A Guide to Lesser-Known Liqueurs
When it comes to making cocktails, you better have a few tricks up your sleeve. A great tool to have on hand is a handful of reliable and relatively unknown liquors to help you with your blending.
Because these liqueurs are often loaded with tons of ingredients, they can instantly change a cocktail for the better. Sure, they’re great for sipping clean, especially right after a meal, but it’s also fun to discover the extra layers they can bring to some of your most beloved drink recipes.
Most of us are familiar with things like Campari, Chartreuse or even Pimm’s. But what about the countless other liqueurs worthy of our time and our shaker? Here’s a breakdown of a few to watch.
This herbal liqueur from the Czech Republic is made with 20 herbs and spices. There’s a lot going on in this sip, with hints of ginger, cinnamon and anise that really stand out. Try it in an Old Fashioned or mixed with some of your favorite coffees.
A wine-based liqueur, Cardamaro mixes amaro and oloroso sherry. The end result is a pleasant, nutty sip that drinks like a complicated vermouth. It’s great on its own, but also as a fantastic addition to whiskey-based cocktails in particular. Try it mixed with a gin-based Boulevardier or Martinez, the thoughtful drink that gave birth to the martini. The darker notes of this liqueur also go very well with the richness of old rums.
Ancho Reyes Verde
Spicy and vegetal, Ancho Reyes Verde depends on poblano peppers for its flavor. The resulting elixir is dazzling green and offers a unique flavor component that can really accentuate a number of drinks. It’s also very, very dynamic, adapting to everything from waits (tequila cocktails like margarita or paloma) to drinks like mules and gimlets.
Based on a recipe that dates back to the 15th century, Basbas is a Spanish liqueur originally enjoyed by monks. It’s sweet, floral, and herbal, and is made with additions like chamomile and sage. This special blend remains popular in his native Ibiza, but is only just beginning to gain a following outside of his homeland. Try it in a Negroni in place of Campari or as the base for a nice spritz, and hit it up with fresh berries and sparkling water or sparkling wine.
This bergamot liqueur comes in a beautiful bottle that should be prominently displayed in your home bar. It is a fantastic mixer, ideal with spirits like vodka or tequila. Since it’s a bit sweet, we suggest cutting it down a bit with ice or even another blender like soda water or fresh citrus juice.
This blackcurrant-based liqueur is an old standby that’s enjoying something of a renaissance in the modern cocktail circuit. Existing since the middle of the 19th century, it has a whole history and is still enjoyed after a meal in France, where it originated. It’s also great mixed with wine-based cocktails, which really elevates things like mimosas and French 75s. Allow it to impart a bit of wild berry to drinks like mojito and gin and tonic and you’ll see what it did for our list.
This French liqueur tastes like a race through the Alps. Like so many great drinks, it started out as medicine made from wild roots and plants. It was originally created to aid digestion and offer healing properties. Two hundred years later, it remains a tasty drink, a savory and earthy aperitif that is also good in vermouth-based cocktails, as well as alongside gin.
Strega is one of those names you often detect in the liner notes of a cocktail menu, but aren’t so sure about. This Italian liqueur is about as bright as the sun and made from some 70 botanicals, including mint and saffron. It is quite similar to yellow chartreuse, although a bit more delicate. Try it with darker spirits like whiskey (including scotch) and rum or as a great accent to a classic like Corpse Reviver.
With these eight lesser-known liquors by your side, your cocktail game is sure to get better and more interesting. These spirits can shake up vintage drinks just enough to make them feel fresh and new again. Start here, but be sure to explore the many other options available.