If liquors are the backbone of the cocktail world, then liqueurs could be thought of as their sweeter, more playful sibling. Unlike standard liquor, these spirits are high in sugar and often (but not always!) lower in alcohol content as a result. Better yet, the options for flavorings and infusions are practically unlimited– you’ll find liqueurs made with everything from fruit to herbs, nuts, spices, flowers, and even flakes of gold.
While today’s liqueurs are mostly used to give complexity to cocktails, the drinks have their roots in something else entirely: medicine. Encyclopedia Britannica says that the earliest liqueurs were made by medieval monks and alchemists to be used as everything from health tonics to love potions. Often steeped with herbs and spices, they were designed to cure drinkers of their ills, not necessarily to go down easy.
Liqueur production became more commercialized (and recreational) beginning in the 16th century and hit its stride at the end of the 1800s, also known as the Golden Age of Cocktails. Moving ahead, the 20th century introduced us to mass-produced, pop culture favorites such as Malibu and Bailey’s.
Today’s liqueur options are practically endless, from centuries-old amari to new classics like St-Germain– and there’s no shortage of locally made liqueurs to choose from, either. Consider this feature your brief (and boozy) guide to some of the most well-known options, plus a few of our favorite elixirs crafted right here in the North Sound.
Local Liqueur Spotlight: Krampus Herbal Liqueur
Distillery: Chuckanut Bay Distillery
Backstory: Feeling more naughty than nice this holiday season? Try adding some Krampus Herbal Liqueur to your cup of cheer. This seasonal spirit might smell like Christmas in liquid form, but beware– it’s not as innocent as it seems at first taste. Clocking in at 110-proof, it’s understandable that Krampus is named after the European “anti-Santa,” a legendary trickster who delights in punishing misbehaving children at Christmas.
Process: Krampus is a wheat-based spirit that incorporates honey, hazelnuts, and a slew of holiday spices. (As Co-Owner and Head Distiller Matt Howell puts it, just picture your favorite holiday spice and assume it’s included.) However, while Krampus’ overall flavor stays consistent, the exact ratios and spices change by the year to best complement the season’s honey.
“Bees give us something very different– we cannot control bees, and so we embrace that. So [Krampus] is the one product that we vintage,” says Howell. “And we like that because … people know that it’s vintage, people know that it changes. It changes in virtue of the honey alone.”
Tasting Notes: Howell has a simple philosophy: “Krampus is friends with everyone,” meaning the drink is as versatile as it is tasty. It’s delicious straight-up, mixed with your favorite holiday drink, and even on the dinner table as an ingredient in glazes and reductions. On the sweeter side, Krampus-infused hazelnuts even make an appearance in a chocolate bar from K’UL Chocolate.
Recipe: Krampus Ginger Snap
- 2 ounces Chuckanut Bay Krampus Herbal Liqueur
- 4 slices of ginger, sliced as thick as a quarter
- ¼ ounce honey simple syrup
- Orange twist (for garnish)
Muddle ginger in a cocktail shaker. Next, add ice, honey simple syrup, and Krampus. Shake until well-mixed and chilled. Pour over ice in a rocks glass, then garnish with an orange twist.
Visit the Chuckanut Bay Distillery tasting room Tuesday-Wednesday 2-6 p.m., Thursday-Friday 2-7 p.m., and Saturday 12-7 p.m. 1311 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham, 360.738.7179, chuckanutbaydistillery.com
Local Liqueur Spotlight: Kuma Turmeric Liqueur
Distillery: Sui Generis Spirits
History: You’ve no doubt enjoyed turmeric root as an ingredient in international cuisines, but have you ever tried it in a cocktail? With its rich taste and an unmistakable orange hue, Kuma Turmeric Liqueur is a liqueur unlike any other. It was developed by Whatcom County local Chet Holstein, who crafted the drink with the intention of creating “a truly unique liqueur that was bitter and unusual but friendly to all.”
How It’s Made: “We cold-macerate in 95% grain alcohol, adding raw, pulverized turmeric roots with dried lemon and grapefruit peels, finishing with peppercorns and coriander seed,” explains Holstein.
These ingredients are then soaked for weeks with the alcohol before being strained. Next, Holstein adds crisp spring water and organic cane sugar to balance out the flavors.
