Here we look at a range of cocktail ingredients including liqueurs, spirits and cordials used in mixology
Cocktail ingredients span a massive range. The base of a cocktail or shooter is of course one or a combination of spirits (ignoring non-alcoholic ‘tails for the moment). There are endless different spirits and liqueurs used as cocktail ingredients, many made according to highly secret recipes that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years, like Benedictine whose recipe dates from 1510.
Liqueurs are usually made from a base spirit (like brandy) mixed with herbs, fruit and fruit extract, flowers, barks, seeds, roots, nuts, sugar or even entirely artificial flavourings. In addition to being used as cocktail ingredients, many liqueurs can be drank neat (on its own) or on the rocks (over ice).
The label of the drink will often tell you how it’s best or often enjoyed and some even give cocktail recipes. As usual we encourage you to experiment by mixing different liqueurs together and drinking it neat, on ice or with a mixer.
The cocktail ingredients listed here are obviously not all that’s available, but we aim to cover the most common ones. If you know of a drink not covered here, fill in the form at the bottom of the page and we will list it.
Here we go …
A green anise flavored drink similar to absinthe.
A green anise-flavoured liqueur illegal in some countries. Replace it with Abisante or Herbsaint in recipes if you can’t get hold of it.
A brandy based vanilla flavored drink from Holland. Tastes good on the rocks.
Usually enjoyed as a shooter and served very chilled. It comes in many flavors: Hot and Cool Cinnamon, Deep Cool Citrus and Hot Aniseed. The name comes from the hot and then cool sensation it leaves in your mouth after drinking it.
Almond flavored liqueur from Italy and often used in mixing cocktails. Goes well with coffee liqueur.
A light colored cream liqueur from South Africa and made from the marula fruit. Very smooth and delicious over ice cream, on the rocks or neat.
A brandy based cream liqueur with tastes of orange and herbs. Similar to Amarula.
A bitters (see below) made in Trinidad and Tobago. Infamous bottle you will find in just about any bar. A very commonly used cocktail ingredient.
The collective name for pre-dinner drinks. Martini is a popular aperitif cocktail.
A strong apple flavored liqueuer.
A bitter Italian liqueur made from herbs, citrus peels and caramel. Often drank as a digestif (after dinner drink).
Originating from Malta, it is a liquer made from prickly pear fruits. Fantastic, very strong, very fruity, very sweet but more alcaholic then liqueurish. It can be used in any coctail which contains fruit liqueurs. Submitted by James Catania
A range of cream liqueurs usually enjoyed on the rocks or as a shooter. The range includes:
-- Bartender’s Hot Sex, made from ginger liqueur, vodka, cream, chocolate and ginseng.
-- Bartender’s Hot Sex and Brandy, similar to Hot Sex but using brandy instead of vodka.
-- Bartender’s Bananas Over You, made from rum, cream and banana. Better than Crème de Banane.
-- Bartender’s Kick Ass Mudslide, made from rum, coffee, chocolate and cream.
-- Bartender’s Awesome Orange, made from vodka and orange.
-- Bartender’s Pina Colada, made from rum, cream coconut and pineapple.
-- Bartender’s Coconut Rum.
A bitter cinnamon flavored drink. Quite strong.
Man’s second best friend. It’s made from water, hops, malt and sugar and the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the world. Both ale and lagers are beer, but ales are fermented faster and at higher temperatures than lager. Common styles of ale are bitter ale, brown ale, cream ale, Indian pale ale, lambic (also referred to as “spontaneous fermenting” beer), pale ale, porter, stout and wheat beer. Common styles of lagers are bock, hefeweizen, marzen and pilsner.
Beer is not a very common cocktail ingredient, although you will come across the odd beer cocktail. See our Beer Cocktails Recipe Guide for more on this.
A cognac based liqueur still made according to a recipe dating from 1510. The American version is known as Benai.
A collective name for liqueur prepared by dissolving herbs and citrus in alcohol. It usually has a strong, herby taste and is often served as a digestif (after dinner drink). Common examples include Angostura Bitters and Jagermeister.
A brown Canadian coffee liqueur.
Brandy is a base spirit often used in cocktails, like Between the Sheets. It is made from grapes, pomace or fermented fruit juice, but most commonly from grapes. There are many varieties available including grape brandy, pomace brandy, fruit brandy and cognac.
There are a number of flavored liqueurs under this brand including Espresso, Ginger, Blue Caracao and Van Der Hum.
CACAO MIT NUSS
Crème de Cacao (see below) with hazelnut flavor.
A spirit similar to rum mostly produced in Brazil. It is often used in tropical cocktails like Caipirinha.
An Italian liqueur red in color and tasting of herbs and orange. Often used in pre-dinner (aperitif) cocktails.
CAPE VELVET CREAM
A cream liqueur from South Africa, available in English Toffee and Strawberry varieties.
