7 of the Most Common Liqueurs, Explained

Liqueurs are making a comeback. Not to be confused with liquor, liqueur is a type of sweet alcoholic drink made from flowers, nuts, spices, herbs and some type of alcohol. They are bold enough to stand on their own but also make great mixers. Here are eight of the most common liqueurs you’re likely to come across.


Amaretto is an almond-flavoured liqueur used in many different cocktails. Importation of amaretto liqueur to the United States did not occur until the 1960’s. It quickly became a hit in cocktails and food preparation and by the 1980’s, it was second in sales only to Kahlua. With its sweet almond flavour, amaretto is a versatile drink ingredient. It adds sweetness and flavour to many delicious cocktails.

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The Campari story begins in the early 1860s, when a bartender-turned-caffe-proprietor named Gaspare Campari started inventing bottled cocktails in the cellar of his new establishment in Milan. He’d mix neutral alcohol with raspberry juice, vanilla, and cocoa and then sell his homemade libations upstairs. One day, he came up with something he called “Bitter all’Uso d’Holanda”. The recipe has not changed since that time. Campari is a blend of equal parts of alcohol, sugar syrup, distilled water, and an infusion flavoured with oranges, rhubarb, and ginseng, as well as a mixture of herbs.

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Baileys Irish Cream

Baileys Irish Cream was invented in 1974. The name says it all – it is an Irish drink based on cream. Sweetish and classified as a liqueur, which makes it firmly a ‘ladies’ drink. Mixing cream and whiskey the producers aimed for the slightly elderly female drinker with some sophistication. The name “Baileys” was apparently chosen because it sounded Irish enough without giving anybody outside Ireland headaches in trying to pronounce it.

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The French liqueur famous for its complex and balanced flavors, Cointreau is made from a unique blend of sweet and bitter orange peels. Perfecting the Cointreau recipe took several years, but the formula has stayed the same ever since. Just as Edouard Cointreau did in 1875, current master distiller Bernadette Langlais combines four ingredients: alcohol, water, sugar and orange peel. The trick is in the peel. It’s sourced from a variety of locations, at the moment including Brazil, Tunisia, Ghana, Senegal and Spain.

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Light amber in colour, Frangelico has a lush, toasty flavour, with hints of vanilla and white chocolate, as well as complex herbal flavors. As legend goes, Frangelico is based on a 17th century liqueur made with Tonda Gentile hazelnuts and local herbs by Christian monks in the Piedmont hills of Northern Italy. Natural flavouring extracts such as cocoa and vanilla are added before blending with alcohol, sugar and water to meet the bottle strength. Frangelico is used in a variety of cocktails, most commonly dessert drinks and shooters.

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Back in 1936, a 20 year old Mexican named, Álvaro Domecq, took over his family wine business after his father passed away. A nod to coffee’s Arabic origins, the name “Kahlua” is actually derived from the word “kahwa”, which is Arabic slang for coffee. Today, the coffee-flavoured cane spirit is drunk at a rate of two million cases a year in 150 countries around the world.

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Sambuca is a strong, colourless Italian liqueur that’s flavoured with anise and licorice. Though originating in Italy, it spread in popularity following World War II and can now be found throughout the world, though it is typically still made in Italy. It has been distilled for well over 100 years and can be enjoyed in a number of ways, depending on the preferences of the drinker.

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