Tasting Notes: Turmeric root has a distinct spice to it, but Holstein describes Kuma’s aroma and flavor as light and earthy with notes of citrus and honey. The finished product is an easy-drinking liqueur that can be enjoyed straight-up or mixed in alongside your favorite cocktails, from mimosas to margaritas and more. It even pairs well with coffee!
Recipe: Kuma Manhattan
- 1 ounce Kuma Turmeric Liqueur
- 2 ounces rye or bourbon whiskey
- 2 dashes bitters
- Maraschino cherry (for garnish)
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry if desired.
Local Liqueur Spotlight: Bruce Liqueur
Distillery: Bellewood Distilling
History: As part of Bellewood Acres, Bellewood Distilling is the first apple distillery in all of Washington– and it only makes sense for them to create some of the region’s very best brandy. So what happens when you take that idea a step further and combine brandy and apple juice? The answer is Bruce, a reserve apple brandy liqueur that more or less tastes like fall in a bottle.
“The inspiration for Bruce is an apple-based spirit from French Normandy called Calvados,” says Eric Abel, president of Bellewood Acres and Distillery. “The French discovered apples make the best brandy (in Europe called eau de vie). By aging the brandy, and later adding sweet ingredients like caramel and sugar, the brandy becomes more of a liqueur called Calvados— less strong and more sweet.”
How It’s Made: Bruce is created by aging Bellewood brandy for two years inside oak whiskey barrels, which Bellewood acquired from the famous Buffalo Trace Bourbon in Kentucky. Towards the end of this process, fresh Bellewood apple juice is added (and the juice does not ferment because of the strength of the spirit inside). As a final step, the spirit is diluted with filtered water to bring it down to a drinkable 50-proof.
Tasting Notes: “Bruce has notes of rich caramel apple bourbon across the palate, but ends light, fruity and refreshing,” Abel says.
Like many liqueurs, Bruce’s versatility means it works well when served in a variety of styles. Try it in your favorite cocktail or serve it as a digestif for a refreshing post-dinner treat.
Recipe: The Norman
- 2 ounces Bellewood Bruce Liqueur
- 1 ounce orange juice
- Dash grenadine
- Dash of soda water
- Apple slice (for garnish)
Combine ingredients in a shaker with a single cube of ice, then strain into a tall glass. Garnish with apple or orange (although, as Abel notes, the good folks at Bellewood are partial to apple).
Visit the Bellewood Distilling tasting room at Bellewood Acres Wednesday-Sunday 9 a.m.-4 p.m. 6140 Guide Meridian Rd., Lynden, 360.318.7720, bellewooddistilling.com
Local Liqueur Spotlight: Long Shot Coffee Liqueur
Distillery: Wheelhouse Distillery
History: Coffee lovers are practically required to pick up a bottle of Long Shot Coffee Liqueur from Wheelhouse Distillery in Anacortes. According to Owner Shallon Tagg, the drink was inspired by an old family recipe her father, Wes Long, has been making since the ‘70s. (The name “Long Shot” is in homage to him.) Tagg then put her own spin on the liqueur by crafting it with her favorite brand of coffee and– of course– small-batch spirits distilled locally at Wheelhouse.
How It’s Made: The base of the Long Shot Coffee Liqueur is a neutral, clear Wheelhouse Distillery spirit that’s distilled three times and charcoal filtered. The second most important ingredient is the coffee, which Shallon says is made using premium roasted Kona Coffee beans ground just before brewing (so as to avoid sour or bitter coffee). Other additions include Madagascar vanilla bean paste, pure brown and cane sugars, and clean water from the Skagit Valley.
Tasting Notes: If you’re a fan of Kahlúa or other big-name coffee liqueurs, chances are high that you’ll love Wheelhouse’s version.
“This flavor profile is a little more complex than other coffee liquors,” Tagg says. “It is made with the finest Kona Coffee from [Kona Mountain Coffee], and it offers a bit bolder coffee taste, a touch of vanilla, and a smooth, sweet finish.”
