If you want to build your own bar, you cannot overlook liqueurs. Not only do liqueurs play an essential role in some of the most classic cocktails, but they can also add flair and excitement to your own creations.
Whether you are just looking for a few key items for your bar cart or hoping to build a fully stocked cocktail bar in your own home, you will need to familiarize yourself with some essential home bar liqueurs.
Fortunately, we can help! Not only will we list some of the essential liqueurs any aspiring home bartender should purchase, but we will also explain what types of cocktails and mixed drinks you can use them to make.
If you are ready to take your cocktail-making skills to the next level, you have come to the right place! Grab a cocktail glass and your bar tools, and let’s get started.
What Exactly Is a Liqueur?
The words liquor and liqueur may be similar, but they refer to very different types of spirits. In general, liquors are distilled beverages that are drunk neat or used as the base of a classic cocktail or mixed drink. Unflavored gin, vodka, rum, tequila, and whiskey are all types of liquor.
On the other hand, liqueurs contain liquor, but they are sweetened and flavored, often by adding various herbs, oils, syrups, and fruits; however, the key ingredient that turns liquor into a liqueur is the addition of sugar.
This explains why liqueur is often sweeter than pure liquor. While most taste sweet, other ingredients can give them various flavors, like fruity, tart, chocolatey, creamy, nutty, and even bitter.
Since liqueur is derived from liquor but altered to have different and more pronounced flavors, they usually have lower alcohol contents. Most liqueurs will range between 15% and 30% ABV, while liquor tends to sit around 40% ABV.
The vast array of flavors explains why you can use liqueur to bring sweetness and depth to a wide range of cocktails. In fact, some of the most famous cocktails contain some form of liqueur. Think about the margarita, which would not be the same without the orange, fruity flavor of the liqueur Triple Sec.
Now that you know a little bit more about liqueur, we can get into some of the top liqueurs you will need if you plan on stocking home bar essentials!
If you are building a full-sized home bar, you will want to stock it with a complete list of essential liqueurs. This will allow you to make just about any type of beverage you can find in a professional cocktail recipe book. While you should still stock the essentials we cover below, you can purchase others that appeal to your unique preferences.
On the other hand, if you are simply looking to fill out a bar cart with the essentials, there are a few basic liqueurs you can purchase to give you good versatility. The basics, covered below, should be more than enough for you to get plenty of use out of your bar cart.
Liqueurs to Have on Hand
While there are countless liqueurs out there that you can use to create an endless list of new and old cocktails, some can be described as essentials.
As you become a more established cocktail maker, you can explore new and exciting liqueurs that appeal to your exact tastes and preferences, but investing in the following types is essential when you are first starting.
Amaretto is a classic, almond-flavored Italian liqueur. It is a mainstay in bars worldwide because of its versatility, unique flavor, and Italian sophistication. More importantly, it is an essential ingredient in some of the world’s most popular cocktails and shooters.
Another reason amaretto is a home bar essential is that the sweet, bitter, and nutty flavor is even enjoyable on its own, which explains why many Italians enjoy sipping amaretto on the rocks. In fact, amaretto has such a unique and delicious flavor that it is even a popular ingredient in a range of baked goods, as well as sweet sauces and glazes for savory recipes.
While the exact flavor will vary from brand to brand, premium brands tend to taste less sweet than the cheaper alternatives.
How Do You Drink Amaretto?
As mentioned, you can serve amaretto over ice as a delicious post-meal drink. Many also enjoy amaretto when it is mixed with ice and cola. Others enjoy mixing amaretto into coffee, which can be a delightful and refreshing dessert beverage.
Amaretto is also found in a range of creamy cocktails, or you can use it in small volumes to add a touch of sweetness to a martini. Thanks to its unique and enjoyable flavor and availability in bars around the world, it is also used in countless shooter recipes.
Popular amaretto cocktails include the Amaretto Sour, Café Amore, Alabama Slammer, Toasted Almond, and Godfather. That said, countless new and exciting cocktails are made every day with amaretto, so you can use it for your creations!
2. Irish Cream
Irish cream is a whiskey-based liqueur made with high volumes of sugar and cream. While some Irish cream recipes contain hazelnuts, nutmeg, cinnamon, and other ingredients, a basic Irish cream, like Bailey’s, will go a long way on your bar cart or behind your home bar.
Since it contains dairy, it can curdle and coagulate when mixed with acidic ingredients, which has become an interesting ingredient in various comical shooters.
How Do You Drink Irish Cream?
Irish cream can be enjoyed on its own over ice or mixed with milk and ice. It is also incredibly delicious when mixed with hot beverages, like coffee and hot chocolate, which explains why a bottle of Irish cream is a classic item around the holiday season.
