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11 best liqueurs

From cognac-based to tequila, coffee-flavoured to artichoke, our top pick spans them all

Claire Dodd
Wednesday 05 December 2018 13:21 GMT
Find your new favourite tipple
Find your new favourite tipple (iStock)

Whether you want to pimp up your prosecco, swirl something naughty around a tumbler, or you’re a fully fledged home mixologist – your drinking cabinet simply isn’t complete without a liqueur or two.

Which one though, depends on personal taste. And that’s down the sheer variety of products that this stalwart drinks category spans. Put simply, a liqueur is a sweet alcoholic beverage, made from a distilled spirit, and flavoured, for example, with fruit, spices, herbs, florals, or cream. Sugar is key.

That basic formula means there’s so much choice out there, something which our round-up of the best reflects. From cognac-based to tequila, coffee-flavoured to artichoke, our list spans them all. Following the gin boom, there’s been a vast increase in the number of gin liqueurs to hit the market of late, so they've made the list, too. And we’ve also covered the classics – beautiful tipples, key to any cocktail making, that have stood the test of time.

Grand Marnier, 40%: £16 for 500ml, Waitrose

With its cognac base, and blend of orange bitters from the Caribbean, this French liqueur always has us feeling a little festive. First created in 1880 and still made to the same recipe, it’s stood the test of time, not just due to its rich zesty taste, but also because of how easily it mixes with other liquids. Sip it neat and you get hit by the bright fruit notes of the orange first, then the cognac.

Rather than being a stewed orange or marmalade-like orange taste, this is much more akin to fresh oranges. Use it to make a classic such as the Sidecar. Or for something simple but satisfying, we love mixing it simply with a flavoured tonic, such as Fever-Tree’s Lemon tonic water.

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The King’s Ginger, 41%: £19.50 for 500ml, Amazon

Classy, fiery, and deliciously boozy, this liqueur really is fit for royalty. It was first formulated by prestigious drinks makers, Berry Bros. & Rudd in 1903 for King Edward VII to keep him toasty during morning rides in his brand new horseless carriage – an open-top motorcar to you and I.

Perfect for frosty days, this liqueur’s high strength and zesty flavour from the maceration of ginger root and lemon oils makes it one of our favourite after dinner warming sip's.

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Patrón XO Cafe, 35%: £18 for 350ml, Asda

If you’ve ever had Patrón XO Cafe, you’ll know what a truly heavenly combination booze and coffee can be. If you haven’t, get on it. The premium tequila brand manages to pull off the near impossible by highlighting both the flavours of the Jalisco-produced Patrón Silver Tequila, alongside coffee sourced from the Mexican states of Veracruz and Chiapas.

Though the coffee itself is bold, smooth, and just the right level of sweet, that lovely fresh, almost grassy, slightly smoky tequila is never far away. This is available in larger formats, but we like to keep ours in the freezer to serve super chilled, for which a small bottle probably works best.

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Edinburgh Gin Plum & Vanilla Liqueur, 20%: £16 for 500ml, John Lewis & Partners

Hover your nose over a bottle of this sweet treat, and you may get a waft of nostalgia. There’s more than a hint of something akin to cough syrup here, but that’s not a bad thing. Hugely fruity, vibrant with stone fruit notes and a little spice, there’s definitely something menthol-like detectable underneath.

The Scottish drinks maker macerates juicy plums with Madagascan vanilla to create this velvety liqueur. Thick, syrupy, viscous, and deeply wintery, the long dry finish works particularly well with sparkling wine.

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Lanique Rose Petal Liqueur Spirit, 39%: £29.45 for 700ml, The Whisky Exchange

This beauty has made our list, in part, because quite frankly there is nothing else like it. With a 200-year history, including a period of time after the World War II where the recipe was lost, this Polish drink is an exotic treat. Of course with that rose top note, it’s very evocative of Turkish Delight which if you enjoy, you’ll love this. It even manages with its sweetness to evoke something of the icing sugar that usually coats Turkish Delight too.

Simply yummy. Adding it to tonic in place of gin is probably the easiest way to enjoy it. But pouring over crushed ice with fresh lime juice is delicious too. And, like many on our list, it goes great with prosecco.

