Liqueurs are the secret workhorses of the cocktail bar. All you need is a splash to add subtle notes of fruits, flowers, nuts and herbs to a drink. Unfortunately, some of our favorite liqueurs like St-Germain, Bénédictine and PAMA Pomegranate liqueur are just as expensive (if not more) than the base spirits. And because liqueurs are less versatile than regular liquors, it may be hard to justify a hefty price tag. But don’t turn to those generic bottom shelf, artificial crème de whatevers just yet because there are plenty of cheap liqueurs that don’t skimp on flavor. Here are seven of our favorite liqueurs that all cost less than $20—and no, none of them come in sour, neon varieties.
If Grand Marnier or Combier is a bit outside your price range, you can still go above the standard triple sec by picking up a bottle of Gran Gala. The orange liqueur hails from Trieste, Italy, and is made by blending VSOP brandy with three types of Mediterranean oranges. It’s sweet but with a richer orange flavor than most triple secs. Use it in any cocktail that calls for orange liqueur, like a Cosmopolitan or Sidecar.
Kijafa Cherry Liqueur ($16)
Imported from Denmark, this underrated cherry liqueur is sure to become a staple year-round—whether it’s mixed with bubbly club soda in the summer or sipped solo as a holiday nightcap. Made from a cherry wine base with sugar beet alcohol and other “natural flavors,” Kijafa doesn’t taste anything like cough syrup (as many cherry liqueurs do). Instead it tastes of sweet-tart, luscious brandied cherries with rich notes of beets, molasses and dried fruit on the palate.
The dated label may look as if your uncle decided to start making amaretto in his retirement, but don’t be fooled. Caffo Amaretto is one of the yummiest amarettos on the market, and certainly the best on a budget. Produced in the Calabria region of Italy, Caffo Amaretto is made from estate-grown Sicilian almonds, which are macerated in an herbal infusion. The natural almond flavor is evident—the liquid tastes of homemade marzipan, which separates it from many of the other budget amarettos that are actually made from apricot pits (which, if you weren’t aware, happen to taste like essence of almond).
Pass over the saccharine bottles of “peach brandy” and seek out this craft variety instead. Stirrings is known for their artisan cocktail syrups made with natural ingredients, and their foray into the spirits world is no different. Upon first sniff, you’ll get intense aromas of fresh orchard-picked peaches, and the first sip will deliver on that, too. There’s nothing here but straightforward, natural ripe peaches—which is exactly what we want in a peach liqueur. Mix it with bourbon and iced tea for the ultimate porch swing treat.
Jules Theuriet Framboise ($20)
Coming in just under our budget parameters, wine producer Jules Theuriet’s raspberry liqueur is simply delicious. Produced in Dijon, France, this creme de framboise is made by macerating fresh raspberries in a water-alcohol solution for at least two months before adding white sugar. The result is vibrant in both color and flavor with notes of natural raspberry, cherry and blackcurrant. Use it in place of Chambord in a French Martini or to make a more affordable (but no less fancy) Kir Royale.
Budget apricot liqueur gets a bad rap for good reason: Much like its peachy sister, apricot liqueur/brandy usually tastes like fruity, sugary syrup, and certainly nothing like biting into a fresh apricot. Marie Brizard is an exception. Classily called “Apry,” this French liqueur blends apricots with Cognac for notes of both fresh and dried apricots, along with almond and baking spices. It would taste lovely in a fruity riff on a Whiskey Sour.
Emmets Irish Cream ($18)
We’d be hard pressed to ever give up our precious Baileys, but if our wallets were feeling especially thin, Emmets Irish Cream is the most reliable backup (and slightly less effort than making your own Irish cream at home). Like Baileys, Emmets is 17 percent alcohol, but it has a stronger, boozier flavor with notes of wood, vanilla and caramel—much like an Irish whiskey. Perfect for people who wish their Baileys had a little bit more oomph, Emmets is just as good in a cocktail as it is over ice.