The cocktail world has never been in such rude health. After a rocky period in the 70s and 80s, cocktails are cool again – and key to their success has been the overwhelming choice of liqueurs available to bartenders and mixologists.
All liqueurs must, by definition, be spirit-based, whether that’s gin, vodka, whisky or something else. They must also contain additional flavourings, be at least 15% alcohol and contain a generous amount of sugar (100g per litre, to be precise). And given the diversity of liqueurs available, it’s easy to see why they’ve helped to make cocktails interesting again.
Wine and Champagne drinkers have been quick to embrace liqueurs’ charms, too. Prosecco is the sparkling wine of choice for many these days, and plenty have discovered how an ordinary bottle of fizz can be transformed into a more enticing Kir Royale with a dash of Crème de Cassis – Gabriel Boudier's Gold medal-winner is a fine example. The Aperol Spritz is another bar mainstay, transformed in the last decade from being one of Italy’s best-kept secrets.
The recent trend for all things elderflower has boosted the liqueur category, too. It’s one of the flavours of the moment – so much so that elderflower liqueur has even been dubbed ‘bartenders’ ketchup’ given its prolific use in adding a refreshing, zingy note to mixed drinks.
But it’s not all about the new – no cocktail list would be complete without a Cosmopolitan, Margarita or Sidecar. What do they all have in common? Orange liqueur. And many amateur mixologists have been adding Mozart Distillerie's Dark Chocolate Liqueur to their home-made espresso martinis to give it an extra layer of dark chocolate and freshly roasted coffee.
Liqueurs turn ordinary cocktails into something special – here are six of the best from the 2020 IWSC judging.
Plump raspberries with a little green leafiness on the nose and a wonderfully intense plump raspberry coulis mouthfeel. Beautifully expressive showing natural berries at their best, giving a touch of raspberry preserve on the finish. 20%
Crème de Cassis de Dijon
A very fine Cassis packed full of wonderful black fruits and even some raspberry sweetness. There is a deep, rich nose with fantastic complexity, an unctuous and intense palate of blackcurrant tart coated with flaked almonds, surrounded in well-balanced acidity. Glorious. 20% RRP £14 from Master of Malt
Marie Brizard Wine & Spirits
Rich and bold with an inviting floral aroma and lifted elderflower carrying the liqueur into the mouthwatering finish. Overall, aromatic and bright with a sweetness making it nicely balanced. A very well executed liqueur. 20% RRP £17.45 from thedrinkshop.com
Dark Chocolate Liqueur
Bitter, dark chocolate, freshly roasted coffee, cocoa beans, and bitter orange aromas on the nose. Rich and decadent palate with a nicely balanced sweetness and supporting long lingering finish. Rich and flavoursome liqueur. 17% RRP £12.75 from The Whisky Exchange
Baie Bleue Liqueur
Rich and decadent, packed full of creamy and sweet summer blueberries that burst on the palate in a very refreshing style. Clean and well-balanced, this is a hard fruit to work with but this example is very nicely made. Delicious. 16% RRP £24 from kosherwine.co.uk
Curaçao Orange Liqueur
Marie Brizard Wine & Spirits
Warm marmalade characters on the nose with rich brown sugar notes, leading to sweet, luxurious and sun-ripened flavours. Plump and juicy orange flavours on the palate. Great balance. 30% RRP £15 from The Drink Shop