Berry-based liqueurs don’t often get the respect they deserve. For many years, they weren’t regarded as much more than sticky sweeties—perhaps poured into a tiny cordial glass at dessert time—since it was hard to stomach more than an ounce or two of the stuff. Today, spirits producers are emphasizing the character of the fruit itself; some are even dialing back on the sugar—a welcome change.
Two particular bottlings reviewed in this issue merit a shout-out as examples of the direction fruit liqueurs are capable of taking. The first is St. George’s Raspberry Liqueur, which is barely sweet at all. It’s made with a mix of raspberry brandy and raspberry juice, and has a surprising sour cherry and lemon curd-like acidity that sets the mouth watering.
Another bottle worth a second look is the Black Trumpet Blueberry Cordial made by New Hampshire’s Tamworth Distilling. In addition to luscious dark fruit, this liqueur takes an intriguing turn thanks to an infusion lavender and lemon verbena, as well as the addition of Black Trumpet mushrooms for a subtle umami swagger that adds complexity and dimension.
Meanwhile, bartenders continue to reach for berry liqueurs to fill out cocktails like the classic Bramble, a cocktail created by Dick Bradsell in 1980s London—basically, a Gin Sour (London dry gin, lemon juice, simple syrup) laced with good dose of crème de mûre (blackberry liqueur) for color and fruity flavor, usually served over crushed ice.
Of course, if that seems too summery, swap in blended Scotch, as bartenders from the Scotch Egg Club did at a recent Tales of the Cocktail event, mixing Dewars 12 with the more traditional components for a season-spanning sip ideal for bringing fruit liqueurs into the colder-weather months.
Merlet Crème de Fraise des Bois (France; Bedford & Grove, Louisville, KY); $25, 95 points. This wild strawberry liqueur reads like a glassful of strawberry jam, with a deep garnet hue and concentrated fruit flavor that goes down sweet and warming. Splash this easy-drinking, dessert-like cordial into Champagne or sip as a sweet ending to a meal. abv: 18%
Merlet Crème de Mûre Sauvage (France; Bedford & Grove, Louisville, KY); $25, 94 points. A top pick for mixing into sparkling wine or cocktails, this wild blackberry liqueur has a deep plummy color and features a complex, moderately sweet mix of Concord grape, delicate violet and black cherry aromas and flavors, finishing with a pleasing vanilla and floral exhale. Best Buy. abv: 18%
Jahiot Crème de Framboise (France; Heavenly Spirits, Lakeville, MA); $19/375 ml, 93 points. Overall, this raspberry liqueur is rich and viscous, redolent with dark, ripe black cherry and blackberry compote—there’s even a fortified wine note reminiscent of Manischewitz. The finish is long and clings to the palate, yet offers just enough mouthwatering tartness to keep things interesting. Dessert-worthy. abv: 18%
Metcalfe’s Raspberry Liqueur (USA; Vermont Distillers, Marlboro, VT); $25, 93 points. Made with over a quart of raspberries in each bottle, look for a deep plum hue and bold, sweet raspberry jam aroma and flavor. Add sparingly to cocktails where a bit of fruity sweetness is desired, or follow the producer’s suggestion to pour over ice cream. Best Buy. abv: 16.5%
Mathilde Cassis Liqueur (France; W.J. Deutsch & Sons, Harrison, NY);$28, 92 points. Plush and velvety, this blackcurrant liqueur is a classic choice for mixing into Kir Royales. Look for a blackberry compote aroma and a sweet, palate-coating mix of Concord grape, black cherry and prune, finishing long with a brush of vanilla. Made by Maison Ferrand. abv: 16%
St. George Raspberry Liqueur (USA; St. George Spirits, Alameda, CA); $35, 92 points. Made with a mix of raspberry brandy and raspberry juice, this is not a classic sweet sipper. It has a fair amount of sour cherry-like acidity on the palate, and reads almost like a port or weighty red wine. It’s deep and dark in the glass, featuring stewed berry and dried herb aromas, along with a fruit-forward palate that finishes on a mouth-puckering hint of lemon curd. Pair with dark chocolate. abv: 20%
Chambord Black Raspberry Liqueur (France; Brown-Forman Beverages, Louisville, KY); $32, 91 points. Made with vanilla and a Cognac base, this liqueur has a muted plum hue and a rich, black cherry scent. The palate is lightly sweet and easy-sipping, with a warming, candied berry-cherry flavor. Sip or mix. abv: 16.5%
Ginja9 Cherry Liqueur (Portugal; Earth Delicacies, Carson, CA); $28, 91 points. The enticing scent is reminiscent of cherry pie filling. Meanwhile, the palate is not overly sweet, showing concentrated cherry flavor on the midpalate and finishing relatively clean for a liqueur. Mix into whiskey for a Black Manhattan-style sipper or pair with dark chocolate. Made from Morello cherries. abv: 18%
Art in the Age Black Trumpet Blueberry Cordial (USA; Tamworth Distilling, Tamworth, NH); $40/375 ml, 90 points. Mushroom cocktails are trendy right now, but this might be the first commercial bottling of a liqueur made with Black Trumpet mushrooms, along with blueberries, lavender and lemon verbena. Altogether, it’s a heady, intriguing mix, purple in the glass and scented like crushed berries and dried herbs. The complex palate suggests a mix of mashed blueberries and Concord grape jam, enlivened by a faint savory note midpalate, and finishing with lush, palate-coating fruit. Try it in a Kir. abv: 25%
Mathilde Framboise Liqueur (France; W.J. Deutsch & Sons, Harrison, NY); $28, 90 points. This raspberry liqueur has a deep plum-skin hue and berry compote aroma. The relatively sweet flavor suggests cherry pie filling and strawberry jam, finishing long and warming on a hint of vanilla. Ideal to pour over vanilla ice cream. Made by Maison Ferrand. abv: 18%
Fragola Liqueur (Italy; Niche Import, Cedar Knolls, NJ); $30, 89 points. This wild strawberry liqueur has a bright red hue. Look for a ripe berry scent, and a moderate amount of fruit on the palate. It’s not overly sweet, and the grappa base supplies a medicinal tinge.abv: 24%