Liquor or Liqueur: What’s the difference?

We’ll just get right to the bottom line and tell you the only thing that matters here is that you like what you drink and you call it whatever makes you happy — or is easiest to remember.

But in case someone has ever corrected your use of liquor — “It’s a liqueur”— we’ll fill you in on what you need to know. Oh and while we’re at it, what’s a spirit?

The most important thing to know is that liquor and liqueur both contain alcohol.

Liquor is a distilled drink made from fermenting grains, plants or fruits. So straight up beverages like rum, vodka, whiskey or tequila.

The fancier sounding liqueur is used to describe a fancier drink. These are drinks that tend to be sweeter from flavors or other extracts added during their production. They are used as an ingredient in cocktails, but can be consumed on their own, as well. Liqueurs are usually made with a base liquor, along with sugar, and infused with things like fruit, herbs, flowers, nuts or spices. (Think triple sec, Chartreuse, Campari). Triple sec is an orange-flavored liqueur that is made by infusing an alcohol like brandy or vodka with orange peels or orange flavors, and may include adding other sugars or herbs.

The term cordial is often used interchangeably with liqueur, though it could also refer to more dessert-like liqueur drinks or dessert-like non-alcoholic drinks if you’re in Europe.

Liquors can have flavors added to them (looking at you UV Blue), but this is usually through a steeping process after distillation and does not qualify it as a liqueur — it most likely won’t be as sweet tasting as a liqueur either.

And now to spirits. This is the part where you should really call it what you want. When it comes to the stuff we drink, spirits and alcohol are the same thing. Distilled (maybe flavored), but unsweetened alcoholic beverages labeled with some information like: kind of spirit, ABV and origin.

So basically the hard stuff is alcohol/spirits and the flavored – perhaps softer – stuff is liqueur/cordials. Booze is booze is booze.

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