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Liqueur and Liquor

Tuesday, 24 November 2009 | Tags: ,

As part of our research for Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag, we sometimes come across recipes that require a splash of this, or an ounce of that for some added flavour. Here are some of the liqueurs and liquors we've learned about for our show.

“Liquor” is a generic term for distilled alcoholic beverages. “Liqueur” refers to those that have also been sweetened.

Crème de Cassis

  • A French liqueur made from black currents, crème de cassis is consumed as a digestif, mixed in apératifs, or used in desserts and savory sauces.

  • Look for one that contains 20% alcohol by volume for the richest, fullest flavour.

Calvados (Brandy)

  • Calvados hails from the French region of Normandy and takes its name from the French area most notable for its production. Locals have been distilling it since at least the mid-1500s.

  • Calvados is a potent form of brandy made through a two-part process called “double distillation.” After distillation, the liquid is then aged in oak barrels for upwards of two years, resulting in a brandy with a nearly 40% alcohol content.

  • Though calvados is most typically made from apples, it can also be produced from pears.

  • Calvados apple brandy is not as popular in North America as its high brow cousin, cognac.

  • Only about 200,000 bottles of calvados are sold in the US per year compared to 40 million bottles of cognac.

  • Cognac is made from grapes while calvados is made from apples. Calvados is not sweeter that cognac, just different.

  • Calvados producers select a blend of specially grown apples to make their brandy, usually striving for a balance of sweet, tart, and bitter varieties.

  • Calvados is considerably cheaper than cognac, which is the best and most expensive brandy in the world.

  • Though there is no universally-accepted age or quality ranking for Calvados, look for one with V.S.O.P. on the label. This is a term used to determine cognac quality, and stands for “very superior old pale”, which means it’s had a minimum of 4 years cask aging.

  • The older a Calvados is, the smoother it should taste and smell. Barrel aging also develops notes of dried fruits, butterscotch, and nuts.

  • There are several different brands available, most hailing from different regions of Normandy, France. If you like the flavour (and the price point), be sure to try a range of brands to see which you like best.

Cognac

  • Cognac is produced in the wine-making region of western France that surrounds the town of Cognac, and is considered to be the greatest of all brandies.

  • It’s made primarily from white Trebbiano grapes, which are fermented, then double-distilled, which increases alcohol content and decreases water content.

  • As a young brandy, it has a very harsh flavour. Aging takes place in oak barrels, which mellows it and helps to develop some of its characteristic flavours and aromas.

  • Unless a vintage is listed on the bottle (in which case the contents will have been made from an exceptionally good harvest), Cognac is always a blend of different vintages. Producers tend to aim for a signature style on each of their labels (e.g., low, mid, or high-end), much like how Champagne producers do. Blending allows them to achieve this.

  • Like calvados, the age listed on the cognac bottle must refer to the youngest part of the blend. Note that even for very old cognac, producers are not allowed to advertise more than 7 years of aging, because keeping track of all these records has proven to be too difficult for the authorities involved.

  • Age labels:

    • Minimum 2 years barrel aging: May be labelled VS (=very special) or ***.

    • Minimum 4 years barrel aging: May be labeled VSOP (=very special old pale).

    • Minimum 6 years barrel aging: May be labeled Extra, XO (=extra old), hors d’age (=exceptionally old), or Napoléon. One of these terms is usually applied to the oldest Cognac that a producer makes—which may be much older than 6 years.

Cointreau

  • A crystal-clear liqueur with 40% alcohol content, cointreau is made from the distillation of sweet and bitter orange peels blended with natural alcohol, sugar, and water.

  • Cointreau doesn’t need to be aged. It’s ready to drink immediately after distillation. 

  • Cointreau should be consumed within three years of manufacture.

Jägermeister

  • Jägermeister is an herbal liqueur produced in Germany since 1935. The recipe was invented by a German man named Curt Mast in 1934. Mast was also an enthusiastic hunter, and gave the liqueur its name, which translates to “master of the hunt.”

  • This 35% (or 70-proof) liqueur is flavoured with 56 different herbs and spices. The company says that the exact recipe is kept “top secret”, but some of the ingredients include cinnamon bark, bitter oranges, ginger root, saffron, cloves, and coriander.

  • The herbal mixture is macerated in an alcohol-water mixture, then stored in oak barrels for one year. After a year, the mixture is blended with sugar, caramel colour, and more water and alcohol.

  • Because Jägermeister is sweeter than many other similar liqueurs, it is considered a half-bitter digestif, rather than a full bitter. Also, Jagermeister no longer markets itself as an old-fashioned bitter or digestive aid, but mainly as an exotic ingredient for making cocktails.

  • Cooking with Jägermeister is not as odd as it sounds. With its herbal, spicy, slightly sweet flavour, it can be a flavourful addition to dishes such as tomato soup, roast lamb, or gingersnap cookies.

Maraschino

  • At one time, a classic staple of any cocktail bar, Maraschino liqueur or cordial is a clear, sweet beverage made from Marasca cherries, a small, sour, black cherry that grows wild in Croatia and Italy.

  • The pits are ground to lend a slightly nutty flavour to the drink, and honey or cane syrup is typically added to sweeten it after the liquid is fermented and aged.

  • Maraschino liqueur contains about 32% alcohol and has an indefinite shelf life.

  • It can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or blended in cocktails.

Peach Brandy

  • Made from fermented peaches, peach brandy is typically clear and uncoloured, unless colouring has been added to make it appear fruitier and more appealing.

  • Peach brandies are usually not aged very long, if at all, which also makes it high in alcohol – around 40-45%.

  • Like other fruit brandies, peach brandy must identify the kind of fruit it is distilled from.

Sherry

  • Sherry is a fortified wine made only from white grapes grown only in Spain.

  • Because the fortification process takes place after fermentation, most sherries are initially dry, with any sweetness added later.

  • Don’t be confused by the difference between drinking sherry and cooking sherry.

    • Drinking sherries range from dry to sweet and can be consumed chilled as an aperitif or as an after-dinner drink at room temperature.

    • Cooking sherry is a low quality beverage generally sold in smaller bottles that are more expensive than sipping sherries. Cooking sherry typically contains salt and other additives, making it unsuitable for general consumption.

  • Some chefs advise that if you wouldn’t drink it, you shouldn’t cook with it!

Vermouth

  • Vermouth is best described as an aromatized wine. This means sugar, herbs, roots, flowers, and spices have been added, but have not changed the 15-19% alcohol content.

  • Vermouth is Italian in origin and dates back to the 1700s.

  • Vermouth was often sold as a tonic since its herbal ingredients, including coriander, nutmeg, marjoram, and cinnamon, were considered medicinal.

  • An open bottle of vermouth will keep for a couple of months in the refrigerator.

  • A dry vermouth can be used as a replacement for white wine.

  • A sweet vermouth enhances dessert recipes.

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