Recipe: The Oaxaca
- 1 ounce Long Shot Coffee Liqueur
- ½ ounce cinnamon syrup
- ½ cup of hot coffee (we recommend Kona Coffee)
- Chocolate syrup
- 2 ounces cream
- Whipped cream (for garnish)
- Sweetened cocoa powder (for garnish)
Add freshly brewed coffee to a saucepan alongside cinnamon syrup, cream, and Long Shot Coffee Liqueur. Stir to combine and heat until warmed (do not boil). Swirl chocolate syrup on the inside of a mug, then pour in the coffee mixture. Top with whipped cream and cocoa powder, then enjoy this spin-off of a traditional favorite as a relaxing fall weather drink.
9116 S. March Point Rd., Ste. D170, Anacortes, 425.691.7430, wheelhousedistillery.com
Local Liqueur Spotlight: Blueberry Pie Liqueur
Distillery: Probably Shouldn’t Distillery
History: If given the chance, you most definitely should pick up a bottle of Blueberry Pie Liqueur, crafted by Everson’s own Probably Shouldn’t Distillery. In addition to liqueur, Owners Mariah and Shawn Butenschoen make whiskey, gin, brandy, bourbon, and more. However, the Blueberry Pie Liqueur has been a Probably Shouldn’t mainstay since they opened in 2017.
Mariah says the inspiration for Blueberry Pie Liqueur came from a desire to showcase their farm-fresh organic berries– and, since the Butenschoens own Breckenridge Blueberries in addition to the distillery, they have more than enough of the fruit to go around.
How It’s Made: Blueberry Pie Liqueur is flavored using cinnamon sticks, vanilla bean, blueberry juice, and– of course– whole blueberries. Mariah notes that every flavoring is natural and locally sourced– two factors that set Probably Shouldn’t apart within the distilling industry.
“We are trying to be as hyper-local as we can. So all of our products are sourced almost exclusively from Washington State. And beyond that, most everything is from Western Washington, so we really are a grain-to-glass distiller,” Mariah says. “We get the raw product, we ferment here in-house, we distill in-house, bottle, age, whole nine yards.”
Tasting Notes: Between the vanilla, cinnamon, and intense blueberry flavor, this liqueur smells like a bakery and tastes like your favorite summer dessert in a glass. As such, Mariah notes that it’s commonly drunk straight or over ice. However, it also works well in cocktails from margaritas to mimosas.
“We’ve done mojitos with it, we’ve fortified a beer with it– you put it in a dark beer, and it makes it really tastes like a gingersnap cookie,” Mariah says.
Side note: If blueberry pie is your jam, you’re sure to also love other offerings from Probably Shouldn’t, namely their organic blueberry brandy (which requires 20 pounds of blueberries for just one bottle of spirits).
Recipe: Blueberry Pie Martini
- 4 ounces Blueberry Pie Liqueur
- Shaved lime (or lemon zest if preferred)
- Lime (for garnish)
- Graham cracker crust and/or brown sugar (optional, for rim)
Pour Blueberry Pie Liqueur into a martini shaker filled with ice. Add a generous shaving of lime (or lemon zest), then shake for 25-30 seconds. Pour into chilled glass, rimmed with graham cracker crumb or brown sugar if desired. Garnish with lime.
Visit the tasting room at Probably Shouldn’t Distillery the second Saturday of every month from 12-5 p.m. or by appointment.
3595 Breckenridge Rd., Everson, 360.410.1632, probablyshouldntdistillery.com
Liqueurs of the World
Curaçao and Blue Curaçao
Country of Origin: Curaçao
History: If you’ve ever indulged in a beautiful blue beverage, there’s a good chance you’ve sampled the elixir known as Curaçao. It gets its name from the tropical island Curaçao, located near Aruba. The original liqueur Curaçao was developed from a mutated version of the Valencia orange known as the “golden orange of Curaçao” (now known as laraha oranges) by early Spanish settlers. The popular blue Curaçao didn’t come to be until the 1930s, when Dutch settlers introduced blue coloring into the mix to reflect the island’s sparkling turquoise waters. Nowadays, you can find Curaçao in white, orange, red, green, and of course blue.
How It’s Made: The recipe for blue Curaçao combines vodka, gin, lahara orange zest, and orange peels. Once the mixture is made, it steeps for almost three weeks before cloves are added. After 24 hours, sugar, water, and coloring is added in to create the vibrant cocktail found on shelves worldwide.
Popular Cocktails: The coolest thing about Curaçao (particularly the blue variety) is that it can be added to nearly any cocktail to create vibrant colors. The most popular concoctions are unsurprisingly tropical in taste, such as mai tais and the Blue Hawaiian.
