Chances are probably high that there are times you go to your local liquor mart to pick up your beverage of choice and you happen to wander or pass through a section of the store with some brands or products that you either 1) don’t even notice, or 2) do notice, but have no idea what the hell to do with them. Either way, I have always said that there are many good wines/beers/spirits that need a good home, so today I would like to shine the light on something with a somewhat misleading name: Crème de (insert fruit/herb name here).
Yes, we are speaking of the liqueurs with French names: Crème de Menthe, Crème de Cassis, Crème de Violette, and Crème de Cacao are all examples that are regaining popularity. Originally, as was the case with many liqueurs, these were served over ice as after dinner drinks to help with digesting a feast. Today, we find these liqueurs to be important cocktail flavor boosters.
The way these crème liqueurs are made is typically by starting with a neutral spirit such as grape brandy, macerating or infusing a fruit or herb, straining the solids, sweetening with sugar or simple syrup, then bottling at an ABV somewhere in the 25-30% range. These crème liqueurs come in a rainbow of colors; the cheaper examples are frequently done artificially, while the pricier examples in the craft category use natural ingredients to do it.
Notice, by the way, that there is no cream or dairy product in these liqueurs; the term “crème” simply refers to the richness of the texture courtesy of the sweetening of the liqueur. Cream liqueurs are a separate category that includes Bailey’s, Godiva, and so on (a conversation for another day). Bols and deKuyper are the two best-known, while Marie Brizard was the first to experience commercial success.
These liqueurs are important ingredients in some classic cocktails. For instance, Crème de Violette is a foundation ingredient in the gin-based Aviation, which is experiencing a resurgence.. Crème de Cassis is added to Champagne to make a Kir Royal, an elegant aperitif. The Stinger and the Grasshopper, among others, use Crème de Menthe. Crème de Cacao is a fine addition to coffee, while Crème de Banane is a great partner with coconut rum.
I encourage you to visit the Giffard web site here. It does a great job of laying out recipes for your various Crèmes de Fruits, as Giffard has been producing these liqueurs since 1885. Now, you will see these liqueurs on shelves for north of $30 in many cases, while the large brands like DeKuyper can be found for as low as $12. What’s the difference? From my experience, the inexpensive examples tend to infuse herb or fruit (meaning some heating takes place, which is a technique that leads to a coarse spirit), artificial coloring, and a sweetness that overtakes the base fruit. The pricier craft liqueurs often macerate the fruits and herbs for a slower period (anywhere from 48 hours to 3 months, depending on the base material) than the large brands. The base fruits tend to be more pronounced and the sweetness is there, but not overpowering, but in the end, you could be paying almost three times as much as the large brand’s example. There are noticeable trade-offs here.
You have a lot to play with when it comes to these “crème” liqueurs. You will find there are a boatload of uses for them, but when in doubt…simply pour some over ice cream or cake and you will be just fine.