What is the difference between Liqueur and Liquor?

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Can we ask you a question? If we say: Brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka and whiskey, what do you think of? OK, keep that thought. Now, if we say: Schnapps, Cassis, Absinthe and Alize what springs to mind? We bet that while your first thought centres on delicious spirits that are perfect both before and after dinner, your thoughts on the second category are in the region of sickly sweet, lurid drinks that even your maiden aunt wouldn’t touch. 

Although not a common lexicon in British English, the word liquor has crept into our vocabulary in recent years. Liquor - the American English equivalent for what we call spirits - brings to mind images of hard-drinking cowboys in dingy saloons. Liqueurs on the other hand are decidedly more feminine; with their pretty colours and sweet, wide range of flavours, they are far more madam than gunslinger. While both are alcoholic beverages that are crucial ingredients when mixing cocktails, the similarities stop there. The liquids are not the same and the terms are not interchangeable.

We’ve compiled this short guide to help you navigate the verbiage, and make sure that you order the right drink the next time you’re on the other side of the pond. 

What is Liquor?

Also known as spirits, liquor is a drink made from grains that have undergone a fermentation and distillation process. The distillation process is important: this is when a significant portion of the water boils off and heat and condensation raise the alcohol content and concentrate the alcohol. The resulting product is a transparent, high ABV (alcohol by volume) drink that is the ideal base for cocktails. There are six main types of distilled liquors: Brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka and whiskey. What’s even better is that our range of liquors at Neat & Shaken is not sweet. 

What is Liqueur?

Technically, liqueurs are still liquors because they are distilled spirits. However, the difference between the two is that liqueurs are sweetened flavouring and colouring agents (we hate to be the ones to tell you, but the lurid green of Creme de Menthe is not natural). All liqueurs have a liquor base - think of Greenall’s and BLOOM’s delicious gin liqueurs and you get the idea. 

In a Dubliner Irish whiskey liqueur-tasting nutshell, liqueurs are basically sweetened and diluted forms of liquor. They typically have a lowish alcohol content similar to wine of around 15 per cent. Liqueurs' low ABV is compared to 40 percent in most liquors, although this is not an exact science, so do not distinguish the two simply by potency. 

Additionally, liqueurs come in many flavours and appeal to a sweeter palette. From cream and coffee to herbal and honey, these are a great addition to creative and legendary cocktails. They are the ingredients that usually make the drink extra special, so don’t be afraid to experiment. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?