Liquor vs. Liqueur

The Juice

Let’s talk about liquors and liqueurs. Depending upon your accent they can be pronounced the exact same way, or completely differently. But at the end of the day, there is a difference that we need to explain.


The Miriam Webster’s Definition of Liquor is 

Liquor can be used as both a verb and a noun, but it is much more often used as a noun. When we talk about Liquor, we’re talking about particular distilled beverages. When we refer to liquor we are talking about Vodka, Tequila, Gin, Whiskey, and Rum. 

Generally when talking about liquor we’re referring to a distilled beverage that can act as a base spirit in a cocktail. Usually we’re referring to something with a higher alcohol by volume. 


Now liqueur is not a fancy way of spelling liquor, they’re actually different. A liqueur is generally a sweetened liquor and is in a way its own category. Often also referred to as a cordial, liqueurs have been extremely popular in mixology. Some popular liqueurs are Triple Sec, Schnapps, Bailey’s, and Kahlua. 

Many secondary spirits fall under the liqueur category including Amari made from a distillate, other bitters, and creams.

Important to note: ALL Liqueurs are Liquor, but not all Liquors are Liqueurs.

Let’s go over some popular Liquors you may want to know:

  1. Vodka– distilled spirit made from potatoes, corn, grapes, wheat etc. Often referred to as the “neutral spirit”
  2. Gin– made from a starch base and flavored with botanicals including juniper, coriander and often citrus.
  3. Rum– distilled spirit made from sugarcane or molasses.
  4. Tequila– distilled spirit made from Blue Weber Agave extract.
  5. Mezcal– distilled spirit made from Agave
  6. Whiskey– distilled spirit made from wheat, barley, rye or corn, then aged in oak barrels.
  7. Shochu– distilled spirit made from rice
  8. Baijiu– distilled spirit made from sorghum, rice, wheat, barley or millet
  9. Brandy– distilled spirit made from grapes.

How about some popular Liqueurs:

  1. Kahlua- coffee flavored
  2. Bailey’s Irish Cream- chocolate flavored 
  3. St. Germaine- elderflower flavored
  4. Triple Sec- orange flavored
  5. Montenegro- rose petals, dried orange peel, and cherry flavored
  6. Angostura House Bitters- cinnamon orange flavored
  7. Absinthe- fennel flavored 
  8. Frangelico- hazelnut flavored
  9. Amaretto- almond flavored
  10. Sambuca- anise and licorice flavored

Common Misconceptions

Here are a couple of fermented and distilled beverages that are often incorrectly labeled or referred to as liquors or liqueurs…


Vermouth is a fermented beverage with a wine base. It’s wine that is enhanced with fortification and botanical extracts. Vermouth can be sweet or dry. Popular Vermouth brands include Martini & Rossi, Lillet, Carpano Antica and Lo-Fi Aperitifs.


Sherry is a fortified wine as well, made in Jerez, Spain. Because sherry is much higher in alcohol than most other wines, it is often assumed that sherry is a distilled product. Just because a product is fortified does not classify it as a distilled beverage.


Sake, the traditional Japanese rice alcoholic beverage, is also often assumed to be a distilled spirit. However, sake is actually fermented and brewed. The koji (special fermenting mold) ferments the rice grains with water to create this beverage.


Many people assume because grenadine is so sweet that it contains alcohol and it must be a liqueur. However, grenadine is alcohol free and often is used in children’s drinks like the Roy Rogers or Shirley Temple. It is considered a cordial as cordial does not have to refer to an alcoholic beverage.

Have any other questions about liquors and liqueurs? Let us know and we’ll get those answered! 

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