Drinks which have an alcoholic base, varying in strength, and of great variety in flavour. They are not internationally defined, although the producing countries control the different types by legislation. Terms such as ‘liqueur brandy’, liqueur whisky’ are not precise; although they do imply the special and high quality of the spirit. However, in French law, a liqueur is actually a sweetened spirit: ‘fine’ ‘demi-fine’ and ‘surfine’ are terms referring to the strength and sweetness. Surfine is the highest in strength and sweetest; the demi-fine is the least sweet.
The use of the word double as, for example, in ‘double crème de cassis’ usuallymeans that the liqueur contains twice the quantities of the flavouring agents, but when this might unbalance the overall proportions of the drink, the ‘double’ may only be 50% more. Some people confuse the ‘double1 term with something to do with alcoholic strength, or sweetness, but this is not so – a ‘double’ liqueur is about as high in strength as a surfine, and its sweetness naturually depends on the sweetness of the product making the drink and how much of this is actually ‘doubled’.
The liqueur market seemed to undergo a decline after World War II, both because liqueurs cannot be cheap – on account of the duty paid on their strength – and also because they seemed to belong to a more leisured way of life. Many of them today, however, are drunk at any time, even as aperitifs – as witness the popularity of Cointreau ‘on the rocks’ – although most English-speaking people would generally assume them to be drinks taken after the end of a meal.
There are many different basic types, and although there are few hard and fast definitions, it is important to note the difference between a liqueur flavoured with a fruit, flower or berry (such as crème de menthe or crème de cacao) and one made from a actual distillate of the fruit or berry, such as framboise, poire Williams, kirsch. These latter are more properly eaux-de-vie than just liqueurs. As they should be served differently from the flavoured liqueurs and are sweet only because of the sweetness of the fruit, they form a separate group.