A plethora of liqueurs makes choosing a good one hard, notes Don Kavanagh.
Liqueurs can be a tricky proposition.
Whether they are made from herbs, spices, fruits, roots or cream, the intense sweetness of most of them can be overpowering, so learning how to use them judiciously, and in the right place, is essential to get the most out of them.
A liqueur is any alcoholic drink that has been flavoured with spices, herbs, fruit, flowers, nuts or cream, with the addition of sugar to sweeten it. It includes a vast range of drinks with a huge range of alcoholic strengths, from 20 per cent alcohol fruit syrups to austere herbal liqueurs such as Chartreuse, which can reach 55 per cent ABV.
With such a bewildering array of drinks available, it's amazing to think that each year the number of liqueurs on the market increases. Well-known brands such as Galliano come up with new flavours, while new players also appear on the scene, fleetingly or for the long term.
So the actual use of liqueurs becomes more important as the choice gets bigger. Bartenders want a flavourful liqueur, whether it is best tasted on its own or in a cocktail. Consumers want something that simply tastes good.
For cocktails, liqueurs need to have a definite flavour profile that is tasted in the cocktail.
But you don't want something that is unbalanced or too strongly flavoured; balance is everything when it comes to drinks.
For many people, what happens with liqueurs is that they are bought, tasted, and they then fester in the back of a cupboard somewhere.
So, when buying liqueurs, it's important to try them first, if that is possible. Then you will know whether or not you'll be able to go through a whole bottle.
I've had some crackers recently, including fruit liqueurs, herbal numbers and some incredible coffee concoctions, that have changed my entire approach to my morning espresso.
Tequila company Patron does two outstanding liqueurs, in their Citronge and XO.
The first is a bright and beautiful blend of orange and tequila, and the second is a glorious coffee liqueur that would convert the most stern of abstainers.
Likewise, the Gabriel Boudier de Cassis is so good I'd quite happily lick it off a sore leg and it adds a huge intensity to anything it goes into.
So remember, try before you buy when it comes to liqueurs - after all, the last thing you want is a 20-year-old bottle growing mould in the back of your drinks cabinet.