Conviviality and cocktails are genetically linked. The well-crafted drink is a small, indulgent pleasure capable of transforming an ordinary gathering into a memorable occasion. Lavishing friends and family with trays of hip, sophisticated cocktails at this year’s holiday party may be easier than you imagine, but what you need is a plan, some cool recipes and a few select liqueurs. No kidding, liqueurs.
The growing fascination with ultrapremium spirits makes it easy to overlook the role liqueurs have played in fostering the prevailing cocktail culture. As generations of mixologists will attest, liqueurs are the heart and soul of nearly all great cocktails. Their brilliant flavors and lush, satiny bodies temper the enthusiasm of high-octane spirits and transform juice and such into joy-inducing libations.
To head you in the right direction, we’ve assembled a list of 10 indispensable liqueurs to stock behind your bar, divided equally between timeless classics and more contemporary offerings.
Few products better illustrate just how enchanting liqueurs can be than newcomer St-Germain Liqueur, an artisanal French liqueur handcrafted from wild Alpine elderflower blossoms. Its annual production is limited to a few days each spring when the delicate, snowy white elderflowers are in blossom. It’s a luscious tour de force with sun-drenched, floral-induced flavors and tart, citrus notes.
Another recent arrival worth bringing home is legendary Clément Créole Shrubb from Martinique. Highly regarded throughout the Caribbean, it’s an aromatic, warming blend of world-class Clément agricole rhums infused with Curaçao orange peels and exotic Creole spices. The spicy, semisweet gem can be used as an alternative to orange liqueur in a Margarita.
For a nation that dearly loves its Java, Starbucks Coffee Liqueur is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Concocted with high
grade Arabica beans, the liqueur has a light, silky body and the irresistible aroma of ground coffee. Its remarkably authentic coffee flavor is a touch bitter, lightly sweetened and long lasting. This liqueur was born to play the lead in the Java de Hut Martini. No vile gangster, it’s an invigorating cocktail that also contains Starbucks Cream Liqueur, Absolut Vanilia Vodka and freshly brewed coffee.
Likely no other product has successfully launched more cocktails to stardom than the French classic, Cointreau. It is crafted from a complex blend of sweet orange peels from Spain, France and Brazil, and bitter, unripe orange peels from South America. The liqueur is impressively aromatic with a focused palate of tingling citrus flavors. Perhaps best known for its work in Margaritas, Cosmopolitans and Sidecars, Cointreau refuses to be typecast. An excellent example of its versatility is the Lemon Drop, an ultrapopular cocktail prepared with Cointreau, Absolut Citron Vodka and fresh lemon juice.
Introduced to the world in 1880, venerable Grand Marnier is made in the Loire Valley by infusing mature, fine Champagne Cognac with macerated orange peels from Haiti. The liqueur has a wafting citrus bouquet and a refined orange palate with subtle Cognac notes. The finish is an unrivaled pleasure. While Grand Marnier is featured in a wide range of cocktails, the finest way to fully appreciate its nobility is to serve the liqueur neat in a heated snifter. Your guests will undoubtedly find it a sublime experience.
If it’s true that forbidden fruit makes sinful jam, then Chambord Black Raspberry Liqueur must be seriously wicked. The delicate French classic is made with aged Cognac, fresh raspberries and blackberries, herbs, spices and honey. Everything about the liqueur is seductive, including its deep purple appearance, luxurious mouthfeel and semisweet palate of fresh raspberries, vanilla, citrus and spice. With Chambord on board you can treat your guests to a round of Champagne Framboise, a delightfully effervescent cocktail consisting of chilled brut Champagne laced with Chambord and a lemon spiral twist. Expect requests for seconds.
You’ll also be serving seconds of Mandarine Napoléon Réserve Impériale XO, a liqueur skillfully concocted from Mediterranean tangerine peels, a botanical mix of 27 herbs and spices, and barrel-aged, Grande Champagne XO Cognac. An overnight sensation a century in the making, the liqueur was inspired by Napoleon Bonaparte, who relished eating tangerine peels soaked in Cognac. Delicate and aromatic, it deserves to be treated with deference, which is exactly the intention behind the cocktail we call Champagne Mandarine Impériale.