Mai Tai, Amendment 21
Where to Drink It Locally: Mai tais might conjure thoughts of tiki bars and poolside sips topped with paper umbrellas, but the original mai tai was simpler– and far less sugary– than its modern incarnation. Even so, it was allegedly still popular enough to deplete the world’s rum supply in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Want to try the 1944-era version for yourself? A visit to Amendment 21 in Bellingham’s historic Hotel Leo might be in order.
“The original mai tai was just four ingredients,” says Bartender Erin Gill. “We use two different kinds of rum … for just a little extra complexity. We have a plantation-age three-star rum and Smith and Cross dark rum.”
In keeping with the classics, the drink also uses standard white Curaçao along with lime, bitters, and an almond syrup called orgeat. Combine all that with the double dose of rum and it’s no surprise that mai tais pack a punch– but despite the high alcohol content, this tropical treat makes for surprisingly easy sipping. Given the robust flavor (and lack of an impending sugar crash), you may never want to try a mai tai another way again.
Amendment 21 Mai Tai ($12): amber and dark rums, orgeat, Curaçao, lime, bitters
Amendment 21, 1224 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham, 360.746.9097, thehotelleo.com
Country of Origin: Italy
History: When thinking of Italian liqueurs, limoncello is often the first one to come to mind– and for good reason! This zesty liqueur is wildly popular throughout Southern Italy and beyond, with homemade and commercial varieties available at restaurants and stores throughout Europe. While its exact origins are unknown, limoncello is believed to have originated in Sicily or the Amalfi Coast over a century ago. While the true “inventor” remains a mystery, the first one to trademark the liqueur was businessman Massimo Canale in 1988.
How It’s Made: Homemade limoncello often varies in alcohol content and flavors, but the most common variety is made by steeping lemon peels in highly-concentrated vodka, then mixed with simple syrup. It’s best enjoyed as a straight shot after a meal or after it’s been stored in the freezer.
Popular Cocktails: Limoncello can definitely be consumed by itself (though it’s not for the faint of heart or those who don’t enjoy sour drinks). Some cocktails that pair well with limoncello include lemon drop martinis, limoncello spritzes, and Amalfi Martinis. It also works well with any citrusy cocktail.
The Flapper, Revival Cocktail Lounge
Where to Drink It Locally: Revival Cocktail Lounge is known for its old-timey vibes and Prohibition-era cocktails, but classic drinks aren’t all this joint has to offer: Owner Karen Taylor isn’t afraid to put her own stamp on the house drink menu, giving famous libations a distinctly modern twist. Exhibit A: The Flapper, a martini-inspired cocktail that’s made memorable thanks to notes of lemon and raspberry.
“The name is inspired by the era, of course,” says Taylor. “It’s a lot like a lemon drop, but it has raspberry syrup, limoncello, vodka, lemon juice, and is garnished with some pretty raspberries.”
“Pretty” is perhaps an understatement– this dreamy pink cocktail is candy to both the palate and the eye (especially when served in one of Revival’s vintage coupes). Moreover, while the limoncello is Italian-made, pairing the liqueur with raspberries makes the drink feel perfectly suited to late summer in the PNW.
The Flapper ($12): limoncello, raspberry syrup, vodka, lemon juice, raspberry garnish
Revival Cocktail Lounge, 306 Pine St., Ste. A., Mount Vernon, 360.399.7880, revival-lounge.com
Country of Origin: France
History: Perhaps the most common liqueur on this list, triple sec was invented in 1834 in France’s Loire Valley. Local confectioner Jean-Baptiste Combier and his wife started distilling out of their shop Combier-Destre, filling chocolates with liqueurs. The liqueur soon began to outsell the chocolate, particularly a variety made with sun-dried orange peels. This high-demand liqueur was the world’s first triple sec: Combier Liqueur d’Orange.
How It’s Made: Much like Curaçao, triple sec’s primary ingredient is orange. While there are many varieties of modern triple sec that range in ingredients and proof, the liqueur is typically made using a neutral spirit. It is then combined with sugar beet, then steeped with bitter orange peels. “Triple” is believed to refer to either three types of peels used in the liqueur or the triple distillation process.
