CORDIALS HAVE SOLIDLY EVOLVED
AFTER-DINNER AFTERTHOUGHT TO MAINSTREAM
BY MICHAEL SHERER
Bastions of tradition
are trembling. The Old School members
are turning over in their graves. For
the sipping of aromatic and flavorful
liqueurs from snifters while sitting in
a cushy wing-back chair is a dying art.
That doesn't mean
cordials and liqueurs are dying, though.
Far from it. In combinations that may
make purists shudder, cordials are more
popular than ever as featured ingredients
in mainstream Martinis and Margaritas.
Places like New
York's famous Rainbow Room still serve
Manhattans, Sidecars and after-dinner
liqueurs. But rather than a Bellini --
invented at Harry's Bar in Venice, whose
owners, the Cipriani family now run the
Rainbow Room -- trendy establishments
now are more likely to serve a Bellini
Martini, using peach schnapps as an ingredient.
One of the drinks
featured recently at the T.G.I. Friday's
chain is the "Blue Storm," a
concoction Southern Comfort, blue curacao,
peach schnapps and pina colada mix.
chain just introduced a new stand-alone
beverage and dessert menu that features
about 30 specialty drinks, most flavored
with some sort of cordial. The chain's
"Patio Punch" is a tropical
drink containing Midori, Malibu, blue
curaçao, DeKuyper Tropical Pineapple
Schnapps and sour mix. Designed to be
shared, it's served in a 60-ounce bowl
for $12.95. The chain has strict rules
on how it's served and to whom.
"Our customers want fun, fruity,
tropical drinks," said Jim Barnett,
Bennigan's corporate beverage manager.
"We've always been a beer house,
but with the built-in branding of these
concept style drinks we become a destination
for signature drinks like Patio Punch."
"After-dinner drinks were dying
off slowly," said Duncan Horner,
B&B/Benedictine brand manager at Bacardi
USA, "because consumers of traditional
liqueurs are a lot older and because of
DUI laws. People are drinking cocktails
before dinner, not after."
And that early hour drinking has created
many opportunities. "It's a very
exciting time for cordials in general
because of the resurgence of classic cocktails,
with a twist," said Chris Gretchko,
group product director at Jim Beam Brands.
"People are experimenting with taste
in food and in drinks."
The explosion of cocktails using cordials
as flavoring ingredients has been driven
in large part by younger drinkers. Young
consumers are part of a generation brought
up on an incredible variety of beverages
including soda, teas, water, seltzer and
more. They also have had a choice of flavors
in a number of categories, not just beverages.
When even oatmeal comes in eight flavors,
consumers look for new flavor experiences.
Cordials offer consumers those unique
flavor experiences. They're sweet and
lower in alcohol, making them easy to
drink. Cocktails made with cordials also
are visually appealing. "The category
as a whole is about a variety of flavors
that heighten the experience," said
Gretchko. "They intensify the color
and enhance the drink."
"Cordials now play a large part
on our drink menu because they're the
flavoring ingredient," said Barnett,
"and they help us go after the young,
affluent crowd that goes out three or
four times a week. Because they have a
lower alcohol level, cordials give you
a good entry and reduce the fear factor
Cordials also are being used to add flavor
and flair to traditional cocktails, generating
a lot of excitement in many operations.
"People are making up cocktail recipes
and using cordials as ingredients instead
of stand-alone drinks," said Tracy
Finklang, corporate beverage manager for
Old Chicago Restaurants and Rock Bottom
Breweries. Sour-flavored schnapps, for
example, are popular in Martinis and mixed
drinks at Old Chicago.
Martinis also are becoming big at Bennigan's,
better known for its Copper Clover beer
club. The chain's Tropical Martini features
99 Bananas, DeKuyper's Pineapple Schnapps,
Smirnoff Orange Vodka, Smirnoff Raspberry
Twist Vodka and a dash of mango puree.
The Irish Eyes Martini is Bennigan's version
of the "Appletini." Its signature
martini, however, is Death by Chocolate,
named after the chain's trademarked dessert.
It contains Smirnoff Vanilla Twist Vodka,
Baileys Irish Cream and Godiva chocolate
Mixed shots also are still hot, especially
among the late-night crowd. Bartenders
and consumers are getting ever more inventive
with all the flavors available, coming
up with new strangely-named combinations
all the time.
"Jagermeister is still huge,"
said Finklang, "and it's being used
a lot in mixed shots like the Black Hole,
Black Death and Surfer on Acid. Schnapps
and Goldshlager still have a following,
"The late-night crowd is definitely
still into shots with brands like Jagermeister
and Goldshlager," Barnett said. "Tuaca
is an up and coming brand."
