Fruits and fruit liqueurs take centre stage in the next part of the French Waterways’ guide to French liqueurs. Whether they’re citrus or berry, fruits form the base for some of the best known French liqueurs. Read on to know your oranges from your blackcurrants and your raspberries from your cherries when it comes to fruit liqueurs that hit that sweet spot.
Take ordinary oranges and you get Cointreau
Some of the fruit liqueurs that the French do best contain oranges. Cointreau ranks among the world’s most famous after dinner tipples and Grand Marnier isn’t too far behind. Both take the humble orange and raise it to a whole new level, not just in taste but in design. The two brands boast some of the best looking bottles in the drinks cabinet.
Pure oranges make pure fruit liqueurs
Cointreau rules as the king of orange liqueurs in terms of fruit content. This classic contains nothing more than sugar, alcohol and orange peel. It was the brainchild of Edourd Cointreau who perfected the recipe in 1875 at the family distillery in Angers. Cointreau takes the peel from bitter and sweet oranges, and adds it to sugar. Two distillations later and one of the world’s best cocktail mixers is born.
In its signature square bottle complete with moiré ribbon and wax seal, Cointreau offers the purest taste of orange in any liqueur. Oranges are also the only thing you’ll catch in the liqueur’s bouquet and although the taste is intense, it also feels light on your tongue. Don’t let the lightness go to your head, however. Cointreau has one of the highest alcohol contents among French liqueurs: 40% ABV.
How to drink Cointreau
You can drink Cointreau neat, although some people prefer theirs on the rocks with a splash of lemon juice. But this orange liqueur really comes into its own in cocktails. It forms the base of many of the world’s most famous:
- mixed with tequila and lime, it becomes a Margarita
- combine it with white rum and lime, and you’ve got a Beachcomber
- add cognac and lime to make a Sidecar
- together with vodka and cranberry, you have the ultimate Cosmopolitan
When oranges meet cognac you get Grand Marnier
The other quintessentially French orange liqueur also comes in an unmistakable bottle, although this one’s round. But like Cointreau, it carries a ribbon (red) and wax seal. Grand Marnier also turns out to be more or less contemporary with Cointreau since its recipe was perfected in 1880 in Neauphle-le-Chateau, just outside Paris.
Grand Marnier takes bitter oranges and adds them to cognac – the world’s finest brandy.
Unsurprisingly, this combination gives the orange liqueur vanilla and oak overtones, both in taste and scent, to remind you of its origins. Grand Marnier also tastes heavier than Cointreau as the brandy adds ‘weight’ to the drink’s texture. Although it has the same 40% strength.
How to drink Grand Marnier
Grand Marnier tastes delicious at room temperature or on the rocks. Like Cointreau, it’s a mean cocktail mixer:
- Red Lion is one of the best known Grand Marnier cocktails where gin and orange juice join the liqueur
- The B52 also counts as one of the most famous and original – its three bands of coffee liqueur, Irish cream and Grand Marnier certainly stand out on the bar counter
- Grand Marnier makes a mean take on a mojito when used as an alternative to white rum too
But Grand Marnier also comes into its own in the kitchen. Crêpe Suzette, invented in 1905, still ranks as one of the most classic dishes on the French dessert trolley and duck à l’orange somehow wouldn’t be the same without that dash of Grand Marnier.
Our luxury hotel barge holidays include fruit liqueur tastings – experience the world’s finest orange liqueurs for yourself while you gently cruise down the French rivers. If exploring the base behind Grand Marnier appeals, book a boating holiday in the Cognac region.
Take a handful of berries to create more fruit liqueurs
Given that there’s a whole world of berries, it follows that there’s a wealth of fruit liqueurs made from them. Whether they’re blackcurrants, cherries or raspberries, berries take pride of place in our guide to French liqueurs.
This berry liqueur needs no introduction because like pastis, it’s a national aperitif especially when mixed with dry white wine to become a Kir. The wine and blackcurrant combination is named after Felix Kir, Mayor of Dijon in the 1950s, who regularly served it to his guests.
The origins of cassis appear in 1841 when it replaced the traditional ratafia fruit-based liqueur, popular throughout southern France. Using blackcurrants as its base – only two varieties of the berry, Noir de Bourgogne and Black Down, will do – cassis is made by fermenting the fruit in oak barrels for up to two and half months before adding sugar and alcohol. The resulting liqueur has an alcohol content of 15-20% depending on the brand.
How to drink cassis
- Crème de cassis works best in a Kir: add the blackcurrant liqueur to dry white wine (about 1 tablespoon to a glass of wine) and mix
- Upgrade the tipple to Kir Royale by using Champagne or cava instead of the wine
- For the ultimate gin cocktail add cassis, lime juice and a sprinkling of sugar
And while you’re in the kitchen, add that je ne sais quoi to fruit puddings and desserts with a splash of blackcurrant liqueur.
Like Kirsch, their famous German and Northern France cousin, cherries also get their share of the berry liqueur limelight in France. Known as Guignolet after the Guigne cherry grown in the Saumur region on the banks of the River Loire, cherry liqueur goes back centuries in France. Like so many other liqueurs its origins lie in monasteries and Guignolet reputedly dates back to 1632 in a convent in Anjou.
The red fruit (unstoned to add to flavour) is fermented in oak barrels before sugar and alcohol complete the recipe. It tastes sweet and rich, and you’ll notice distinct almond undertones both in the bouquet and on the palate. These come from the stones.
How to drink Guignolet
This cherry liqueur tastes best on ice or mixed with tonic or soda water. Like cassis, it makes a good addition to fruit puddings and cakes.
Last but not least, our next berry liqueur originates from Chambord on the banks of the Loire, famous for its unique chateau. Originally concocted in the 17th century and reputedly presented to King Louis XIV for his approval, Chambord liqueur takes raspberries as its base.
The berries – both red and black varieties of raspberry are used – are fermented twice before the other ingredients are added. The exact list and quality remains a secret, but the deep red liqueur is known to include honey, spices, vanilla and cognac, which provides the main base.
Chambord fruit liqueur offers a world of flavours that range from the sweetly acidic raspberry to the rich oak undertones from the cognac oak barrels. It comes in a characteristic round bottle – the Chambord Royale has a crown bottle top – and has a strength of 16.5%.
How to drink Chambord
Just a little too sickly to drink neat, Chambord tastes best on the rocks or mixed with soda water or lemonade. It also makes a good combination in cocktails. In fact, some purists claim that the real Sex on the Beach must include Chambord along with the vodka, cranberry juice, melon and pineapple. On the culinary side, a dash of raspberry liqueur sets off summer desserts and combines well with foie gras in savoury dishes.
Visit Chambord and discover the origins of this classic fruit liqueur for yourself on board one of our luxury barge cruises.