Popular Cocktails: Triple sec is extremely versatile and is often featured in some of the world’s most popular cocktails. You can find it in fruity drinks like mimosas, margaritas, and sangrias. It also makes an appearance in beloved classics like cosmopolitans, Long Island Iced Teas, sidecars, kamikazes, and martinis.
Sweet Fire Margarita, Steakhouse Nine Bistro
Where to Drink It Locally: If you like a little bit of spice with your sip, you’re bound to love the Sweet Fire Margarita at Steakhouse Nine Bistro and Lounge. Made with jalapeno-infused tequila and a slew of muddled citruses (including a blood orange puree), it’s a standout among the restaurant’s roster of unique cocktails.
When asked about the drink’s inspiration, Bar Manager Corey Schneider says, “We wanted something spicy, and then we wanted something unique [that] you don’t see everywhere. So we went with the blood orange puree to counteract the spiciness.”
Bonus points: As with every drink at Steakhouse Nine, all ingredients and mixers are fresh and prepared in-house. Combine that top-tier quality with bold flavors and friendly service and you’re sure to have a happy hour to remember.
Sweet Fire Margarita ($10): jalapeno-infused tequila, triple sec, blood orange puree, house-made sour mix, and muddled citrus
115 E. Homestead Blvd., Lynden, 360.778.2849, steakhouse9.com
Creme de Violette
Area of Origin: Europe
History: This elusive purple liqueur originated in 19th-century Europe, but when its major manufacturer shut its doors in the 1960s, it became unavailable in the U.S. for nearly half a century. Eventually the importer Haus Alpenz began offering Rothman and Winter Creme de Violette to U.S. markets in 2007, luckily for those of us who enjoy a good aviation cocktail.
How It’s Made: Make no mistake here– despite implications, creme liqueurs contain no cream. They’re actually named for their sugar content, as the additional sweetener creates a syrupy, cream-like consistency. Creme de violette is traditionally made by macerating violets with brandy or another neutral spirit, though some brands utilize artificial violet flavoring. Its floral taste is said to be akin to the violet candies popular in the early 20th century.
Popular Cocktails: Creme de violette is perhaps best known as a key ingredient in aviations, which are prohibition-era cocktails first published by Hugo R. Ensslin in his 1916 recipe book. It also features in lesser-known libations such as Scotch Violets.
Aviation, Fireside Martini and Wine Bar
Where to Drink It Locally: De Layne Bell, owner of Fireside Martini and Wine Bar, has a simple philosophy on aviations: This classic cocktail should be breezy enough to make you want to fly.
“With the maraschino cherry liqueur or the creme de violette, they can tend to overpower and really weigh down a drink … but my philosophy is that an aviation should be light,” Bell says.
Balancing these sweeter liqueurs with the right amount of gin and citrus will create a drink that truly soars. Bell has been told that Fireside’s version is unlike any other aviation in town, and attention to detail is the secret to his success.
Fireside Aviation ($12): Bombay Gin, creme de violette, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice
Fireside Martini and Wine Bar, Bellingham, 416 W. Bakerview Rd., 360.738.1000, firesidemartini.com
Country of Origin: Barbados
History: The fruity and delicious “flavored rum” Malibu liqueur was introduced by Tom Jago of International Distillers & Vintners in 1982. While the drink was introduced in Barbados, the fruit spirits and coconut flavoring are believed to be originally derived from the island of Curaçao. Often associated with “easy-going vibes,” Malibu has expanded from its traditional coconut version to offering banana, pineapple, passion fruit, melon, mango, and more to the international market.
How It’s Made: While this sweet libation is in high demand, the creation process is by no means a speedy one. Malibu is made from pure water, Caribbean sugar cane (molasses), and rum – all distilled with coconut extract and aged in oak barrels for two years prior to bottling.
Popular Cocktails: With its key flavor profile being coconut, it’s no surprise that Malibu is a key ingredient in many tropical cocktails. Some popular drinks with Malibu include the pina colada, Blue Hawaiian, and daiquiri.
Bayou on Bay Pina Colada, Bayou on Bay
Where to Drink It Locally: While the menu at Bayou on Bay is heavily inspired by the flavors and eccentricities of New Orleans, Manager Josh Holland says its offerings span a diverse range of cuisines. This philosophy also applies to the drinks menu: Diners can sample everything from famous French Quarter sips to quirky spins on classics.
