liqueur (lĭkûrˈ) [key], strong alcoholic beverage made of almost neutral spirits, flavored with herb mixtures, fruits, or other materials, and usually sweetened. The name derives from the Latin word to melt. Liqueur can be produced by either macerating the flavoring elements in alcohol, which is then distilled or by percolation, which passes heated alcohol through the flavorings. In both processes, the flavored spirit is sweetened with sugar, syrup, or honey; coloring, if desired, can be added. The mixture is filtered, aged if preferred, and bottled. The processes and ingredients are often strictly guarded secrets. No more than three people at one time are said to know the formula for making Benedictine. The alcoholic content of liqueurs usually ranges from about 34 to 60 proof, but can reach 100 proof. Liqueurs are usually served after dinner and sipped from small glasses, a process said to aid digestion. Indeed, many famous liqueurs, notably benedictine and chartreuse, were invented by monks experimenting with herbs and other plants in the search for medicines. Other liqueurs include kirsch, kümmel, Cointreau, crème de menthe, Drambuie, and Grand Marnier. Both Cointreau and Grand Marnier are types of curaçao, a liqueur flavored with the dried peel of the green oranges from the West Indian island of Curaçao. The fruit brandies known as eaux-de-vie, sometimes referred to as liqueurs, are not members of this category.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.