Since the major benefit cordials offer
is flavor, producers are emphasizing mixability.
For older, more traditional liqueurs,
that has sometimes meant repositioning
the brand. There aren't too many cordials,
however, that can't find a use in today's
"Some of the older classic stuff
may be going out of style or used as an
ingredient instead of being consumed from
a snifter," Barnett said. "I
don't see anything phasing out, though.
People are just finding new uses for cordial
flavors. The hot flavor trends are fun,
fruity drinks, so the old creme de cassis
and creme de menthe are not being used
Both producers and bartenders are finding
ways to combine old familiar flavors in
new cocktails. Grand Marnier has become
a key ingredient in upscale Cadillac Margaritas.
Cointreau is seeing bigger sales because
of the popularity of Cosmopolitans. Bennigan's
is now featuring a Tuaca margarita.
"Consumers are looking for new ways
to drink spirits," said Marty Cash,
brand manager for Midori. "Cordials
offer new ways to mix them. It's all about
"The only way to take a liqueur
or cordial brand to the next level is
by promoting mixability," agreed
Joy Suchlicki, assistant marketing manager
for DiSaronno Amaretto. "Brands like
Grand Marnier and Cointreau are all doing
it, and they've been successful, too."
While proprietary brands like Drambuie
and B&B are more often associated
with after-dinner positioning, they're
looking for ways to appeal to younger
consumers. Showing bartenders and consumers
how they can be mixed is a key strategy.
"We hope that as echo-boomers grow
older they'll acquire a taste for brands
like these," said Horner. "We
can't ignore the big group of consumers
turning legal drinking age in the next
10 years. They've been brought up on sweeter
drinks, so we're looking at least at introducing
them to these brands through sampling."
There are literally hundreds of cordials.
When you consider what to stock, think
in terms of categories.
The category consists of brands
with a unique formula like Kahlua and
generic flavors like creme de menthe.
Traditional proprietary brands include
Grand Marnier, Drambuie, Benedictine/B&B,
Irish Mist, Southern Comfort, Cointreau
There are several distillers that produce
a line of cordials. Hot new lines include
DeKuyper Pucker Schnapps, Hiram Walker
Sour Balls, and Marie Brizzard Fruit Bursters.
Other premium lines, like Bols, also make
a splash on-premise with high profile
flavor treatments. Lines include traditional
"cremes" (menthe, cocoa, cassis,
etc) along with new flavors.
The most well known are Irish creams,
including Baileys, Carolans, O'Mara's,
Emmets and Sheridan's, among many more.
Other creams include scotch-based Heather
Cream and Amarula, made from the African
amarula tree. While not available in the
US as yet, cream-lovers may eventually
look forward to the importation of Drambuie
Cream and the recently introduced cream
version of Tia Maria in the UK.
AND NUTS This segment embraces
a variety of flavors, including coffee
liqueurs like Kahlua, Kamora and Tia Maria;
chocolate flavors like Godiva and Vandermint;
and nut-flavored liqueurs such as amaretto
and Frangelico. A number of licorice-
flavored liqueurs such as anisette, pastis
and ouzo are made with anise seed.
SCHNAPPS Many cordials consumed
as shots are in the same vein as peppermint
schnapps -- Aftershock, Avalanche Blue
and Goldshlager are a few examples. But
other flavors also are popular.
Traditional fruit liqueurs include Chambord,
Framboise, triple sec and others. Up and
comers include Midori, 99 Bananas, and
all the sour fruit flavors like watermelon,
apple and grape.
HERBS AND BITTERS
Some traditional brands include Chartreuse,
Campari and Pernod. Sambuca, which taste
of licorice like Pernod, is actually flavored
with flowers of the elderberry bush.
With so many flavors to choose from,
cordials make it easy for consumers to
find drinks that are fun and flavorful
to drink. "It's a really great time
for bartenders and consumers," Gretchko
The medieval alchemists who concocted
the first cordials would love to be behind
the stick in today's establishments.
flavor can come from a variety of ingredients,
usually from one of a half dozen categories,
including fruits, herbs and leaves, flowers,
nuts, seeds and beans, roots and barks.
Most cordials are made with a combination
of ingredients that give them their unique
flavors. By definition, they must contain
at least 2.5 percent sugar, but most contain
far more. Commonly used sweeteners include
honey, sugar, maple and corn syrup among
The base alcohol for cordials also varies.
Neutral grain spirits are most common.