Speaking of classics, you’d be hard-pressed to find another pina colada quite like the one at Bayou on Bay. In addition to a healthy dose of Malibu, it utilizes dark rum for a richer flavor and is shaken (not blended) with sweetened cream. Then there’s the addition of Bayou’s signature hurricane mix, which is a melange of tropical fruit juices known to characterize Bourbon Street’s most iconic cocktail.
The result is a fusion of flavors unlike any other, wherein the breezy sweetness of Malibu combines with the laissez-faire attitude of the Big Easy. The overall ethos of the drink aligns perfectly with Bayou’s vision for cocktails– they like ‘em strong, accessible, and undeniably delicious.
Bayou on Bay Pina Colada ($10): Malibu; dark rum; pineapple, orange, and passionfruit juices; shaken with sweet cream and lime
Bayou on Bay, 1300 Bay St., Bellingham, 360.752.2968, bayouonbay.com
Country of origin: Trinidad and Tobago
History: This popular brand of aromatic bitters has roots back in the 1800s, when founder Dr. Johann Siegert invented the concoction as a method of soothing stomach issues for Venezuelan soldiers, naming the medicinal formula “Amargo Aromatico.” His sons later migrated to Trinidad, where the Angostura brand was established as the cocktail and culinary addition we know it as today.
How It’s Made: While the specific recipe for Angostura Bitters is top secret, bitters are small bottles of spirits infused with herbs and spices. Unshockingly bitter in taste, they are known to add complex flavor profiles to neutral cocktails with additions like orange peel, tree bark, and roots. While Angostura was the first popularized kind of bitters, there are endless varieties today, including the well-known Peychaud Bitters and orange bitters.
Popular Cocktails: Bitters are widely used in many classic cocktails, but Angostura Bitters are most commonly used in simple, timeless libations like the Manhattan, Sazerac, Singapore Sling, Rob Roy, and of course, the classic old fashioned.
Lawyer Up, Black Sheep
Where to Drink It Locally: If you like a good Manhattan, you’re practically guaranteed to love the Lawyer Up. Featuring familiar ingredients such as bourbon and Angostura Bitters, this Black Sheep standby pays homage to a cocktail hour classic– but is taken to new heights with the addition of the herbal digestif Fernet-Branca.
Given that both Manhattans and Fernet are common orders among those in the beverage industry, Bartender Will Canepa says this booze-forward drink is designed to appeal to customers who are well-versed in the world of cocktails.
“It’s also just a nod to the past while still calling to the future,” Canepa says. “Any time you’re trying to rework a classic, that’s kind of the point.”
Lawyer Up ($11): bourbon, Fernet-Branca, Angostura Bitters, maraschino cherry
Black Sheep, 211 W. Holly St., Bellingham, 360.526.2109, blacksheepbellingham.com
Bailey’s Irish Cream
Country of Origin: Ireland and the U.K.
History: Coffee and cocktail lovers alike are sure to have heard of this famous Irish liqueur. One of the world’s first and most popular cream liqueurs, Bailey’s was invented in 1973 by three distillers out of London: Tom Jago (U.K.), David Gluckman (South Africa), and Hugh Seymour-Davies (U.K.). The name was coined from “Bailey’s Bistro,” a restaurant in London, and was intended to sound “Anglo-Irish.” While Bailey’s origins were not particularly Irish in nature, the cream liqueur quickly became one of Ireland’s most profitable exports as it combined Irish dairy cream and Irish whiskey.
How It’s Made: Producing Bailey’s requires about 200 million liters of fresh Irish milk every year, much of which comes from family-owned farms. The milk is mixed with Irish whiskey, cocoa beans, and vanilla extract, giving it the smooth and chocolatey taste that makes it the perfect beverage to mix with or drink straight up.
Popular Cocktails: Much like Kahlúa, Bailey’s Irish Cream pairs best with warm flavors and sweet drinks. Get your creamy fix in cocktails like the mudslide, Irish Coffee, chocolate martini, espresso martini, spiked hot chocolate, or B52.
