Liqueurs do the heavy lifting at bars looking to differentiate themselves with unique cocktails and shots
Liqueurs have a long history. Over the centuries they have been used as medicaments and digestives as well as tasty little shots of flavour. In fact, these interesting flavour profiles have now made liqueurs must-haves for any bar that prides itself on creativity and great tasting cocktails and shots
Vancouver bartending maga Wendy McGuinness offers that liqueurs are not just necessary to a great cocktail – they are essential. “But they can’t overpower the drink,” she says from her wood at Chambar Belgian Restaurant. “Balance is key and product knowledge is vital. Liqueurs should be used to accent a drink and work with all the parts in a collective effort, she says suggesting that liqueurs are part of a process that raises the experience beyond ordinary and creates a kind of gestalt where the end result is much greater than the sum of its parts.
“When making a cocktail a bartender must balance sweetness and acidity. You have to know when to add sugars or when to add citrus. For these reasons I like to use liqueurs that use natural ingredients and natural flavours and steer away from ones that are very sweet or too tart.”
Her favourites include Giffard’s Poire William and Creme de Pamplemouse Rose. “I also like Luxardo Maraschino and others for their true fruit flavours and easy mixability,” she says.
According to McGuinness, liqueur manufacturers tend to be listening to the public and making products that are in keeping with current trends. For example, she says, people are shying away from products that are too sweet or artificial tasting in favour of natural flavours.
A case in point is the introduction of Domain de Canton ginger liqueur by River Valley Beverage Group of Edmonton. Domain de Canton is produced in the Cognac region of France with ingredients that include Vietnamese baby ginger, Tunisian ginseng as well as VSOP and XO Grande Champagne Cognacs. Further, there is no preservative or artificial colouring.
According to Doug Robb of River Valley, Domain de Canton offers a subtle spiciness that is a perfect compliment to even simple cocktails like the ubiquitous rye and ginger.
“Half an ounce into the highball heightens the ginger component to the drink and raises it to a new level,” he says, adding that the new product was a huge hit at the recent Rocky Mountain Food and Wine Show, a multi-city event that took place in October in Calgary and Edmonton (there are dates for Red Deer, Vancouver and Banff as well).
“We were amazed at the versatility of Domain de Canton. For example, we created a drink using the liqueur and green tea and showed how the addition of small amount of premium spirit can take a standard bar drink and take it to a new level of profitability.”
Robb suggests that operators can use a liqueur to create drinks that set them apart amid some tough competition. For example at Moxies they are using Hpnotiq, a blend of vodka, fruit juice and Cognac, to create a signature Blue Zen Martini that is selling twice as much as others on the drinks list.
“We continually revamp the overall drink list and look to liqueurs to help us stay at the top of our game,” says Moxies’ National Bar Leader Kim Spence. “In fact, we are just a few weeks away from introducing our newest list revamp.”
Spence reports that also undertake four national liquor feature menus each year in an effort to be seasonal and relevant. Recent inclusions offered cocktails that used X Rated Fusion Liqueur (a vodka and passion fruit mix) as well as Bailey’s Irish Cream Liqueur in both regular and flavoured formats.
Here, Spence suggests that it is important to offer real flavours and quality. “Poorly made cocktails can reflect poorly on your bar or restaurant. Liqueurs can really help meet the need,” he says. Doug Robb agrees pointing to a Calgary bar where they are using Chambord, a black raspberry liqueur, to create a series of signatures. So popular are the drinks that the bar went through 85 cases of the classic French liqueur last year.
“New and unusual is also part of what liqueur sales are all about,” says Robb. “We source the world looking for products that deliver a creative edge to the bar. Coming soon will be Elk Schnapps, a Swedish liqueur that has some similarities to Jagermeister,” he says noting that when the distiller came looking for representation in Canada they needed to look no farther than Alberta and its open market for spirits. “Alberta is typically the launching pad for a lot of new products because of the easy entry to the market. A product can prove itself here first and then make a pitch to other provinces and their liquor boards.”
One liqueur that doesn’t need a lot of pitching to keep its place on liquor lists is Sour Puss. A product of Phillips Distilling Co., Sour Puss has been a top cat in the sector of liqueurs for some time. In fact, it is the second fastest growing liqueur in the Canadian market where it sells in excess of 130,000 cases. Recently, Sour Puss Raspberry surpassed Malibu Coco to take the number four spot.
“Since we introduced Sour Puss in 1998 it has shown itself to be highly popular with the public. We are still top three in western Canada, a region where Sour Puss came in early and rose to the top fast,” says Cam Matches, Phillips’ point man in Canada. He reports that liqueurs are largely flat across the country (-.16 per cent) with some local markets bucking this trend. “Sales in the west continue to be good, but Ontario is starting to decline (-4 per cent),” he says, concluding that like Robb and McGuinness he sees liqueur sales being driven by products that are versatile, mixable and approachable as well as unique.
“In the end bartenders need products that allow them to create drinks that catch the patron’s attention. Liqueurs do this and more.”