If you’ve ever taken a refreshing sip of a variety of julep, fruit-flavored fizz or margarita you’ve probably tasted a cordial. If you’re scratching your head and wondering why this mixology ingredient isn’t ringing a bell don’t worry, you’re not alone. They’re truly one of the unsung heroes of the drink-making world, and while you’ve probably never heard of these fruit and herb-infused low ABV liqueurs before, but they’re in some of the most delicious drinks out there and deserve their day in the sun.
What is a cordial exactly? This question contains a mix of answers that vary both between experts in the cocktail world as well as regions of drinkers across the globe. In the UK, cordials are mostly a mix of sugar, water, acid and some sort of flavoring — from a fruit or herb to infuse the drink with layers and save time whilst bartending. They’re ingredients that perform dual-actions in a cocktail — serving as flavoring agents as well as time-savers for busy and meticulous bartenders.
In the US and other places around the world, a cordial, or liqueur as they’re sometimes referred to as, consists of a sweetened base spirit, like vodka or brandy, that’s been combined with sugar and another flavor like nuts or coffee. Jāgermeister and Kahlúa are examples of these types of liqueurs. They’re basically the same thing, with a few key differentiators.
- A liqueur may be added to a drink, but is typically enjoyed on its own on the rocks after dinner or mixed in with coffee.
- A cordial on the other hand can be anything from a sweetened mix-in to a homemade elixir of herbs, acid and sugar that’s almost always added to a cocktail, as on its own it’s non-alcoholic. Cordials are also an excellent ingredient in mocktails.
“Liqueur” is a distinct word from “liquor,” we believe it’s important to note, and we’re not just spelling it differently. A liquor is a spirit or type of alcohol, as it’s typically interpreted, a “liqueur” is a synonym for a cordial.
While the UK version of a cordial is probably an addition to a drink to accent the flavors, some liqueurs out there are typically enjoyed on the rocks by themselves. Amaretto, for example, is an almond-flavored liqueur that can be enjoyed in a cocktail or on its own. We’re going to include both liqueurs and cordials in our list and merge the two categories into one arsenal of tasty cocktail making, enjoy.
1. Belvoir Elderflower Cordial
BEST OVERALL CORDIAL
This is one of the most notable and popular cordial types and brands of all time for a reason. It’s a staple in numerous fruity cocktails looking for more dimension, and is made with premium ingredients including fresh-picked elderflower and lemon juice. It goes perfectly in a gin and tonic, a white wine spritzer or even bubbly water for a little extra flavor. Belvoir Fruit Farm prioritizes quality over all else, making this a high-quality mixer you should have on your bar cart.
2. Disaronno Originale Amaretto
BEST OVERALL LIQUEUR
This almond liqueur makes for a delicious, heart-warming cocktail that’s great after dinner or on a relaxed afternoon. It’s a traditional Italian liqueur that’s almond-flavored and tastes perfectly sweet. This particular ingredient goes excellently with Frangelico liqueur, for an almond hazelnut combination that’s worth writing home about. This liqueur’s flavor is more savory sweet than refreshing citrus-y sweet, and goes great in a drink, cake or in coffee for a flavorful touch.
3. Frangelico Liqueur
Frangelico is a traditional hazelnut liqueur made with Toda Gentile hazelnuts of the Piedmont region in Northern Italy. It has a sweet, delicate hazelnut flavor that’s as nutty as it is roasted, and includes hints of vanilla and chocolate as well. It works well by itself, combined with Amaretto for double the nuttiness, in coffee or in creamier drinks for an added savory flavor compound.
4. Campari Liqueur
BEST FRUITY CORDIAL
If you want one cordial that’ll cover your basic fruit needs in drinks, Campari is the way to go. This drink was created in Novara, Italy in the late 1800’s and persists to this day as a favorite in drinks like the Negroni and beyond. The smell of Campari is a blend of a whole bunch of fruits from pomegranate to strawberry, cherry to bitter orange. The exact recipe of this mix is a mystery to this day, but experts have deduced that it includes fruits, water and an infusion of herbs. While some enjoy it straight up in cocktails, mixing it with soda water cuts a bit of the bitterness and eases the flavors a bit.
