We’ve covered the essential spirits and appropriate home barware. Now we address the surprisingly nuanced topic of liqueurs in more detail than before.
First: Liqueurs aren’t beers, and they aren’t spirits. They are flavorful alcoholic concoctions that typically serve as an essential ingredient in a mixed drink.
There’s no “right” list of essential liqueurs. The best rule of thumb is to stock what you need to make the cocktails you enjoy. That said, some liqueurs and related alcoholic mixers are more commonly used than others. Herewith some tips.
- Sweet and dry vermouth. This fortified wine gets frequent use — martini, anyone? Most vermouth remains relatively inexpensive even for decent brands, so pay an extra couple of dollars for a premium version. Nothing ruins a cocktail more thoroughly than adding inferior vermouth to your top-shelf spirits. No brand recommendations, though — people seem surprisingly partisan about it.
- The “creme de …” list. The basic cremes are creme de cacao (chocolate), creme de menthe (mint) and creme de cassis (black raspberry). These liqueurs are especially common in complex cocktails with a seasonal twist.
- Coffee liqueur. Kahlua is the best-known coffee liqueur, but it’s not the only one.
- Irish cream. Bailey’s is the iconic brand, but others (like Carolans) are pretty good too. Irish cream differs from coffee liqueur in that the former is based on a heavy cream mixed with Irish whiskey and a hint of coffee.
- Schnapps. Peach schnapps are the most popular, but peppermint come in close. Schnapps can give a targeted, flavored kick to a cocktail, especially something seasonal that benefits from a non-standard flavor profile. Grab the ones you’d use.
- Special flavors. Common liqueurs include amaretto (almond) and Chambord (black cherry). There are many different types of orange-flavored liqueurs; they appear different but they all are essentially the same thing: Pick from triple sec, Cointreau, curacao, and Grand Mariner.
The best bar has the ingredients you need, when you need them. Stocking stuff you’ll never use isn’t a sign of virtue — it’s a sign you don’t know what you’ll need. So save space, dollars and sanity by selecting only those liqueurs you know you’ll use.