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What's the Difference Between Liquor and Liqueur?

vodka coffee liqueur cocktail
Liquor and liqueur aren't the same, but they go well together, like in this white Russian cocktail consisting of vodka, coffee liqueur and cream. 5PH/Shutterstock

Whenever you run across the word "liqueur" in a recipe for a drink, it's tempting to think that the creator of the recipe is a very fancy person — or perhaps Canadian. Canadians do write "cheque" instead of "check," after all.

But it turns out there is indeed a difference between liquor and liqueur, aside from how they're spelled. Let's start with liquor.

What Is Liquor?

Liquor is a distilled spirit that contains alcohol. Most experts agree that there are six standard base liquors: brandy, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey and vodka.

Liquors are made of grains (or other plants like potatoes) that are fermented. The distillation process separates the water from the alcohol, and then increases the alcohol content to at least 20 percent alcohol by volume, which translates to 40 proof.

Bartenders and mixologists use liquors as the base for cocktails like the gin and tonic or Manhattan. Liquors also are often served on the rocks (with ice) or neat (with no ice or mixer).

What Is Liqueur?

Liqueurs, on the other hand, are liquors with other ingredients added. Producers almost always add sugar to liqueurs to make them sweeter, along with oils, herbs, florals or fruits. Liqueurs also tend to have lower alcohol contents, usually between 15 and 30 percent alcohol by volume or up to 60 proof.

Liqueurs come in many varieties and flavor profiles, and you've probably heard of many of them:

  • Amaretto: almond flavor

  • Kahlua: coffee flavor

  • Grand Marnier and Cointreau: orange flavor

  • Chambord: raspberry flavor

Some liqueurs, like Chartreuse, started out as medications. French monks created Chartreuse more than 400 years ago by to help its drinkers live longer. Jägermeister is another famous herbal liqueur that is intended to aid in digestion. Dosage definitely counts for best results.

Cream-based Liqueurs vs. Crème Liqueurs

There also are cream-based liqueurs, like Irish cream, which have dairy added to the alcoholic base, along with other flavors. Cream-based liqueurs are delicious in coffee drinks, hot chocolates or on their own, but they're different from crème liqueurs, like crème de menthe. Crème liqueurs don't have dairy, but they are thicker and more syrupy. You likely would not want to drink a crème liqueur on its own.

Now That's Picky

There are loads of flavored vodka on liquor stores shelves — and they're still considered vodka. Herbal gins, like the Old Tom variety, are also considered gins. But distillers cannot add any flavors or colorings to whiskey and still call it whiskey. Depending on the type of whiskey, it could be called "blended" rather than "straight" whiskey in the United States.

Original article: What's the Difference Between Liquor and Liqueur?

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