Cold-weather drinks with liqueurs and cordials

By James T. Coppinger

With more microbreweries than Starbucks and an impressively dense population of wine experts, Boulder has become a place where the beverage culture is continuously dominated by vino lovers and the craft-beer boom.

Now, put those favorite IPAs, lagers and pilsners in the back of your mind and get ready to mix a concoction perfectly designed for a winter adventure. Take a short hiatus from luscious Napa Cabs and realize there is a whole universe of different choices waiting for you. This winter, explore those neglected liquor-store shelves filled with funny-shaped bottles, and dive into the vast and versatile world of liqueurs and cordials.

Over time, liqueurs and cordials have taken on a new personality. Drinks like Drambuie, Chartreuse, Fernet Branca and ouzo are no longer just what your relatives would sip before a meal or serve as a nightcap. Today, these specialty drinks are still popular as aperitifs and digestifs, but have also earned their place center stage.

Sparkling Personality

Case in point: brunch. In case you haven’t noticed your favorite Pearl Street dinner spot packed like a Friday night at 10 o’clock Sunday morning, brunch is back in a big way. And that’s partly due to a rapidly growing trend of adding popular liqueurs to classic a.m. cocktails.

Take the mimosa, for example: sparkling wine and orange juice, simple but a bit plain. Add in St-Germain—a French elderflower liqueur—and get creative with different juices like pineapple or cranberry mixed with the OJ, and bingo! Your mimosa goes from fizzy orange drink to an irresistible merging of soft pear, red berry or melon flavors complemented perfectly by balanced acidity, floral notes and bubbles.

Sparkling wine is not only the main ingredient in a mimosa; it’s the spunky sidekick to many liqueurs. There are hundreds of cocktails combining liqueurs and cordials with a bit of the bubbly. You can save some coin by mixing with cava, a type of Spanish wine from the Catalonia region that provides high-quality sparkles at a very good value. No need to spend extra cash just for the Champagne name.

Whether the moment calls for a toast or you’re setting the mood, cava, Champagne and other sparkling wines all act as a blank canvas waiting for a liqueur or cordial for a splash of color and flavor. Leave some extra room in the top of the flute and add a touch of Chambord, a black-raspberry liqueur, to make a sweeter version of a Kir Royale, traditionally made with crème de cassis. Adding Chambord to any sparkler makes the ideal before-dinner or welcoming drink. Try the same technique with other fruit liqueurs like Pama pomegranate and Midori melon.

If the plan is to wait till after your meal to start popping corks, a Marasca Fizz is liquid dessert. Check out the recipe on page 67; especially if you use a local product like Leopold Bros. Michigan Tart Cherry liqueur, this cocktail is like a cherry pie without the hassle of baking.

Did the bubbly run out faster than anticipated? It happens. (Typically one bottle of still wine pours five glasses, but with sparkling wine you’re lucky to get four.) Don’t stress—break out the ice cream and top it with Tart Cherry liqueur and watch your guests swoon in flavor euphoria. It’s not the bubbles that bring a special twist to these recipes; it’s the liqueurs and cordials that add a little something special.

Liqueurs vs. Cordials

We’ve mentioned a few fun ways to use liqueurs, but what about cordials? Liqueurs and cordials are not exactly the same thing, but the line separating them is blurry. Liqueurs have an unspecific definition that only requires a sugar content of 2.5 percent or above to be labeled a liqueur. Cordials must start from a base spirit, like vodka, rum or whiskey, and are then manipulated with sugar, herbs, nuts and sometimes fruits for flavor. It’s confusing, considering that if a cordial has the right sugar content or a liqueur has a spirit base it can fall into both categories. The easiest way to differentiate is to think about fruit content. Cream, chocolate, anise, nuts, mint—these are all dead giveaways that you are dealing with a cordial and not a fruit-and-sugar-driven liqueur. Although sometimes lacking sweetness, cordials are used in countless wintertime cocktails.

Mmmm in the Mountains

Waking up in that high-country cabin with a splash of Baileys Irish Cream and a dash of Disaronno amaretto in a cup of joe is classic wintertime-cocktail gold. Continue the winter festivities on the slopes by making a large batch of Brandy Alexanders to help you forget windburn and goggle tan. Triple the provided recipe and fill up a hip flask before heading up the lift. Après ski, relax with an ironically named Frostbite if you’re a tequila fan. The Frostbite is a guaranteed way to regain the feeling in your toes after a long day in those poorly insulated ski boots.

It’s difficult to break away from pinot noir as the perfect pairing for your holiday turkey. It’s also tough to turn down the newest local microbrew while watching the game. So don’t. Boulder is an amazing place to be because you have so many choices. There are more than 200 Colorado breweries, upwards of 100 restaurants featuring brunch in Boulder County, and dozens of ski resorts in Colorado. Liqueurs and cordials offer unlimited options and opportunities to heighten your late-morning brunch experience, throw the perfect holiday party, and stoke your mountain getaway. Forget the old standbys and try something new—it might just make this your best winter yet.


Kir Royale

4 oz. cava or other sparkling wine
1/4 oz. Chambord

cordially-shutterstock_135261431cherryMarasca Fizz

4 oz. cava
3 maraschino cherries
1 oz. syrup from cherry jar
1/2 oz. Leopold Bros. Michigan Tart Cherry liqueur

Brandy Alexander

3 oz. brandy
1 oz. dark crème de cacao
1 oz. half-and-half

Shake with ice in a cocktail shaker or jar; strain.


2 oz. silver tequila
2 oz. half-and-half
1 oz. white crème de cacao
1 oz. blue curaçao (blue-colored orange liqueur)

Shake with ice in a cocktail shaker or jar; strain.


James T. Coppinger is the wine buyer at Pettyjohns Liquor and Wine in Table Mesa. He is a member of the Society of Wine Educators, and a well-traveled student of European wines. He is a graduate of the University of Colorado, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and creative writing.

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