The liqueur aisle at the liquor store used to be a scary place, offering row upon row of cheap, neon-colored bottles made with artificial flavors. In the decades during which making craft cocktails was a forgotten art, these spirits found their way into sickly sweet concoctions better left forgotten.
But the recent revival of quality cocktails brought with it a reaction against drinks that are too sugary, with tastes leaning toward subtle, complex, and often challenging flavors. Bartenders have fallen in love with bitter liqueurs like Fernet and herbal elixirs like Chartreuse.
Sweet drinks are undergoing a renaissance, too, with a handful of producers bringing back quality sweet liqueurs. Here are three recent arrivals to try — along with the cocktails to mix them in.
Though best known for their bitters, German bartenders Stephan Berg and Alexander Hauck also make some excellent liqueurs that are called for in vintage cocktail recipes. Among them is an apricot liqueur that’s perfect for summer. It has enough flavor to work as an accent in complicated cocktails, but perhaps the best way to showcase the spirit is in a simple Apricot Fizz. The drink is refreshing and easy to make, and since the liqueur clocks in at a mere 44 proof, it’s also a great session drink for long afternoons spent outside in the sun.
2 oz. apricot liqueur
¾ oz. lemon juice
Lemon peel, for garnish
Shake the liqueur and lemon with ice and strain into an ice-filled collins glass. Top with soda, gently stir, and garnish with the lemon peel.
The French liqueur brand Combier made a splash reintroducing their triple sec to the American market. They’ve more recently imported their line of fruit liqueurs, which includes blackberry, cassis, peach, and a berry blend called crème de fruits rouges. The standout is their Crème de Pamplemousse Rose, which is as fun to drink as it is to say. They smartly suggest mixing this pink grapefruit liqueur with Champagne; for simplicity, this is hard to beat.
For my own menu, I’m using it in place of orange liqueur in the classic Pegu Club. The signature cocktail of an eponymous club for foreign elites in Myanmar, this drink was once widely popular and has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. The gin, lime, orange liqueur, and bitters in the Pegu combine to produce a flavor reminiscent of grapefruit, making the Pamplemousse Rose a natural fit in this variation called a Pigou Club (which is a different kind of club entirely).
1 3/4 oz. London dry gin
3/4 oz. Pamplemousse Rose
1/2 oz. lime juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters
Lime peel, for garnish
Shake the gin, liqueur, lime juice, and bitters with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a lime peel.
Chances are your local bar has bottles of crème de cacao and crème de menthe tucked away in a corner somewhere, gathering dust and lying in wait for the the very rare order of a Grasshopper. Let those bottles gather dust no more: The new versions of these spirits from Tempus Fugit are game changers. Eschewing flavor extracts, these spirits are made with real cacao, vanilla, mint, and other botanicals. They’re exceptionally well-made, and sipping on them neat is a revelation. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
My favorite use for these so far is the Twentieth Century, a classic cocktail from the Café Royal Cocktail Book, repopularized and updated by cocktail historian Ted Haigh. Gin and chocolate may seem like an odd combination, but it works. The drink begins as a classic sour and ends with a lingering, subtle cacao flavor. It’s unusual yet delicious.
1 1/2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. Lillet Blanc
1/2 oz. crème de cacao
Lemon peel, for garnish
Shake the gin, lemon juice, Lillet Blanc, and crème de cacao with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the lemon twist.
To appease one’s sweet tooth, one could also combine the two liqueurs in the aforementioned Grasshopper, made with equal parts crème de cacao, crème de menthe, and cream. You’ll be drinking your dessert, but with ingredients this good, there’s no need to view it as a guilty pleasure.
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