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Luxardo Cherry Sangue Morlacco, 30%: £26.96 for 700ml, The Drink Shop

You may not have heard of or seen this treasure before, but believe us when we say it will fast become a favourite. So good we love to sip it neat, this cherry liqueur is aged in oak vats for two years, giving it depth and maturity. Besides the cherry, there’s a fair amount of caramel on the nose, and to sip too, as those deep fruity notes marry with caramelised sugary goodness.

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St-Germain Elderflower, 20%: £16 for 500ml, Waitrose

It seemed just a few years ago that everything was elderflower flavoured. While many of those products have been and gone, this gorgeous liqueur has made a permanent place for itself on any decent backbar. Beautifully fresh and delicate, St-Germain manages to capture the subtle nuances of elderflower, avoiding being overly sweet. And we have to say, we think it’s excellent value too.

Each bottle is individually numbered, to show the year the flowers were picked. There’re hints of fruit in here, making it delicious served over ice as an aperitif. But we love mixing it with gin or vodka and a squeeze of fresh lime to make a French Gimlet.

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Jawbox Pineapple & Ginger Gin Liqueur, 20%: £19 for 700ml, Ocado

So, we know the old adage about books and covers, but we must admit that this tipple has instant visual appeal. With its stout and sturdy bottle, and glowing pineapple hue, this makes a pretty gift. And as the colour may suggest, there is nothing subtle about this liqueur.

Combining fiery ginger with intense pineapple, the burst of flavour is big, but it’s also nuanced, with the fruit to the fore, followed by a little warming spice. Great just on the rocks or mix with ginger ale for something quick and easy.

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Cynar Bitters, 16.5%: £15.53 for 700ml, Amazon

Quite simply a classic. This Italian liqueur is made from, yes, artichokes. Combined with a blend of herbs and plants, the taste is smooth, bittersweet, and plain satisfying. With its modest strength, there’s no boozy burn, making this actually hugely accessible. If you’re a fan of bitter drinks, then this is for you. We love it neat as a warming nightcap.

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Bloom Lemon & Elderflower Gin Liqueur, 25%: £18.46 for 700ml, Master Of Malt

With some biscuit notes on the nose, the underlying gin really comes through and the lemon dominates in this pretty sipper. This is the most gin-like of the gin liqueurs on our list.

The fruit and floral notes are definitely there, but they’re much more subtle than many of the others. So, if you’re looking for something to liven up your usual gin and tonic, then this could be for you.

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Colonsay Gin, Bramble Gin Liqueur, 20%: £19.48 for 500ml, Master of Malt

Everybody loves a heart-warming tale. This liqueur is the product of a husband and wife team who relocated to the Isle of Colonsay off the west coast of Scotland, after enjoying holidaying there. Starting their own distillery, Finlay and Eileen Geekie product their award-winning spirits in small-batches. We love the dry finish of this berry-based liqueur. Below the fruit, there’s some hefty herbal notes including thyme and coriander. Add a few drops to your mulled wine, or a glass of fizz this Christmas.

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Tiptree English Raspberry Gin Liqueur, 28%: £20 for 350ml, Tesco

Looks like the jam, is the jam. Well kind of. This liqueur hails from famed preserve maker Wilkin & Sons – fruit grown at Wilkin Estates at Tiptree, Essex, is combined with locally distilled Hayman's gin. Launched a couple of years ago, the range also includes a Rhubarb, Damson, and a Scarlet Strawberry gin. But we love the raspberry. It’s fruity, sure, but there’s also some pleasing earthy, almost tea-like notes coming through from the botanicals of the base gin, but also from the use of real fruit.

There’s nothing synthetic-feeling here. The taste is true to the fruit, though there is a little spicy heat from the booze too. Enjoy sipped straight over ice, use for a fruity Gin Fizz, or add to sparkling wine.

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The Verdict: Best Liqueurs

A good liqueur is not only a matter of personal taste, but its also about the right moment, the weather, and the right occasion. Are you looking for something bitter to finish the night? Or a zesty summer sipper to enjoy in a cocktail? Having said that though, we feel you can’t beat the classics.

We love the versatile, fruity complexity of Grand Marnier. But for their uniqueness and easy sipping, we have to say Lanique Rose Petal Liqueur Spirit and Cynar are worthy of high praise too.

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