Many liqueurs, however, are made with
a specific spirit, such as Scotch in Drambuie,
Cognac in Grand Marnier or Irish whiskey
in Baileys. Others are distilled from
their primary ingredient. With so many
variants, it's no wonder there are so
many types of cordials.
The names "cordial" and "liqueur"
are interchangeable. Cordial comes from
the Latin word cor, which means heart.
Cordials were originally made by alchemists
or monks as a health remedy or elixir
to soothe weary travelers. Liqueur comes
from the Latin liquefacere, meaning to
melt or dissolve, which is how most cordials
and liqueurs are made.
Cordials are produced using two primary
methods, cold and hot. Cold methods include
infusion, maceration and percolation.
Distillers use infusion and maceration
for fruits which might be damaged by heat.
During infusion, crushed fruits are soaked
in water for as long as a year. The liquid
is strained, sweetened and added to alcohol.
In maceration, the crushed fruit is soaked
directly in alcohol. After the liquid
is strained off, the remaining fruit is
distilled and the distillate is recombined
with the infused liquid. Liqueurs commonly
made this way include triple sec, cassis,
Cointreau, Grand Marnier and so forth.
Percolation is often used for flavorings
such as herbs and leaves. Ingredients
are placed in a basket or strainer, and
the alcohol is pumped up over them. The
process, similar to brewing coffee without
heat, may go on for months until most
of the flavor is extracted. Ingredients
may be distilled afterwards to squeeze
out any remaining flavor. Liqueurs using
this method include Drambuie, Irish Mist
Hot methods include distillation in water
and distillation in alcohol. Water distillation
is used for delicate herbs and flowers.
Once distilled, the flavored water is
added to an alcohol base. Ingredients
such as seeds, nuts, bark or orange peel
are more often distilled in alcohol. They're
first soaked in alcohol for several hours,
then distilled with additional spirits.
(Proprietary brands are capitalized;
generic cordials are listed in lower case.)
- absinthe Precursor to Pernod,
this green, licorice-tasting liqueur
is banned in many countries because
one of its ingredients, wormwood, is
a neurotoxin. FRANCE
- Alizé Passion fruit
and cognac. FRANCE
- amaretto Almond and apricot.
- Amarula Cream-based liqueur
made from the fruit of the marula tree.
- anisette Anise seed (licorice
- Baileys Cream liqueur made
with Irish whiskey, flavored with chocolate
and vanilla. IRELAND
- Benedictine/B&B Cognac-based
liqueur made with more than 70 ingredients,
including herbs, citrus peel and honey.
First made in 1510. FRANCE
- Campari More often considered
an apertif than cordial, it's a bitter,
fortified red wine. FRANCE
- Chambord Black raspberry. FRANCE
- Chartreuse Brandy-based herb
liqueur containing more than 130 ingredients.
The recipe dates from 1605. FRANCE
- Cointreau Brandy-based orange
- creme de cassis Black currants.
- curaçao Bitter curacao
oranges, spices. DUTCH WEST INDIES
- Drambuie Scotch-based liqueur
made with honey, heather, clover, herbs
and spices. SCOTLAND
- Framboise Raspberries. FRANCE
- Frangelico Hazelnuts, vanilla
and cocoa. ITALY
- Galliano Brandy-based anise-flavored
- Grand Marnier Cognac and curacao
- GranGala Italian brandy and
three types of sweet oranges. ITALY
- Irish Mist Irish whiskey, heather
honey, herbs and spice. IRELAND
- Jagermeister 56 fruits, herbs
and spices; strong licorice flavor.
- Kahlua Coffee-flavored liqueur
with hints of chocolate and vanilla.
- Limoncello Lemons. ITALY
- Midori Melon-flavored. JAPAN
- ouzo Licorice flavor. GREECE
- pastis Very similar to ouzo.
- Pernod Brandy-based, flavored
with anise seed and fennel. FRANCE
- Pimm's Cup Fruit-flavored bitters
with different spirit bases (No. 1,
gin; No. 2, whiskey; No. 3, rum; No.
4, brandy; etc.). ENGLAND
- Sabra Jaffa oranges and a hint
of chocolate. ISRAEL
- sambuca Made with the fruit
of white-flowered elderberry bushes.
Licorice flavor. ITALY
- schnapps Neutral grain- or
potato-based spirit, flavored with anything
from peppermint to root beer. Originated
in SCANDINAVIA and GERMANY
- Southern Comfort Peaches, oranges
and herbs in a bourbon base. UNITED
- Tia Maria Rum-based coffee
liqueur with spices. JAMAICA
- triple sec White liqueur distilled
from curacao orange peel. FRANCE
- Tuaca Brandy-based, with hints
of vanilla and orange. ITALY