let sit in the high proof liquor.

It didn’t take long, of course, for people to start making recreational versions of these monastic potions. European ships were coming back from their imperialist missions abroad with heaps of exotic spices, herbs, and fruits, all of which distillers were eager to use in the creation of some hot new liqueur brand of the time. Curacao, Campari, Fernet Branca, Maraschino, are all liqueurs that were created during this time. 

Even the monks got in on the action. Both the Chartreusian and Benedictine orders modified their original medicinal liqueur recipes to create smoother drinking versions for export and sale. And by smoother drinking, I mean, they are still super weird. The recipe for Chartreuse, for instance originally called “Elixir of Long Life,” calls for 130 different herbs and plants. If you haven’t tried it, absolutely splurge and get a bottle. It is one of the more odd and interesting flavors in the booze world. And while you can take it like a monk and sip it straight, Chartreuse can be used to great effect in cocktails, most notably “The Last Word”.

Of course, a lot of liqueurs on the market today are not the product of men in robes with an incredible knowledge of herbs; they are syrupy concoctions dreamt up by marketing execs and flavor scientists. For every craft distillery trying their hand at Absinthe or Coffee Liqueur, there are 10 bottles of this shit (De Kuyper), or this shit (After Shock), or this garbage (shitty candy schnapps). You know, all that super cheap random shit at the liquor store with weird names, labels, and colors, all trying too hard to get your attention.

As serious drinkers, we avoid these and instead head for the bottles that look like they were made by either monks or Italians. These strange potions are a world of drinking unto themselves, and worth exploring… you know, for their medicinal properties.

L is for Liqueur. 


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