As long as you have the Champagne handy, it’s time for a sparkling cocktail showcasing the talents of 300-year-old Disaronno Amaretto. The famed Italian liqueur is produced from herbs, fruit, caramelized sugar and premium grape spirits. Its principal draws are its generous nose of marzipan and orange zest, and marvelous assortment of almond, citrus and vanilla flavors. The Italian Riviera is a cocktail with happy holidays written all over it, made with Disaronno Amaretto and fresh lemon and orange juice. Bellisimo!
American-born PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur was created with cocktails in mind, and considering its fashionable shade of red, perhaps they were holiday cocktails at that. The liqueur is an infusion of natural pomegranate juice, premium vodka and a small amount of Tequila that delivers dry, refreshingly tart flavor. The Lido Shuffle is a direct beneficiary of the liqueur’s exuberant personality. The Cosmopolitan-like cocktail is a balanced blend of Absolut Citron, PAMA, cranberry and fresh lime juice presented in a cocktail glass partially rimmed with sugar.
Before taking matters into your own hands, give due consideration to the planet’s bestselling liqueur, Baileys Irish Cream. The first of its type, it’s a dreamy blend of dairy fresh cream, triple-distilled Irish whiskey and natural vanilla and chocolate flavorings. The result can best be described as voluptuous. Of all the great drinks featuring Baileys Irish Cream, this season I’m recommending the Dubliner Coffee, a spirit-reviving concoction starring freshly brewed coffee reinforced with Baileys, Starbucks Coffee Liqueur and a dram of Jameson Irish Whiskey for good measure.
Sláinte and Happy New Year!
Java de Hut Martini
1 1/2 ounces Absolut Vanilia Vodka
1 ounce Starbucks Coffee Liqueur
3/4 ounce Starbucks Cream Liqueur
1 ounce freshly brewed coffee
Pour ingredients into an iced mixing glass. Shake vigorously for a minimum of 10 seconds and strain frothy contents into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with three coffee beans.
Lemon Drop Cocktail
1 1/2 ounces Absolut Citron Vodka
3/4 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
Pour ingredients into an iced mixing glass. Shake vigorously for a minimum of 10 seconds and strain contents into a chilled cocktail glass partially rimmed with sugar. Garnish with a lemon slice.
6-7 ounces brut Champagne, chilled
1 1/2 ounces Chambord Black
Pour chilled Champagne into flute and add Chambord. Garnish with a lemon spiral twist.
Champagne Mandarine Impériale
1 sugar cube saturated with Angostura Bitters
1 1/2 ounces Mandarine
Napoléon Réserve Impériale XO
6-7 ounces brut Champagne, chilled
Drop bitters-saturated sugar cube into chilled Champagne flute. Pour in the Mandarine Napoléon and slowly fill with Champagne. Garnish with an orange spiral twist.
1 3/4 ounces Disaronno Amaretto
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 ounces fresh orange juice
4-5 ounces brut Champagne, chilled
Pour Amaretto, lemon and orange juices into an iced mixing glass. Shake vigorously and strain contents into a chilled Champagne flute. Add Champagne and garnish with an orange slice and maraschino cherry.
1 3/4 ounces Absolut Citron
3/4 ounce PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur
3/4 ounce cranberry juice
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
Pour ingredients into an iced mixing glass. Shake vigorously and strain contents into a chilled cocktail glass partially rimmed with sugar. Garnish with an ample wedge of lime.
1 1/2 ounces Baileys Irish Cream, divided
3/4 ounce Starbucks Coffee Liqueur
3/4 ounce Jameson Irish Whiskey
3-4 ounces coffee
Pour 1 ounce of the Baileys plus Starbucks and Jameson directly into a mug or cappuccino saucer. Add freshly brewed coffee and top with whipped cream. Float another 1/2 ounce of Baileys over the whipped cream and sprinkle with shaved chocolate.