Country of Origin: Mexico
History: Founded by a group of friends in the 1930s, Kahlúa is a coffee liqueur that originated in rural Veracruz, Mexico. The word “kahlúa” has roots in ancient Arabic and is believed to have been ‘30s slang for “coffee.” It only took four years after its release for the drink to make it to the continental U.S. – hitting its stride in 1955 with the invention of the White Russian. The rise in popularity continued with Kahlúa earning the current title of “world’s most popular coffee liqueur” in the ‘80s.
How It’s Made: Making Kahlúa is an intensive process, a six-year-long one at that. The beans are grown in “coffee cherries” until ripe, then the cherry is ripped away and the coffee bean is stored in burlap for six months. Once the beans are ready, they’re distilled in rum made from sugarcane and the concoction sits for four weeks before bottling.
Popular Cocktails: Coffee lovers are sure to enjoy any drink made with Kahlúa. This liqueur can be added to hot or cold drinks and is usually mixed with milk. Popular cocktails include the espresso martini, White Russian, mudslide, and Irish Coffee.
Skylark’s Espresso Martini, Skylark’s Hidden Café
Where to Drink It Locally: The marriage of coffee and chocolate has produced plenty of delectable results, from mochas and cakes to the espresso martini at Skylark’s Hidden Cafe in Fairhaven.
In addition to both Kahlúa and Bailey’s, Bartender Heather McCarthy’s signature recipe incorporates fresh espresso, vanilla vodka, and a thick swirl of chocolate syrup for added sweetness. Oh, and don’t forget to add exactly three coffee beans on top as “good luck garnishes.”
So when’s the best time to order such an indulgence? To cover both your caffeine and booze bases, you could nix the mimosa and spring for an espresso martini at brunch. On the other end of the spectrum, McCarthy says espresso martinis are popular amongst the evening dinner crowd because the hit of caffeine helps to “keep the party going.” In short, this martini is a truly versatile beverage– and there’s no wrong way to enjoy one.
Skylark’s Espresso Martini ($10): Bailey’s Irish Cream, Kahlúa, vanilla vodka, shot of espresso, chocolate swirl
Skylark’s Hidden Cafe, 1308 11th St., Bellingham, 360.715.3642, skylarkshiddencafe.com
Country of Origin: Italy
History: Not to be confused with amaretto, the herbal Italian liqueur amaro (meaning “bitter” in Italian) dates all the way back to Ancient Rome where it was consumed by nobles for its restorative properties. While many variations exist today, the original version of amaro was made with wine and infused with herbs and spices, before being sold in pharmacies as a health tonic across the country. Even if the name “amaro” or plural “amari” doesn’t sound familiar, dozens of popular varieties of this ancient delight can be found across bars in America.
How It’s Made: The process of making amari differs between brands and varieties. The base alcohol can range from neutral spirits to wine or grape brandy. The alcohol is then infused with a blend of roots, flowers, herbs, and spices before being aged in a container from anywhere between three to 12 months. Unlike non-potable bitters like Angostura Bitters, amaro can be drunk straight up due to its semi-sweet taste.
Popular Cocktails: Amaro varieties are often consumed on their own or with citrus and tonic water. Some brands you’ve probably seen at the bar or at the grocery store include Aperol, Averna, Montenegro, Campari, and many more. Some popular cocktails to try are the Aperol spritz, Black Manhattan, Negroni, and the Bitter Giuseppe.
Terramar Boulevardier, Terramar Brewstillery
Where to Drink It Locally: Terramar Brewstillery in Edison offers the best of both worlds: a family-friendly taproom, and a more upscale, 21+ speakeasy. The latter is the spot to sample both Terramar’s valley-distilled spirits and a variety of classic cocktails, including the boulevardier.
“We make whiskey, gin, and vodka, so very few of the cocktails that we do [at the speakeasy] feature other spirits outside of what we make,” says Co-Owner Chris Barker.
As such, Terramar’s take on the classic boulevardier is made using the distillery’s own single malt whiskey. In keeping with the West Coast spirit, it also swaps traditional Campari for Lo-Fi Gentian Amaro, which is crafted in California from white wine, neutral grape spirits, grape concentrate, and cane sugar. This makes for a lighter, crisper cocktail with a beautiful ruby-red in hue.
