Keep it classic

As Patience Gould discovers, liqueurs are often the perfect foil to mainstream spirits  – particularly when it comes to the mixing circuit

If you look at the classic cocktails on the scene at the turn of the 20th century it is somewhat surprising that few liqueurs feature in these different mixes – but that was much more to do with availability than a simple case of not using them.  

The classic cocktails that came into being just prior to Prohibition in the US, which ran from 1920 to 1933,  and after are noticeably devoid of these sweeter alcoholic confections – but there are some significant exceptions, among them Cointreau, Luxardo Maraschino, Benedictine and Drambuie.

For Luxardo Maraschino think of the Martinez, the Last Word and the Aviation; for Cointreau think of the Sidecar, the White Lady, the Margarita, and, latterly, the Cosmopolitan; for Bénédictine (and Cointreau for that matter) think the Singapore Sling and for Drambuie think the Rusty Nail.

“The Rusty Nail was born during the British Industries Fair of 1937 and called a BIF, which appeared just over 20 years after the commercial introduction of Drambuie. Liqueurs were also used in classic cocktails as a sweetener prior to the popularity of vermouth and drier cocktails,” says Drambuie brand ambassador Herman Van Broekhuizen.

With its “marriage of concentrated elixir of essential oils, its honey, sugar and aged grain and malt whiskies”, one could argue that Drambuie is a cocktail in its own right, and certainly its flavour profile demands a professional touch.  

“There are no limits to creativity, but a certain degree of expertise is required; an understanding of what’s inside the bottle and how the liquid is made is key to mixing a well-balanced drink with Drambuie,” says Van Broekhuizen. 

“Indeed, a key requirement with any branded cocktail, and certainly for Drambuie, is that its essence can still shine through the other ingredients.  Fortunately for us, Drambuie’s big, complex flavour profile means it can easily mix with a variety of other spirits or liqueurs and still manage to demonstrate its character, its taste of the extraordinary.”

Clearly liqueurs bring more than bright colours and sweetness to a cocktail. “A liqueur will make overpowering alcohol more palatable, complement and enhance the base spirit, bring character and added complexity and act as a flavouring agent adding fruits or aromatics and give texture to the drink,” says Van Broekhuizen. 

This is very much the case with Maraschino in the Prohibition-era cocktail the Last Word, where Maraschino is the seasoning.

“If you consider the gin as a steak, Chartreuse is the herbal element, and Maraschino brings the fresh flavour and floral notes which tie everything together,” says brand ambassador Gareth Franklin at UK agents Cellar Trends.

Prior to the advent of vermouth Maraschino was a key element in the Martinez, which is widely thought of as the forerunner to the much drier Martini of today, and has a starring role in the Aviation – a cocktail which is making a return to fame and fortune.