Liquor vs. Liqueur

by Jason on June 10, 2010

What is the difference between liquor and liqueur, really? Since our fine product HARLEM® is a kruiden based liqueur made from a unique blend of fruits, herbs and spices, I found myself mulling over this question in a recent meeting. Besides the fact that I have to spell check “L-I-Q-U-E-U-R” every time I write it, I was curious to know the history and true definitions behind each word to learn the notable distinctions.

I did a cursory Google search and found quite a few postings on the subject. According to Wikipedia, the difference between liqueur and liquor is not that simple because many spirits available are in a flavored form; the most reliable guide to classification is liqueurs contain added sugar, but liquors or spirits do not.

Generally speaking, liquor refers to a distilled spirit beverage that is produced by distilling fermented grain, fruit, or vegetables. The Beverage Alcohol Manual (BAM) provided by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), separates the broad category of liquor into “classes” (i.e. Neutral Spirits, Whisky, Gin, Liqueur, etc.).

Liqueurs fall into the Liqueur/Cordial class of liquors, which is officially defined as “Flavored spirits product containing not less than 2½% by weight sugar, dextrose, levulose or a combination thereof made by mixing or redistilling any class or type of spirits with or over fruits, flowers, plants or pure juices there from or other natural flavoring materials or with extracts derived from infusions, percolation or maceration of such materials.” You got all that? A shot of HARLEM might help bring the definition to life. A good layman’s term explanation on the difference can also be found on the Twisted Words Blog.

The word liquor comes from the Latin word meaning fluid. Similarly, the Latin word liqueur is liquifacere meaning to make liquid or liquefy. Liomas Thomas explores this topic and the origins of liqueurs in his article What is the Difference between a Liqueur and Liquor on

We describe HARLEM as an 80 proof liqueur that offers a blend of fresh herbs and spices with a hint of mandarin. Given these definitions, how would you describe the brand? A liquor or a liqueur?

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