More or less the same as triple sec (see below). It comes in white, orange, blue and green.
A sweet black liqueur from France and dating from 1685. It is made by infusing raspberries with cognac and adding spices, vanilla and honey.
Produced by Carthusian monks in the French Alps by blending 130 herbs and spices. It has a green color and also comes in a lighter yellow variety. Only 3 monks know the recipe at any one time.
Fine French brandy. Only cognac produced in the Cognac region of France may truly be called “cognac” (according to the French).
The Rolls Royce of triple secs. This is an orange flavored clear liquid from France. Quite pricey but absolutely delicsh. Like many liqueurs it’s made from a secret recipe (this one dates from 1849).
Not to be confused cream liqueurs (which actually contain cream). Crème liqueurs are high in sugar content and as a result have a creamy texture, but does not actually contain cream. There are a number of crème liqueurs on the market including:
--Crème de Abricots, apricot flavored.
--Crème de Almond, almond flavored.
-- Crème de Banane, banana flavored and yellow in color. Tastes like synthetically flavored banana liqueur (which it happens to be!). Goes well in a Banana Daiquiri – see our Rum Cocktail Recipes Guide
--Crème de Cacao, cocao and vanilla flavored. Available as clear and brown variants.
--Crème de Cafe, coffee flavored. The most famous is probably Kahlua.
-- Crème de Cassis, blackcurrant flavored and dark in color.
--Crème de Cerise, cherry flavored.
--Crème de Framboise, raspberry flavored.
--Crème de Fraise, strawberry flavored.
-- Crème de Menthe, a mint flavored drink available in white and green variants.
-- Crème de Noyeaux, almond flavored and red in color.
A Mexican liqueur made from the damiana herb.
The collective name for after-dinner drinks. These are drinks that helps digestion and relieves that over-indulged feeling one might have after a big meal. Jagermaeister is a commonly drank digestif.
A top selling Italian liqueur, known as the ‘liqueur of love’. It’s base is Italian grape spirit and it’s flavored with 17 herbs and fruit including apricot kernel oil. It has flavors of almond, orange and vanilla.
A sweet liqueur made from Scotch whisky older than 10 years, honey and herbs. The name means ‘the drink that satisfies’.
A wine-based aperitif, similar to vermouth.
A clear lemon and pomegranate flavored liqueur.
A very popular hazelnut flavored liqueur. Also gets coffee, cocao, vanilla and rhubarb root added. Equally enjoyable on ice, neat or in cocktails and shooters.
A golden colored spicy and smooth Italian liqueur. It has tastes of anise and vanilla. Bottled in a very distinctive bottle
A base spirit made from juniper berries. A very popular base ingredient for cocktails since the early 1900’s and the traditional base ingredient for martini’s.
A strong cinnamon schnapps from Switzerland. Contains tiny flakes of 23 carat gold.
A cognac based orange liqueur.
A commonly used cocktail ingredient which is a red syrup used to flavor and colour cocktails. It is used in Tequila Sunrise for example.
Similar to absinthe and used to substitute it where it’s not available.
A blue colored liqueur blended from vodka, vodka and fruits. Often used to replace blue caracao to create blue cocktails.
A cream liqueur from South Africa made from the ilala palm. It has hazelnut and toffee flavors. Lower in fat than many other cream liqueurs.
A cream, vanilla and chocolate based liqueur. Bailley’s is the original and the first cream liqueur ever made (in 1974). Often enjoyed over ice bream, on the rocks, neat or in Dom Pedro.
Made from whiskey, honey, herbs and other spirits according to a recipe older than 1 000 years.
A German bitters liqueur made from 56 herbs, fruit and bark extracts. Best served ice cold and often enjoyed neat as a shooter or with Red Bull to made a Jager Bomb (Put a shot of Jagermeister in a shot glass inside a lowball glass and fill the glass halfway with Red Bull, without the two liquids mixing. Swallow the whole lot in one gulp).
A Mexican coffee liqueur commonly used in shooters and as a cocktail ingredient.
A clear liqueur made from cherries.
A sweet lemon-flavored Italian dessert liqueur.
A Caribbean white rum and coconut liqueur. It’s bottled in a distinctive white bottle. Very strong coconut aromas, making it a popular candidate for tropical cocktails.
A French liqueur made since 1892. It’s made by blending mandarin peels with cognac. Often enjoyed neat or on ice.
A dry clear liqueur made from marasca cherries and almond flavor. Often used as a mixer.
MIDORI LEMON LIQUEUR
A green liqueur quite versatile for use in cocktails.
A dark coffee liqueur from Mexico.
A rich, thick and smooth chocolate liqueur, often enjoyed over ice cream or neat. Also goes very well in Dom Pedro and makes for a versatile shooter ingredient.
A cognac based liqueur made from vanilla.
A bitter Japanese green-tea liqueur.
