The key differences between liquor and liqueur, plus common types to know
- All types of liqueurs are considered liquor but not all liquor is liqueur.
- Liquor is synonymous with alcoholic spirits as a whole and includes common beverages like vodka or rum.
Whether you plan to peruse the spirits aisle at your local liquor store or just want to brush up on your knowledge before you explore new
The two terms – often used interchangeably – actually refer to two different categories in the alcoholic beverage world, as they vary in both taste and use.
Liquors, like vodka or gin, are typically served on the rocks or used as a base in cocktails, whereas liqueurs, like coffee liqueur or crème liqueur, are distilled flavor additives meant to sweeten or enhance mixed drinks.
Still not sure exactly which term to use when? Here's exactly what you should know about the difference between liquor versus liqueur according to industry experts.
What is the difference between liquor and liqueur?
Liquor: Liquor refers to alcoholic spirits as a whole, including distilled beverages made from grains, fruits, vegetables, or sugars.
Liquor is different from other types of alcohol, like beer or wine, because of its significantly higher alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage. Beer and wine are much lower in alcohol content because they have not been distilled, whereas liquor has.
"Liquors are usually the base of an alcoholic drink or cocktail and are not usually sweet," explains Brad Neathery, founder of Eden Whiskey.
Liqueur: Liqueurs are a type of liquor. Most liqueurs are made from a base spirit, however flavors and spices are added, resulting in a beverage with more sugar and flavor, and a weaker alcohol content. Liqueurs are typically used as a flavor enhancer in mixed cocktails.
Types of liquor
Liquor is the base of most, if not all, mainstream cocktails — but there are really only a small handful of different liquors and hard spirits to know. Here are the most common liquors that you'll find on all bar rails:
- Brandy: Brandy is a liquor produced by distilling wine and other fruit juices such as apricot and apples and is commonly served as an after-dinner digestif. The most common varieties include Cognac and Armagnac — both of which are from Southwestern France.
- Gin: The word "gin" is a derivative from juniperus, the Latin word for juniper. The popular clear liquor is commonly flavored with botanical or herbal ingredients. Juniper berries are the only required botanical.
- Rum: Rum is made by fermenting and then distilling sugarcane molasses or sugarcane juice. The golden-hued spirit is produced primarily in the Caribbean and is a large part of West Indies and Atlantic Canadian culture.
- Tequila: Made from the blue agave plant, tequila is named after a city in Jalisco, Mexico. Strict Mexican laws ensure that tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco.
- Vodka: Vodka is composed mainly of water, ethanol, and fermented cereal grains — but can also be made using potatoes, fruit, and even honey. The clear liquor is the most popular spirit in the world and is largely produced in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.
- Whiskey: Whiskey is made from distilled grain, barley, corn, rye, or wheat that has typically been aged in wood barrels or sherry casks. The term "whiskey" is used when describing American or Irish whiskey while "whisky" is correct when speaking of Canadian, Japanese, or Scottish varieties. The term "Scotch" is reserved for whisky made exclusively in Scotland.
Types of liqueur
Most folks don't enjoy liquor or liqueurs the same way, though you can drink both in the same styles — neat, on the rocks, or chilled. Liqueur is more commonly used to amplify the flavor in certain cocktail recipes. Here are some of the most common types of liqueur that you'll find in popular cocktails:
- Coffee liqueur: Coffee liqueur — like Kahlua or Tia Maria — is crafted with coffee beans steeped most commonly in rum and then combined with simple syrup and vanilla extract.
- Fruit liqueur: Fruit liqueur is most commonly made using neutral spirits or brandy with the addition of macerated fruit and sugar to create a slightly syrupy beverage. Limoncello (made from lemons) and Grand Marnier (made with bitter orange) are some of the most popular.
- Crème liqueur: Bailey's Irish Cream is one of the most common crème liqueur options. The milky beverage is made using cream, cocoa, and Irish whiskey.
- Herbal liqueur: Look to the licorice notes of Jagermeister or Sambuca as examples of fine herbal liqueur. The herbaceous hard liquor is made from a unique combination of herbs and spices and are often quite pungent in taste.
- Nut-flavored liqueur: Hazelnut-flavored Frangelico and almond-based Amaretto are great examples of nut-flavored liqueurs. These sweet and slightly spicy liqueurs are often a rum or whiskey base combined with common nuts and seeds such as almonds, hazelnut, and even apricot pits.
The best places to buy alcohol online
If you want to try some of these liquors or liqueurs, here are the best places to order alcohol online :
- The best on-demand alcohol delivery: Drizly
- The best spirits subscription: Flaviar
- The best place to buy alcohol gifts: ReserveBar
Liquor and liqueur might sound and look a lot the same — but the two spirits are very distinct in both flavor and use. Liquor is a catch-all term for any hard spirit that has a higher ABV than wine or beer and includes common beverages like vodka and whiskey.
Liqueur, on the other hand, is usually lower in alcohol content and much sweeter, citrusy, or more herbaceous than regular liquor due to the addition of flavors and spices. Liqueurs are used as a flavor enhancer rather than the base of a beverage.
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