A liqueur is an alcoholic beverage that has been flavoured with fruit, herbs, nuts, spices, flowers, or cream and bottled with added sugar. Liqueurs are typically quite sweet; they are usually not aged for long but may have resting periods during their production to allow flavours to marry.
In some parts of the world people use the words cordial and liqueur interchangeably. Though in these places the two expressions both describe liqueurs made by redistilling spirits with aromatic flavourings and are usually highly sweetened, there are some differences. While liqueurs are usually flavoured with herbs, cordials are generally prepared with fruit pulp or juices.
Liqueurs date back centuries and are historical descendants of herbal medicines, often those prepared by monks, as Chartreuse or Bénédictine. Liqueurs were made in Italy as early as the 13th century and their consumption was later required at all treaty signings during the Middle Ages.
Nowadays, liqueurs are made worldwide and are served in many ways: by themselves, poured over ice, with coffee, mixed with cream or other mixers to create cocktails, etc. They are often served with or after a dessert. Liqueurs are also used in cooking.
Some liqueurs are prepared by infusing certain woods, fruits, or flowers, in either water or alcohol, and adding sugar or other items. Others are distilled from aromatic or flavouring agents. The distinction between liqueurs and spirits (sometimes liquors) is not simple, especially since many spirits are available in a flavoured form today. Flavoured spirits, however, are not prepared by infusion. Alcohol content is not a distinctive feature. At 15-30%, most liqueurs have a lower alcohol content than spirits, but some liqueurs have an alcohol content as high as 55%. Dessert wine, on the other hand, may taste like a liqueur, but contains no additional flavouring.
Anise liqueurs have the interesting property of turning from transparent to cloudy when added to water: the oil of anise remains in solution in the presence of a high concentration of alcohol, but crystallises out when the alcohol concentration is reduced.
The word liqueur comes from the Latin liquifacere (“to liquefy”).