What is liqueur?

and the answer about the variety of liqueur products.

The production of liqueurs goes back to the medieval physicians and alchemists. They tried to sweeten their sometimes bad tasting herbal preparations and thus make them potable. This is how the forerunners of cough syrup and herbal liqueur came into being. Therefore the traditional recipes for herbal preparations are manifold. In the technical language one calls the used plant substances drugs, in contrast to the common meaning of this term. In every old liqueur book, therefore, many herbs and roots are described, which were used in the most different variations. But in old literature one can also find recipes for fruit liqueurs. Thus A.L. Moewes describes in detail the production of cherry juice for liqueur preparation in his “complete handbook of liqueur manufacture” from 1857 and already describes quality problems caused by strong bitter almond clay by grinding the stones, which occur exactly the same today.
A classic of the liqueur preparation is Wüstenfeld, created already in the 1930s a classification of liqueurs, which is used almost unchanged until today.
There are still preparations that have developed from “medical” applications. But of course, the spirit of the times has a strong influence on the taste of liqueurs. Climate and culture as well as the availability of the individual raw materials have a great influence. This is how bitter liqueurs – mainly bitter from the stomach – came into being, among which the “Stonsdorfer” with its characteristic ingredients in the form of blueberry juice and added blueberries is still important today.
Herbal liqueurs are an important group, and it was mainly monks and monasteries that developed the recipes. These valuable original recipes were often kept secret and handed down over centuries. Examples of this are “Benedictine” and “Chartreuse”, both of which have achieved worldwide renown through a harmonious interaction of all ingredients. A “Chartreuse”, for example, consists of alcohol, sugar and 130 different herbal extracts and spices and obtains its harmony by maturing in large oak barrels. Therein lies the art of making a herbal liqueur.
In many books the term fruit liqueur can still be found as a synonym for the so-called “Ladies liqueur”. This refers to recipes of very sweet liqueurs with low alcohol content. Sugar contents of up to 35% are described there, this would only be conceivable for lemon liqueurs today. In contrast to many other recipes, it was discovered at an early stage that fruit liqueurs cannot be stored and matured in wooden barrels, as the quality is strongly affected by such storage.
If the recipes contain ginger, peppermint or vanilla, they are called spice liqueurs, they are characterized by a strong aroma and are easily recognizable. These liqueurs are usually prepared with alcohol and then distilled, so they are very fine and pure. The distillation process is the reason why the characteristic aromas are so elegantly pronounced and with otherwise very spicy approaches, such as ginger, all aromas are found here in the distilled approach in a fine and softened form. The same applies to aniseed and caraway.
Many recipes contain wine in various forms for refinement. Wine punches or brandy liqueurs are typical representatives here, they can be rounded off with Malaga wine and plum extract as well as with various so-called “refining substances” such as rose oil or saffron. The “Cordial Médoc”, one of the noblest liqueurs in this group, is characterized by its fine, creamy consistency and typical vinous-floral aroma components.
Cocoa, tea or coffee liqueurs contain very small amounts of caffeine, so-called stimulating alkaloids. In coffee liqueurs, the quality and degree of grinding of the starting product are very important. If the coffee is particularly high quality and at the same time the dosage is higher, it is called a mocha liqueur.
The circle of different liqueur groups is closed with honey and nut liqueurs as well as egg liqueur and cream liqueur. These liqueurs, which are called emulsion liqueurs in the technical language, are particularly difficult to produce and pose the greatest challenges to the producers. In order to obtain a stable alcohol-containing emulsion, the product must often be homogenized or emulsifiers added. Nevertheless, the products are only stable for a short time.

Since all types of liqueurs are on the market in many different flavors, there are regionally completely different products almost all over the world – and you can enjoy unique liqueurs everywhere.

About the author

Dr. Klaus Hagmann, Dipl.-Ing. Food Technology, has been internationally active in sales, consulting and engineering of distillation plants for more than 25 years. His area of responsibility includes the planning of distilleries, the development of recipes and the professional operation of all equipment in the distillery. His reference books “Schnappsbrennen”, “Technologie der Obstbrennerei”, “Blitz-Liköre morgens zubereiten, abends genießen” and “Essig selbstgemacht” are best-selling classics.

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