People also use it as an ingredient in many cocktails, like Irish coffee, Mudslide, Irish Cream, and Chocolatini.
Vermouth is a fortified wine flavored with various herbs, spices, and floral ingredients. It originates from France, where it is often enjoyed on its own and served as either an aperitif or digestif.
While many Europeans enjoy it on its own, it is also a vital ingredient in some of the world’s most famous cocktails, as it can add plenty of flavor and sweetness to a mixed drink.
Dry vermouth, which is almost always made in France, is white in appearance, as it is made from fortified white wine. Like white wine, it is dry and has a more floral flavor than other types of vermouth.
Dry vermouth is found in gin and vodka martinis, which is why it is such a bar and bar cart essential.
Sweet vermouth is red as it is often made from Italian red wine. It is much sweeter and usually has a more spiced and herbal flavor. It is used in classic cocktails like the Manhattan and the Negroni. Again, this explains why a bottle of sweet vermouth is a bar essential.
4. Coffee Liqueur
As the name suggests, coffee liqueur delivers a sweet, coffee-like flavor. It tends to have a syrupy consistency. While there are other brands on the market, the most popular type of coffee liqueur is Kahlua.
How Do You Drink Coffee Liqueur?
Some will drink coffee liqueur with a bit of cream and sugar, while others will simply add it to a hot cup of coffee to add alcohol and flavor. While you can enjoy it on its own or mix it into other beverages, just about any coffee-flavored cocktail contains coffee liqueur, which is why it is considered an essential bottle on any home bar or bar cart.
Coffee liqueur is used in classic cocktails, like the espresso martini, White Russian, Mudslide, and more.
5. Orange Liqueur
Orange liqueur, also known as Triple Sec, is a type of orange-flavored liqueur that originates from France. It is now considered one of the most popular liqueurs, and versions are available from some of the most recognizable liqueur brands in the world.
Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Combier, Bols, Luxardo Triplum, and Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao are all orange liqueur brands in bars everywhere.
How Do You Drink Orange Liqueur?
While it can be enjoyed neat or with soda water and ice, its popularity is because it plays a defining role in various incredibly popular cocktails and mixed drinks.
To name a few cocktails, orange liqueur is present in margaritas, cosmopolitans, sidecars, Long Island iced teas, and mai tais!
Drambuie is a unique liqueur that originates from Scotland. It is made from Scotch whisky and contains honey, herbs, and a variety of spices. While it started as a relatively niche liqueur rarely seen outside Scotland, it has since become a staple in bars everywhere.
How Do You Drink Drambuie?
The popularity of Drambuie is mainly due to its presence in the Rusty Nail cocktail, which became famous during Prohibition in the United States.
It can also be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or with club soda, ginger ale, or tonic water. It is an excellent option for your bar, as the complex flavor goes well with countless mixed drinks!
Other Types of Liqueurs You Can Use to Stock Your Home Bar
While the liqueurs highlighted above are true must-haves for any home bar, there are plenty of other liqueurs you can purchase to fill out your bar. Not only will they allow you to have a more complete bar, but they will also open a wide range of new and exciting cocktail recipes!
The following are other types of liqueurs you should consider for your home bar.
Crème de Menthe
A sweet, mint-flavored French liqueur you can drink on its own as a digestif or to add a minty twist to a classic cocktail or mixed drink. It is an ingredient in the Grasshopper and Stinger cocktails, as well as plenty of mint chocolate shooters and mixed drinks.
A classic Venetian liqueur made from distilled cherries, it has a unique and fruity aroma. It is a bar must-have because it has a central role in various classic cocktails, thanks to its popularity during the Prohibition Era. These include the Aviation, Brooklyn, Brandy Crusta, Hemmingway Special, and more!
Originally from Japan, this unique liqueur isn’t just popular for its melon flavor; it also has a bright green color, which looks excellent behind a bar. The sweet flavor is incredibly useful as a versatile cocktail mixer.
This delicious Italian liqueur uses distilled hazelnuts. It has a warm, nutty flavor that you can enjoy on its own or as a light and versatile ingredient in coffee-based cocktails. The bottles also have a sophisticated and traditional appearance, so it looks great on any bar or bar cart.
While less popular than some of the other liqueurs on our list, this brandy-based liqueur can add hints of ginger and honey to your cocktails. Many people also enjoy drinking it slightly chilled as an after-dinner beverage. It can play a useful role as part of your home bar!
For More Information
For more information about liqueurs and how to use them, visit The Spruce Eats guide to The Difference Between a Liquor and a Liqueur.
If you would like to find liquor stores near you that carry all of the classic liqueurs, use our Liquor Store Finder Tool.