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July/August 2002

CORDIALLY YOURS

CORDIALS HAVE SOLIDLY EVOLVED FROM
AFTER-DINNER AFTERTHOUGHT TO MAINSTREAM COCKTAIL INGREDIENT.0208cor1

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.

The Bennigan's 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 of over-serving."

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 liqueur.

HOT SHOTS

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, too."

"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 cocktail culture.

"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 as much."

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 mixability."

"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."

WHAT'S OUT THERE

There are literally hundreds of cordials. When you consider what to stock, think in terms of categories.

PROPRIETARY 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 and more.

CORDIAL LINES 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.

CREAMS 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.

SEEDS, BEANS 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.

SHOOTERS AND 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.

FRUIT FLAVORS 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 said.

The medieval alchemists who concocted the first cordials would love to be behind the stick in today's establishments.

BEING CORDIAL

A cordial's 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 others.

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 and Chartreuse.

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.

--MS

A FLAVOR FOR EVERY TASTE

(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. ITALY
  • Amarula Cream-based liqueur made from the fruit of the marula tree. AFRICA
  • anisette Anise seed (licorice flavor).FRANCE
  • 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 liqueur. FRANCE
  • creme de cassis Black currants. FRANCE
  • 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 liqueur. ITALY
  • Grand Marnier Cognac and curacao oranges. FRANCE
  • 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. GERMANY
  • Kahlua Coffee-flavored liqueur with hints of chocolate and vanilla. MEXICO
  • Limoncello Lemons. ITALY
  • Midori Melon-flavored. JAPAN
  • ouzo Licorice flavor. GREECE
  • pastis Very similar to ouzo. FRANCE
  • 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 STATES
  • 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

--MS


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