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I was sitting in a hotel bar sipping cocktails with friends last night, and as one of the less well-versed of us was casting an eye over the cocktail list, he idly asked "is vermouth a liqueur?".

"Of course not", i snorted; "it's an aromatic wine.".

A look of puzzlement creased his face. "Why? What's the difference?".

"Well", i eagerly explained, "a liqueur is a base alcoholic liquid to which has been added strong flavourings, for example bitter herbs, and enough sugar to make it quite sweet. Whereas vermouth is ...".

My words tailed off into my Sazerac, and i changed the subject.

So, what is a liqueur? Why do we consider some flavoured, sweetened alcoholic liquids to be liqueurs, and not others? Why is Chartreuse a liqueur, but not vermouth? Why is Absolut Citron a vodka, but limoncello a liqueur? What about the Italian amari, like Campari, Cynar, Ramazotti, Aperol and so on?

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Hopefully you've also learned to be more humble as well. It's ok to say "I don't know". :-) –  Vinay May 8 at 8:01
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Humility and cocktails don't really go together, in my experience. Cocktails demand swagger. –  Tom Anderson May 8 at 10:03
    
Fair enough. :-P –  Vinay May 8 at 23:33
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1 Answer 1

up vote 31 down vote accepted

Liqueur is essentially a flavoured distilled spirit, with the important distinction of added sugar. Vermouth is not distilled, which is why it's referred to as a fortified wine. Flavoured vodkas usually have no added sugar, and so are not classed as liqueurs. Campari uses both distilled alcohol and sugar, and so is a liqueur.

Have a flow chart: enter image description here

And a Venn diagram, including flavour:

enter image description here

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In today's crazy world you can get "liqueurs" without sugar, they have those artificial sweeteners instead... –  TFD May 7 at 12:21
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@TFD : so you're saying we need a new fork in the diagram for 'foul substance that no one should drink' –  Joe May 7 at 12:27
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Ah yes - "Sugar?! That stuff'll kill ya" <knocks back high-proof liqueur> –  ElendilTheTall May 7 at 12:32
    
I think this ought to be a Venn diagram rather than a flowchart. –  Tom Anderson May 7 at 16:24
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@TomAnderson you got it... –  ElendilTheTall May 8 at 9:39
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