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Buying Guide for Cordials

Label for a chile liqueur
Synonymous with liqueurs, cordials are the largest and most diverse category of spirits. Cordials are made by mixing or redistilling neutral spirits, brandy, rum or other spirits with natural ingredients such as fruit, herbs and cream. Some cordials are consumed neat; others are perfect for cocktails. Some are sweet; others, bitter. Some have been enjoyed for centuries; others are "hot" new products. Their versatility and variety offer limitless possibilities.

Know the Label

These terms commonly appear on cordial labels. For more information about cordials, please ask the staff at your Virginia ABC store

 
A green-colored anise- and wormwood-flavored liqueur. Absinthe is high proof, and should be consumed as follows: Pour 1 oz absinthe into a glass; place a sugar cube on an absinthe spoon or fork atop the glass rim; drip 3–4 oz of iced water over the sugar cube, slowly melting it into the drink; then stir. You will notice that the addition of iced water will cause the drink to become cloudy, a sign of a high-quality absinthe.
 
 
A sweet almond-flavored liqueur, which can be consumed straight or mixed in cocktails such as the Amaretto Sour or the Alabama Slammer.
 
 
Amaro
A category of bittersweet herbal liqueurs often consumed as a digestif or apertif. Each brand has a slightly different taste, depending on the herbal infusions added to grape brandy or neutral spirits; most are then sweetened to reduce bitterness and aged. Of particular note: Aperol, Campari, Ramazzotti, My Amaro, Fernet Branca.
 
 
Anisette
 
An anise-flavored liqueur, slightly sweet and lower in proof than many other anise-flavored liqueurs. (See also absinthe, pastis, arak, sambuca and ouzo.)
 
 
Apértif
Apertivo
 
An alcoholic beverage sipped before a meal to stimulate appetite.
 
 
Arak
 
A colorless, high-proof anise-flavored liqueur originating in the Middle East.  It is usually mixed with water and served over ice.
 
 
Bitters are mixtures of spirits and herbal essences that originated in tonics and patented medicines. Essential cocktail ingredients, they come in two sorts: First, "cocktail" or aromatic bitters can enhance the flavors of many cocktails, without measurably increasing alcohol content. Angostura bitters from Venezuela are a key ingredient in such cocktails as the Old Fashioned. Originating in New Orleans, Peychaud's bitters are used in such cocktails as the Sazerac. Second, "digestive bitters," while used in many cocktails, are also consumed straight, as apertifs and digestifs. Of particular note, see  amaro and herbal liqueurs.
 
 
A liqueur infused or distilled with cacao beans or blended with chocolate. Chocolate liqueurs use chocolate syrup, and often cream, giving them a syrupy consistency and rich taste. Crème de cacao uses cacao beans, giving it a lighter chocolate flavor and consistency.
 
 
Liqueurs flavored or blended with coffee or coffee beans. Some of these foreground coffee as the main flavor; others use it as an accent. Of particular note: coffee liqueurs blended with rum (such as  Kahlua and Tia Maria) and with tequila (such as  Patron XO Cafe). For an extra coffee kick, experiment with espresso-based liqueurs.
 
 
Cordial
Liqueur
 
These terms are used interchangeably to mean a sweetened distilled spirit that is mixed with herbs, fruit, spices or other ingredients to achieve a distinctive, unique taste. (Note that even bitters, such as amaro, are sweetened to make the bitterness of the other ingredients palatable.) Serve cordials and liqueurs as apertifs and digestifs; mix them into many popular cocktails.
 
 
Cream liqueur
Crème liqueur
Cream liqueurs and crème liqueurs are distinct. Cream liqueurs contain dairy cream. By contrast, crème liqueurs do not contain dairy cream, but rather a larger amount of sugar than other spirits. Crème de menthe is a sweet, mint-flavored liqueur. Crème de cacao is a sweet, chocolate-flavored liqueur. Crème de cassis is a sweet liqueur made from blackcurrants.
 
 
Curaçao is an orange-flavored liqueur, first made by Dutch traders on the island of Curaçao, off the coast of Venezuela. It is slightly sweeter than triple sec, another orange-flavored liqueur (although the two can often be used interchangeably in cocktails). The distinctive coloring of blue curaçao was probably first added to the spirit in the early in the twentieth century, and it does not affect the taste.
 
 
Digestif
 
An alcoholic beverage consumed after a meal to aid digestion.
 

Herbal liqueurs are often unique products, arising from secret, proprietary recipes. Many of these are consumed chilled and straight, often after meals to aid digestion (digestifs), but they also can provide an interesting twist to many classic cocktails. Of particular note: Bénédictine, Jagermeister, Becherovka, Strega and Galliano. See also amaro and the various anise-flavored liqueurs.
 
 
A liqueur flavored or blended with honey. Of particular note: Barenjager, Drambuie (Scotch and honey) and Irish Mist (Irish whiskey and honey). Serve these neat or over ice, and add them to cocktails for a sweet kick.
 
 
A cream liqueur created with Irish whiskey and often other ingredients, such as coffee or vanilla. Serve Irish cream over ice, substitute it for regular cream in coffee, or mix it in cocktails such as the B-52.
 
 
A clear, clean-tasting, dry liqueur distilled from Marasca cherries. Although sharing a common origin with the dessert-like "Maraschino" cherry, Maraschino liqueur is not sweet and fruity, but rather burnt-almond tasting, due to the infusion of fruit pits in distillation. It is an essential ingredient for such cocktails as the Martinez and the Beachcomber.
 
 
A liqueur flavored or infused with nut oils. Popular nuts used in flavoring liqueurs include almonds (Amaretto), hazelnuts (notably, Frangelico) and walnuts.
 
 
Orange liqueur
Among fruit flavorings, orange liqueurs are particularly numerous. These range from the bitter to the sweet, with particular flavors varying by recipe. Grand Marnier combines cognac with orange essence. Aperol has a complex, bitter flavor with strong orange overtones. (See also curaçao and triple sec.)
 
 
Ouzo
 
A colorless, anise-flavored liqueur originating in Greece and Turkey. It is usually mixed with water and served over ice.
 
 
Pastis
 
A liqueur flavored with anise seed and licorice root, originating in France. It is usually mixed with water and served over ice.
 
 
A colorless, anise-flavored liqueur originating in Italy. It is often paired with coffee, or mixed with water and served over ice.
 
 
Soju
 
Made in Korea for centuries, Soju is distilled from rice as well as sweet potatoes and barley. It has a clean, neutral taste, with slightly sweet overtones. Although lower in proof, it is similar to vodka for its ability to mix well in cocktails. Traditionally it is consumed very chilled and neat in a shot glass.
 
 
A colorless, orange-flavored liqueur, made from orange peels. The French, who originated this spirit, termed it "sec" (dry), meaning that it is  slightly less sweet than curaçao, another orange-flavored liqueur (although the two can often be used interchangeably in cocktails). Triple sec can be consumed neat, and is also an essential ingredient in many popular cocktails, such as the Cosmopolitan, Margarita and B-52.
 
 
Product list rankings on this page are based on 2016 Virginia ABC sales.

Cocktail Conversation

Cordials have a romantic past. They are the result of mystics and alchemists from the Middle Ages searching for the elixir of life. Accordingly the root word for cordial is the Latin word (cor) for heart, the target of the medicinal tonics.
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