5. Kahlúa Liqueur
BEST COFFEE LIQUEUR
Coffee fanatic? Coffee cocktails have become more and more popular in recent years as our collective caffeine addiction has skyrocketed, rightfully so. Coffee and coffee-flavored things are delicious, and that includes Kahlúa. This rum and coffee liqueur combination comes from Mexico and has a 21% ABV ranking. It’s made with premium-quality Arabica coffee beans from Veracruz, Mexico which, due to the region, tend to have a light-bodied, well-rounded flavor. They mix these beans with sugar, rum, vanilla bean and caramel to create this delicious treat turned alcoholic beverage that’s a favorite sipping liqueur of millions around the world. It’s been the number one seller in this category for years due to its familiar deep brown color, delicious dependable flavor and smooth finish. If you haven’t tried it yet, we highly recommend. Preferred cocktail? The White Russian. For us and “The Dude.”
6. Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge
BEST CITRUS CORDIAL
Margaritas anyone? This Grand Marnier liqueur goes great in a margarita for its flavorful citrus notes that elevate and compliment the lime juice, tequila and salt. This Cordon Rouge blend is a mix of cognacs and wild tropical oranges from the Caribbean that combine to create a refreshing staple in the mixology handbook. This blending of French cognacs and oranges was unheard of at the time of creation in 1880, but it caught on and the flavor has withstood the test of time for good reason. It’s also an incredibly versatile spirit that can be enjoyed just as easily on the rocks as mixed into cocktails.
7. Thorncroft Rosehip Cordial
BEST AROMATIC CORDIAL
This cordial dates all the way back to the second world war, when, due to its high vitamin content, it was a favorite of housewives trying to stay healthy and enjoy a treat a the same time. Its flavor fails to disappoint to this day, with its rosy sweetness and strong aroma that brings a plant-based vibrancy to a cocktail or sparkling water. It is a highly concentrated ingredient so it’s recommended that you dilute it before adding it to anything, and use sparingly — a little goes a long way.
8. Chambord Black Raspberry Liqueur
This black raspberry liqueur from Chambord is a brilliant combination of the fruity and savory worlds — offering a unique blend of raspberries, blackberries, black raspberries, black currants, Madagascar vanilla and XO cognac. It’s a true melding of the liqueur and cordial worlds, and the result is a delicious flavor that can compliment seemingly every cocktail from a raspberry margarita, to a French Manhattan. Pick up a bottle and try the truly unique flavor for yourself — you won’t be disappointed.
9. Cointreau Liqueur
BEST FOR CLASSIC COCKTAILS
Cointreau is the liqueur at the heart of some of the most classic and beloved cocktails of all time. The Original Margarita, the Cosmopolitan and the Sidecar all have Cointreau at the heart of their recipes, and that’s not changing anytime soon. If you’re a beginner bartender looking to try your hand at a few go-to crowdpleaser drinks, Cointreau should be added to your grocery list. It’s a blend of natural sweet and bitter orange peels that creates a balanced flavor depended on by bartenders worldwide. The high-quality flavor comes from the distillation process wherein the orange peels are perfectly preserved for their essential oils, elevating the flavor and giving this liqueur an aromatic quality as well.
Jägermeister Licorice Liqueur
BEST LICORICE LIQUEUR
The last liqueur flavor we haven’t covered is licorice, and who else would we go to other than Jägermeister for that distinctively strong flavor. While this name might bring up unpleasant memories from your college drinking days, when used properly this liqueur is actually quite tasty. It was originally a celebratory drink for hunters in Wolfenbüttel, Germany and thankfully the recipe hasn’t changed since then. It’s still the same pungent and heartily flavorful blend of 56 different herbs, spices, ginger, juniper berries, anise, licorice and a dash of citrus peel. Enjoy an ice cold shot of this stuff straight to the heart or mix up a Jägermeister Tonic if you’re feeling adventurous.