Liqueurs, those sweet and syrupy, low-ABV spirits you find infused with fresh fruit, flowers, botanicals or nuts, aren’t just fluff and nonsense. They serve as the backbone for many classic cocktails. But with so many to choose from, it’s hard to know which ones are absolutely essential, and which ones are best left on the liquor store shelf. So to help you out, we came up with a shopping list. Here are the most essential liqueurs to stock in your home bar.
Combier was the world’s first triple sec, created in 1834 by Jean-Baptiste Combier. Compared to other triple secs on the market, Combier is drier with more robust, bitter orange flavors. An essential ingredient behind any bar, this orange liqueur is key to making Mai Tais, the second biggest cocktail in Mexico (aka the Margarita) and the classic Sidecar.
Even if this iconically tall, woven-labeled liqueur sits on your home bar for two years before you finish it, this is a purchase that you won’t regret. Made from the distillation of marasca cherries, this nutty and complex liqueur is not only versatile, it is required to make two of the most underrated gin cocktails: The Last Word and the Martinez.
With a profound depth and bitter, malty sweetness, this aged cherry liqueur puts all others to shame. Cherry Heering is made by soaking Danish-grown cherries in neutral spirits with spices in casks for up to five years. Use this spirit in the Charles H. Baker’s Remember the Maine, or in the classic ur-tiki cocktail, the Singapore Sling.
The original crème de cassis since 1841, Lejay’s blackcurrant liqueur is fruity, bitter, sour and sweet all at once. One of the most underrated liqueurs on the market, crème de cassis lends a unique tartness to cocktails. In the gingery El Diablo, the blackcurrant liqueur plays up the sourness of the lime while adding a rich fruity depth. Lejay’s is also the core ingredient (other than Champagne) in a Kir Royale.
A beautiful pale purple—dare we say violet—liqueur made in Austria by steeping fresh violet petals in grape brandy, this vibrant, floral liqueur gives a third dimension to the Aviation, and can be used to freshen up a Martini or even liven up a glass of Champagne.
Made by the Carthusian monks in France since 1737, this herbal liqueur (as well as its sweeter, less boozy, yellow-hued sibling) is an absolute necessity. With a flavor akin to absinthe, this pungently herbaceous spirit can be sipped straight or used in a variety of drinks like the refreshingly tart, all equal-part wunder-cocktail, the Last Word, or in the herbal-Martini-variant, the Bijou. In Grenoble, home to the Chartreuse Monastery, local bartenders mix equal parts Green Chartreuse and vodka with Orangina soda for a refreshingly floral, effervescent highball.
St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram ($40)
An essential liqueur for any tiki night, allspice dram has a robust pepperiness and a dark, spicy flavor. It tastes the way a pumpkin spice latté wishes it could taste. Use it to add depth, bitterness or spice to tropical punches, Sangria and tiki staples like the Poison Dart or the Lion’s Tail.
Based on a recipe created by Benedictine monk (hence the name) Don Bernardo Vincelli in 1510, this herbal French liqueur tastes like Angostura bitters, with a mildly sweet, viscous finish. A core ingredient in many classic cocktails, this liqueur can be used in a multitude of ways: It serves as the herbaceous foil to the rich and sweet Cherry Heering in the Singapore Sling, and gives a pungent, bitter-sweet edge to stirred cocktails with Cognac or whiskey, like the Vieux Carre.
If you don’t have a bottle of this behind your bar, stop everything that you’re doing, go to your nearest liquor store and buy one now. Also known as the Sriracha of the cocktail world, St-Germain is an instant flavor enhancer. With a refreshingly sweet, floral flavor, this elderflower liqueur can be used in everything from a Margarita to a Gin & Tonic to our Irish whiskey-laden Sage-Germain Sour. If you don’t find yourself reaching for it at least once a week, you’re doing something wrong.