Liqueur from South Africa available in peppermint and ginger flavors.
A liquorice flavored liqueur from Greece. Similar to sambuca, which is from Italy.
PAMA POMEGRANATE LIQUEUR
A sweet red pomegranate flavored liqueur.
PATRON XO CAFE
A tequila-based liqueur with a coffee flavor. Drier and less sweet than normal coffee liqueur and quite strong.
Another substitute for absinthe like Herbsaint.
A Jamaican rum liqueur with a peppery taste.
A range of liqueurs made from fruit and spices. The most common is Pimm’s No. 1 Cup which is gin based.
A strong anise flavored liqueur from Turkey.
A melon liqueur from Japan.
Made from a blend of herbal liqueurs and bitters, often enjoyed as an after dinner drink.
Rum is distilled from sugar cane and produced mostly in the Caribbean. Rums come is a variety of shades, from clear to dark. Puerto Rican rum is usually light whereas Jamaican rum is usually light in color. Cuban rum are produced in light and dark varieties.
See our Rum Cocktail Recipe Guide for more on this.
Strong liquorice flavoured liqueur and often drank as a shooter (best served chilled). Comes in a range of colors and flavors including clear, blue, red, black and green. Lupini Gold Sambuca contains 24 carat gold flakes.
A sweet syrup-like liqueur, commonly infused with raspberries, peaches and grapefruit. Often enjoy very chilled as a shooter.
Plum flavored gin and red in color. Not a true gin.
This is actually more a bourbon than a liqueur, although there is argument about that. SO let’s say it’s a bourbon-based liqueur from the USA flavored with peaches.
A sweet syrup made from water and sugar. It is quite easy to make: take 1 part sugar and 1 part water. Bring the water to a boil on stove top and dissolve the sugar in it. Once the sugar is dissolved completely, remove it from the heat and let it cool down before bottling. Store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.
Made with tangerine and spices.
Tequila is made from blue agave and is native to Jalisco in Mexico.
A strawberry flavored liqueur made from tequila in Mexico.
Coffee liqueur made in Jamaica.
A collective name for orange infused liqueur. See Cointreau above.
A vanilla and fruit flavored Italian liqueur.
A vodka based Asian liqueur and green in color.
VAN DER HUM
Naartjie flavored liqueur.
A fortified wine made with herbs and spices. Available in a variety of flavors and colors including dry, sweet, clear, red. It’s one of the key ingredients of Martini. Generally goes not taste nice on its own.
Vodka is relatively simple to produce and is created from fermented potatoes, grain or sugar beet molasses. Vodka is very commonly used in cocktail mixing and goes well with just about anything. Flavored vodkas, like Absolute Mandrin (a citrus flavored vodka) is quite common and popular these days.
WHISK(E)Y Whiskey (with the ‘e’) refers to Irish and American whiskeys. All other whiskies are referred to as whisky (without the ‘e’). Whiskey is distilled from fermenting grain mash and aged in oak casks or barrels. Many types of grain is used, including barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, and maize (corn).
Whisk(e)y is produced in the flowing countries:
The most commonly drank brand is likely Jameson’s. There are several types of whiskey made in Ireland: Single Malt, Single Grain, Blended Whiskey and uniquely to Ireland, pure pot still whiskey. The designation "pure pot still" as used in Ireland generally refers to whiskey made of 100% barley, mixed malted and unmalted, and distilled in a pot still made of copper.
Scotch whiskies are generally distilled twice, though some are distilled a third time International laws require anything bearing the label "Scotch" to be distilled in Scotland and matured for a minimum of three years in oak casks, among other, more specific criteria .
Well known brands include J&B and Johnnie Walker. ‘Scotch’ is probably the most well known and widely-drank whisky. There are 6 whiskey producing regions, each delivering a whisky with a unique taste and character. The regions are Islay, Lowlands, Speyside, Highlands, Cambeltown and Islands.
There are three American whiskeys defined by law - :
· Bourbon whiskey, which must be at least 51% corn (maize).
· Rye whiskey, which must be at least 51% rye.
· Corn whiskey, which is made from a mash made up of at least 80% corn (maize).
Another type, not defined by law, is Tennessee whiskey of which Jack Daniel’s is the most famous. This type of whiskey is very simliar to bourbon except that it’s filterd thourgh sugar maple charcoal. Bourbon is generally made in Kentucy.
There is a saying: “All bourbons are whiskey but not all whiskeys are bourbon”. For a whiskey to be legally classified as bourbon in the USA, it must be produced there and made from at least 51% and no more than 79% Indian corn, and aged for at least two years.
A caramel cream liqueur from South Africa. As with most cream liqueurs it goes well over ice cream, neat as a shooter or over ice. The bottle is covered in synthetic leopard skin, making it quite unique.
Do you know of another spirit or liqueur your fellow Cocktail Mixing Masters should know about and you want listed here? Let us know: