The Liqueur Masters 2023 results
Now is the perfect moment to investigate the liqueur category, with brands producing top-notch expressions in all styles.
There has been a wealth of development in the liqueurs category so far this year. From new product development to some serious investments, brands are placing their bets on its continued popularity.
In May this year, B2B (business-to-business) cream liqueur developer and manufacturer Creamy Creation designed the first vegan-based product made with real cream of coconut. In July, English producer Quayside Distillery released three limoncello-inspired liqueurs. September brought even more new offerings, with Chartreuse-style herbal liqueurs from Dublin’s Stillgarden Distillery, and an orange liqueur made with Margaritas in mind, called Alma Finca, launched by Mexican spirits producer Casa Lumbre.
But the biggest news from the category came in the form of a £26 million (US$33m) investment from Diageo, which was granted planning permission to extend its Baileys production site in Northern Ireland.
As you can tell, this is an extremely active sector. But is the quality also there?
That was the question asked by the judges at this year’s Liqueur Masters, which took place at London’s Leaf and Cane bar. Four panels were challenged to assess this year’s entries and determine which products were deserving of Master, Gold, and Silver medals.
Nicola Carruthers, deputy editor of The Spirits Business, chaired a panel comprising: Anne Jones, partner and drinks experiences manager at Waitrose; Herchelle Perez Terrado, managing director of Drinks Partnership and DP Brands; and Dan Greifer, bar supervisor at London’s Black Parrot.
David T Smith, spirits writer, consultant, and co-founder of the Craft Distilling Expo, chaired a second team. He was joined by: Sara Jane Eichler, founder of the Negroni Club UK; and Richard Legg, founder of Distilled Knowledge. Matt Chambers, spirits writer and co-founder of the Whisky For Everyone blog, led the third group. Judging with him were: Tobias Gorn, co-founder and senior partner at International Drinks Specialists; and wine and spirits consultant Ruchia Neotia. Evan Prousaefs, bar manager of London’s Sexy Fish, chaired the fourth group, and was joined by Sarah Miller, founder of the Gin A Ding Ding blog; and Ginesthesia’s Claire Filer.
The opening round delivered a strong start to the competition with a trio of Master medallists. Scooping the top awards in the Herbal heat were: “lively, fresh and green” Liqueur du Cervin with “some warming spice”; “delicious with a long finish, depth of flavour and a hint of warm chilli pepper” Averna; and “rich with nicely balanced bitterness, fresh herbs and citrus zest” Braulio.
Among the 10 Gold winners in this flight were Amaro di Angostura, noted for its “good texture” and hints of “Cola Bottle sweets on the nose”. Cynar 70 Proof also won a Gold medal for its “coffee aroma, hint of liquorice, and balanced” profile. Four Silver medals completed the flight.
Prousaefs said: “A steady flight with excellent representatives of the category.” Filer added: “Some excellent examples of the category here, balancing sweetness with bitter and peppery spice notes.”
A large flight of Fruit liqueurs were shared among the panels next, resulting in four standout, Master-worthy entries. The top scorers included Master medallist O’Donnell Moonshine Wild Berry. Smith noted: “Lots and lots of jammy notes, rich, succulent. Lovely medley of berry flavours, good integration and sweetness.”
Saber Elyzia Visinata (Sour Cherry) also won a Master medal, enjoyed for delivering “jammy and tangy cherry, and a warming mouthfeel – good balance”.
De Kuyper Triple Sec Liqueur was handed a Master medal for its “fresh, zesty orange nose”, which led to “tangy orange, and nice big finish”. Neotia added: “Extremely sippable, and would be great with just soda or a no-sugar mixer and a squeeze of lime.” Completing the Master haul in this round was Xanté Cognac & Pear, with its “beautiful aromas of conference pear and spun sugar”, leading to “a really delicious” liqueur.
The Fruit flight also produced 15 Gold medallists, including: “big, juicy, berry” St Kilian – Grave Digger – Berry Metal; “sweet but balanced” Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge; and Archers Peach Schnapps, described as having “a nice amount of zesty acidity balancing the classic poached pear sweetness”. The flight closed with 18 Silver medals, including awards for Bardinet
Cherry Brandy, Bols Blue Curaçao, and Villa Massa Limoncello.
Reflecting on the round, Gorn said: “Full of diversity, with a wide array of styles, quality and delivery of flavours. Some rustic approaches went up against more contemporary styles.”
Miller noted that the more successful medallists were those that created an “authentic representation of flavour and weren’t too confected”. “It was nice to see some variety,” she added.
Moving on, the judges turned to Traditional liqueurs, and were impressed by Highland Nectar Scotch Whisky Liqueur, which won a Master medal. “A lesson in perfect balance,” said Neotia.
Chambers found “plenty of honey on the nose, with a whiff of peat smoke and spice”, which then led to “a nice level of warming spices” on the palate.
The remaining 11 entries in this heat scored Gold medals, including three medals for products from Lucano 1894. The producer’s Amaro Lucano impressed with its “rich and deep herbal notes”.
Miller said about the round: “Exceeded expectations; interesting and well-handled liqueurs offering some original flavours.”
The Own Label heat delivered two Golds, plus one Silver. Copper Canvas collected the two Gold medals for its Copper Canvas Salted Caramel Malt Based Liqueur, and Copper Canvas Peanut Butter Based Malt Liqueur. The latter product was found to have “distinctive peanut butter notes, balanced with caramel, banana and spices”.
Two medals were awarded in the following Elderflower heat, one Gold to Bols Elderflower and one Silver to Aubrey Elderflower Liqueur. The Gold medallist had a “little bit of citrus, some acidity and delicious elderflower”.
In the Honey liqueur flight, a Silver medal was awarded to Tullamore Dew Honey for its “lovely malty nose”, leading to “honeyed whiskey and lovely warming spice”.
“It makes me crave a Hot Toddy,” enthused Eichler.
Those with a sweet tooth were satisfied by the Chocolate contingent, where a Gold medal was given to Cognac Chocolate Caramel Liqueur 15% ABV, produced by Creamy Creation. The judges liked that this liqueur offered “plenty of chocolate truffle character, a long finish that’s rich and sweet but not too cloying”. Two Silver medals completed the flight.
“Yum,” was what one judge wrote for the opening liqueur in the Dessert flight. Gold-winning St Kilian – Advocat – Eierlikör mit Single Malt Whisky “offered sweet egg custard” notes with “soft whisky undertones”. Terence Hill – The Hero – Haselnusslikör, also from St Kilian Distillers, took home a Silver medal.
The next Master was discovered in the Confectionary flight, with O’Donnell Moonshine taking home its second Master, this time for its Tough Nut moonshine. Judges enjoyed how creamy and rich it was, alongside its “roasted hazelnut on the nose” and flavours of “praline and Ferrero Rocher”.
With its “malty biscuit nose and complex tea notes”, Yanagi from Herlix secured Silver in the Tea category.
Meanwhile, Ripples of Toffee Vodka won a Gold medal in the Toffee Caramel round. The judges praised the product for its “well-balanced sweetness”, with added complexity from notes of “citrus orange and light spice, and nuttiness”.
Gold and Silver awards came in equal measure in the next round – three of each – as the judges looked at coffee liqueurs. The Gold winners were: “nutty, rich, coffee-like” Old Sailor Coffee Liqueur; Copeland Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur, with “an undertone of chocolate, raisin, ginger and malty cake”; and Ve De Di Crème de Coffee, with its “nutty and earthy black coffee and cold brew” notes.
Spain’s Zamora Company added a Master medal to its tally in the Cream round, nabbing the top award for its Licor 43 Chocolate expression. “Indulgent chocolate flavour, rich and creamy. Very easy to drink,” the judges said with high praise.
Nine Golds in this round included Ballycastle Tiramisu with its “coffee-kissed nose”, and Amarula Vegan Cream Liqueur, which had hints of “maple syrup, burnt sugar and cream”. Six Silvers rounded off the flight.
“These were more textured and full-bodied rather than sweet, which is a good thing,” noted Prousaefs. “There were also some variations in the category, and some brands trying to differentiate themselves.”
The penultimate round, Irish Cream liqueurs, added to the Gold medal total, with the coveted award bestowed upon St Kilian – Cream – Sahnelikör. “Very milky on the nose, leading to chocolate milk, burnt caramel, and a good texture,” on the palate.
The final flight of the day comprised Low/No-Alcohol liqueurs, with one Gold and one Silver awarded. The Gold medal went to Xanté Passion Fruit & Pear, thanks to its “rich fruity notes, orchard fruits” and potential to “mix nicely with sparkling water”.
After sampling such an eclectic mix of styles and flavours, the experts took a brief break before sampling all the Master winners of the day. Far from an easy job, only one entry could be named Liqueur Taste Master 2023 – and that deserving product was O’Donnell Moonshine Wild Berry.
“This was inviting; the flavour is deep and rich, with plenty of berry character. Well-judged alcohol and sweetness integration,” wrote Legg.
The takeaway sentiment from the day was that those liqueurs that managed to deliver authentic flavours, balance the need for sweetness with care and precision, and offer something with a point of difference in the category would be sure to find as much favour with consumers as they did the judges.
What cannot be denied from the results of this year’s blind tasting is that the quality standard coming from the liqueur category is keeping pace with the quantity of new offerings coming to market. It has arguably never been a more exciting time to be part of this evolving segment.
|Distillerie Morand & Cie||Liqueur du Cervin||Master|
|Campari Group||Cynar 70 Proof||Gold|
|Rola & Co||Jagdbitter Mümmelmann||Gold|
|Rola & Co||Blutwurzel Likör||Gold|
|Rola & Co||Ital Amaro Kräuterlikör Romanzini||Gold|
|St Kilian Distillers||Bud Spencer – The Legend – Feuerwasser – Chili Zimt Likör||Gold|
|Phoenyx Ventures||Dr Hostetter’s||Gold|
|Angostura||Amaro di Angostura||Gold|
|Beemer Distillery||Beemer Liqueur De Sapin||Gold|
|Distillerie Morand & Cie||Liqueur du Grand Saint Bernard Green||Gold|
|Distillerie Morand & Cie||Liqueur du Grand Saint Bernard Yellow||Silver|
|Zamora Company||Licor 43 Original||Silver|
|Casa Redondo||Carrança Redondo||Silver|
|O’Donnell Moonshine||O’Donnell Moonshine Wild Berry||Master & Taste Master|
|Alexandrion Saber Distilleries 1789||Saber Elyzia Visinata (Sour Cherry)||Master|
|De Kuyper Royal Distillers||De Kuyper Triple Sec Liqueur||Master|
|Anora Group||Xanté Cognac & Pear||Master|
|Anora Group||Xanté Rum & Pear||Gold|
|Distillerie Morand & Cie||Williamine Sur Fruit||Gold|
|Mouse Kingdom Liqueurs||Dark Berries||Gold|
|Holding of Emotions ‘!FEST’ (Ukraine)||Piana Vyshnia||Gold|
|St Kilian Distillers||St Kilian – Grave Digger – Berry Metal||Gold|
|Campari Group||Grand Marnier Cuvee du Centenaire||Gold|
|Campari Group||Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge||Gold|
|National Alcohol Company||Spokusa Cherry Temptation||Gold|
|Glenrinnes Distillery||Eight Lands Producers’ Series Sloe Gin||Gold|
|De Kuyper Royal Distillers||Heering Cherry Liqueur||Gold|
|De Kuyper Royal Distillers||Mandarine Napoléon||Gold|
|De Kuyper Royal Distillers||Archers Peach Schnapps||Gold|
|Aldi||Cocobay Coconut Liqueur||Gold|
|Nuet||Nuet Moments Toddy||Gold|
|St Kilian Distillers||St Kilian Lime||Silver|
|St Kilian Distillers||St Kilian – Berry||Silver|
|Distillerie Morand & Cie||Framboise Sur Fruit||Silver|
|Distillerie Morand & Cie||Abricot Sur Fruit||Silver|
|Bardinet||Bardinet Cherry Brandy||Silver|
|Lacascara Drinks||Lacascara Premium Aperitivo||Silver|
|O’Donnell Moonshine||O’Donnell Moonshine Very Cherry||Silver|
|Alexandrion Saber Distilleries 1789||Saber Elyzia Caisata (Apricot)||Silver|
|Alexandrion Saber Distilleries 1789||Saber Elyzia Afinata (Blueberry)||Silver|
|Creamy Creation (B2B)||Cream of Coconut Rum Liqueur||Silver|
|Lucano 1894||Limoncetta di Sorrento||Silver|
|Campari Group||Grand Marnier Louis Alexandre||Silver|
|Lucas Bols||Bols Blue Curaçao||Silver|
|AmberChes Spirits Distillery||AmberChes Limoncello||Silver|
|Thirsty Group||Aubrey Triple Sec||Silver|
|Zamora Company||Villa Massa Limoncello||Silver|
|Thi Mau Spirits Joint Stock Company||Ve De Di Triple Sec||Silver|
|Highland Nectar Scotch Whisky Liqueur||Highland Nectar Scotch Whisky Liqueur||Master|
|Bardinet||Bardinet Triple Sec||Gold|
|Campari Group||Ancho Reyes Poblano Liqueur||Gold|
|Campari Group||Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur||Gold|
|Campari Group||Del Professore||Gold|
|Lucano 1894||Lucano Amaro Zero°||Gold|
|Lucano 1894||Amaro Lucano Essenza||Gold|
|Lucano 1894||Amaro Lucano||Gold|
|Zamora Company||Villa Massa Amaretto||Gold|
|Les Spiritueux Nomades||Amaretto Équinoxe||Gold|
|Copper Canvas||Copper Canvas Salted Caramel Malt Based Liqueur||Gold|
|Copper Canvas||Copper Canvas Peanut Butter Malt Based Liqueur||Gold|
|St Kilian Distillers||St Kilian Liqueur made with Single Malt Whisky||Silver|
|Lucas Bols||Bols Elderflower||Gold|
|Thirsty Group||Aubrey Elderflower Liqueur||Silver|
|William Grant & Sons||Tullamore Dew||Silver|
|Creamy Creation (B2B)||Cognac Chocolate Caramel Liqueur 15% ABV||Gold|
|Tobago Gold||Tobago Gold Chocolate Rum Cream||Silver|
|Thi Mau Spirits Joint Stock Company||Ve De Di Crème de Cacao||Silver|
|St Kilian Distillers||St Kilian – Advocaat – Eierlikör mit Single Malt Whisky||Gold|
|St Kilian Distillers||Terence Hill – The Hero – Haselnusslikör||Silver|
|O’Donnell Moonshine||O’Donnell Moonshine Tough Nut||Master|
|Coastal Distillery||Ripples of Toffee Vodka||Gold|
|Levante Spirits||Old Sailor Coffee Liqueur||Gold|
|Copeland Distillery||Copeland Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur||Gold|
|Thi Mau Spirits Joint Stock Company||Ve De Di Crème de Coffee||Gold|
|Barista Royal||Barista Royal ‘Seleccion Especial’ Coffee Liqueur||Silver|
|Tequila Cazadores||Tequila Cazadores Café||Silver|
|Liviko||Vana Tallinn Coffee Espresso||Silver|
|Zamora Company||Licor 43 Chocolate||Master|
|Aldi||Ballycastle Blonde Chocolate||Gold|
|Liviko||Vana Tallinn Tiramisu Cream||Gold|
|Heineken||Amarula Chocolate Cream Liqueur||Gold|
|Heineken||Amarula Vegan Cream Liqueur||Gold|
|Creamy Creation (B2B)||Bourbon Sugar Oatmeal Cookie||Gold|
|Aldi Stores (Australia)||O’Donnells Salted Caramel Irish Country Cream Liqueur||Gold|
|Aldi Stores (Australia)||O’Donnells Irish Country Cream Liqueur||Gold|
|Hotel Chocolat||Velvetised Chocolate Cream||Gold|
|Aldi||Ballycastle White Chocolate||Silver|
|Creamy Creation (B2B)||Tequila Tangerine Basil||Silver|
|Heineken||Amarula Ethiopian Coffee Cream Liqueur||Silver|
|Casa Redondo||Amarguinha Creme||Silver|
|Hotel Chocolat||Velvetised Salted Caramel Chocolate Cream||Silver|
|St Kilian Distillers||Bud Spencer – Banana Joe – Bananen-Sahnelikör||Silver|
|St Kilian Distillers||St Kilian – Cream – Sahnelikör||Gold|
|Anora Group||Xanté Passion Fruit & Pear||Gold|
|Casa Redondo||Per Se||Silver|