Liqueurs: Making Life A Little Sweeter

<< Back to Robb Report, October 2004

Pablo Picasso captured his enormous appetite for life on canvas. He was also a great lover of spirits, including liqueurs such as absinthe and anisette, both of which he enjoyed at cafés throughout southern France. Works of art in themselves, liqueurs are unique and unforgettable, like the master’s paintings.

Liqueur, which is derived from the Latin liquefacere, meaning to melt or dissolve, refers to a beverage made from herbs, spices, fruits, or other edible substances, all of which are dissolved in alcohol. Many of the world’s oldest liqueurs originated as therapeutic tonics, including the digestion-aiding bitters. Others have been said to prolong life.

While legend dates amaretto to 1525, the more modern creations, such as Grand Marnier and its rival Cointreau, did not arrive until 1827 and 1849, respectively. Absinthe, dubbed the “green fairy,” was the preferred quaff of Paris café literati in the 1840s. Traditionally diluted with ice water that has been poured over a sugar cube, this wormwood-infused liqueur was the muse of many artists and poets, including Oscar Wilde, Baudelaire, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, and Manet. Even Sigmund Freud and the always sociable Joseph Stalin were fans. Banned in France in 1915 for being an agent of moral corruption, absinthe is making a comeback in Spain, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom.

Made from some of the most intensely flavored ingredients—peppermint, chocolate, anise, and tangerine, among others—liqueurs are typically strong on the palate, which means novice mixologists should use them with caution. The sweetness of liqueur masks its potent alcohol level, making liqueur a dangerous overindulgence.

Like flavored vodkas, new liqueurs are continually being created. The bright-green mango-melon version of Envy and Alizé Bleu, a vodka-based liqueur flavored with tropical fruit, are two of the latest and greatest entries. Chris Kelly, bartender at Alex in Los Angeles, zaps Alizé Bleu with a dash of grenadine and a garnish of lime for a Lavender Flush.

The sublime Grand Marnier Cuvée du Centenaire ($100) and the original version of Chartreuse—possessing intense mint, herb, and spice notes—are highly recommended for the home mixologist’s bar.

Casanova Perk Up
{Revives the most weary of souls}
1 oz. Frangelico  |  1 oz. Chambord
Heavy whipping cream  |  2 oz. ice cubes
Fill a rocks glass with ice. Carefully add Frangelico, Chambord, and cream for a layered effect. Serve with a straw.

Amaretto Stinger
{The bee’s knees}
2 oz. Amaretto DiSaronno
1 oz. Marie Brizard Crème de Menthe White
Combine ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake well and strain over fresh ice cubes in an old-fashioned glass.

Stiff Straightener
{Perfect to serve on the set of Six Feet Under}
1 oz. Cinzano dry vermouth
1 oz. Pernod  |  2 oz. ice cubes
Club soda  |  Lime slice for garnish
Blend Cinzano and Pernod in a shaker filled
with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass, top off with
club soda, and garnish with lime.

Photograph courtesy of hotel Matlali
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