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French Liqueurs

Here you can learn all about French liqueurs - frequently used in french recipes but also perfect for sipping after dinner and

Liqueur Facts

  • Liqueurs are made from various plants, fruits, seeds and roots which have been distilled with or macerated in alcohol.
  • Liqueurs are sweetened with sugar, caramel or honey.
  • They are usually strong in alcohol, averaging about 80 proof and are frequently served as a digestif at the end of a meal.
  • In France, they are also used to make a variety of cocktails served before dinner, and as an ingredient in various recipes.

glass of liqueur

Bénédictine - An herbal liqueur made from 27 different plants and spices, created by a Benedictine Monk at Fécamp in Normandy in the 1500's. It is still made in the same location today and the exact recipe is a well-guarded secret. A liqueur to be savored on its own or in a cocktail.

Chartreuse - Once again those monks were hard at work making French liqueurs. This time it was the Chartreuse monks living at a monastery near Paris who first elaborated this liqueur according to a very old recipe, supposedly creating an elixir for long life. These days, Chartreuse is still made by the monks in the Chartreuse mountains, using various plants including hyssop (a sort of mint), lemon balm, cinnamon and angelica.

There are two types of Chartreuse: green, which has an alcohol content of 110 proof and a milder, yellow version with an alcohol content of 80 proof. It is sipped as a digestif in small glasses and is used to flavor some pastries. Learn more about the history of Chartreuse.

Chambord Liqueur - Carefully blended raspberry liquer made near the world famous Château de Chambord.

Cointreau - This is a brand name for a reputed triple sec liqueur made in the Anjou region of western France. Once again the exact ingredients and process of making this liqueur are passed on in secret from one generation to the next. Used in various cocktails.

Crème de Cassis- This liqueur is made from black currants. Don't confuse it with the dry white wine from Provence known by the same name. When you mix crème de cassis with white wine (in theory it should be a bourgogne blanc) you get a Kir, a popular drink at cocktail hour. If you mix it with champagne, you get a Kir Royale. Delicious.

mint leaves

Crème de Menthe - This is a sweet minty liqueur that comes in both clear and green versions. It is an ingredient in different cocktails or can be sipped from a small liqueur glass after dinner. It is also used in some dessert recipes and would be good on ice cream (I remember my dad always liked that).

Grand Marnier - This is the brand name for another famous triple sec.

cherries

Guignolet - This is a cherry liqueur. It gets its names from the kinds of cherries it is sometimes made from: la guigne and is traditionally bottled in Anjou, just like Cointreau. Guignolet is often homemade.

Izarra - A liqueur made in the Basque region from herbs and fortified with armagnac, a French brandy.

Mistelle - A mistelle is a mixture of alcohol and fresh grape juice along with sugar. The grape juice is never actually fermented, so this is not a wine. A ratafia is a sort of mistrelle that was tradtionally drunk at the signing of a treaty. Mistrelles and ratafias are found in various places in France and are often not commercialized, so consider yourself lucky if you get a chance to try one.

orange slice

Triple Sec - A liqueur made from orange peels, triple sec was invented by Jean-Baptiste Combier in the town of Saumur in the Pays-de-la-Loire region of France. The Combier distillery is still producing Original Triple Sec almost two hundred years later.

Vermouth - Although this alcohol originated in Italy, it is now fabricated in France as well. It is made by adding sugar to white wine and includes many different spices and herbs. The exact recipe is often a carefully guarded secret. French vermouth is usually not as sweet as the Italian version. Dry vermouth is used to make a martini and sweet vermouth is served on ice as a cocktail.

Fruit Liqueurs

You will find many fruit based French liqueurs, and these will often be homemade. They will be called either a liqueur or a crème. These are often used in recipes and some are good on their own. Some popular fruit liqueurs include:

mixed berries
  • liqueur de myrte (myrtle liqueur)
  • liqueur de mure (blackberry liqueur)
  • crème de peche (peach liqueur)
  • liqueur de verveine (this one is actually an herb, lemon verbena liqueur)
  • crème de framboise (raspberry liqueur)
  • crème de fraise (strawberry liqueur)
  • crème de banane (banana liqueur)
A votre santé

If you are enjoying any of these delicious French liqueurs, perhaps as an after dinner drink (their sweet taste make them a great substitute for dessert), please remember to sip slowly. It is easy to drink too much of these sweetened alcohols and I don't want you to regret it later!

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