Terramar Boulevardier ($12): single malt whiskey, sweet vermouth, Lo-Fi Gentian Amaro, Cascade fruit, Mandavarian Bitters
Terramar Brewstillery, 5712 Gilkey Ave., Edison, 360.399.6222, terramarcraft.com
Country of Origin: Italy
History: You may have tried amaretto-flavored treats before (it’s particularly delicious in shortbread cookies) but have you tried the popular liqueur? This almond-flavored cordial originated in Saranno, Italy with the name “amaretto” meaning “a little bitter” in Italian. The founders are believed to be the Lazzaroni family, who made amaretto baked goods in 1851 before it was popularized as a beverage. The liqueur quickly rose to fame in Italy and Europe, eventually making its way to the United States in the 1960s.
How it’s Made: The exact ingredients of amaretto actually vary between brands, ranging in prominent ingredients like apricot pits, almonds, and peach pits. These various fruits and nuts are combined with a vodka base, white sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla. The resulting flavor is strong and sweet, making it the perfect addition to cocktails and meals.
Popular Cocktails: It’s not uncommon to drink amaretto all by itself or add it to a cup of afternoon coffee, but for those looking for something a little more extravagant, try the following popular libations: amaretto sour, Italian Margarita, French Connection, Godfather, Alalabama Slammer.
Sage Advice, Galloway’s Cocktail Bar
Where to Drink It Locally: When it comes to craft cocktails, you know you’re in good hands at Galloway’s. Their cocktail Sage Advice is a seasonal sip that combines the nuttiness of Saliza Amaretto with fall flavors such as Clear Creek Bartlett Pear Brandy and fresh sage.
“The pear brandy is really nice and dry,” says Manager Allison Sutherland. “[Amaretto] just offers a sweetness to it that’s got that little bit of almond note in the smell.”
While this sweet/savory cocktail can be enjoyed year-round, Sutherland says it’s particularly suited to the fall and winter months. The drink is well balanced enough to allow each of its ingredients to shine, which is particularly important given their quality: The sage comes from Galloway’s own herb garden, whereas Saliza is a high-end amaretto that deserves to be savored ‘til the last drop.
Sage Advice ($13): Clear Creek Bartlett Pear Brandy, Saliza Amaretto, lemon juice, sage, egg white
Galloway’s Cocktail Bar, 200 10th St., Ste. 102, 360.756.2795, Bellingham, gallowayscocktail.bar
Country of Origin: France
History: For fans of all things trendy, you have no doubt become familiar with elderflower and its wide variety of uses in supplements and drinks. Since St-Germain, the world’s first elderflower liqueur, was established in 2007, its ability to modernize classic cocktails with a “flowery” taste has led to a massive boom in sales and popularity. Founded by third-generation distiller Robert J. Cooper, St-Germain is inspired by the St-Germain-des-Prés quarter in Paris. Everything about the liqueur is a testament to the area and era, right down to the Art Deco-themed bottle.
How It’s Made: Making St-Germain is an intensive process that can only occur in a small window of time. Each bottle contains up to 1,000 fresh elderflowers which only bloom in late spring. The elderflowers are harvested by hand over the next few weeks and the petals are transported and distilled with neutral spirits, resulting in a smooth, floral, citrusy liqueur.
Popular Cocktails: St. Germain can be added to practically any classic neutral cocktail to give it a modern, floral twist. Some popular renditions include the French Gimlet, Hugo, French 77, and St-Germain spritz. You can also add a splash of St-Germain to your gin and tonic for some extra zest.
Bella Sage, D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano
Where to Drink It Locally: While Galloway’s uses sage to create flavors reminiscent of fall or winter, D’Annas Cafe Italiano puts a totally different spin on the herb. By combining floral St-Germain with Aperol, lemon, and house-made sage gin, Bar Manager Katie Butcher creates a summery sip perfect for an aperitivo on the coast of Italy.
The end result is a refreshing, slightly tart cocktail with sweetly floral undertones thanks to the St-Germain and sage gin. Given that sage can be frequently found on D’Anna’s food menu, it only makes sense to incorporate it into drinks, too.
“I like to have some ingredients that cross over from food to cocktails, and that we have here [in the kitchen] already,” says Butcher. “So that was the inspiration for this one, and it’s called Bella Sage. Just a nice Italian name.”
Bella Sage ($13): house-made sage gin, Aperol, St-Germain, lemon, sage garnish
D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano, 1319 N. State St., Bellingham, 360.714.0188, dannascafeitaliano.com