Glossary of Spirits & Mixers


The ongoing cocktail renaissance has given rise to a variety of liquors outside the dominant vodka/gin/rum/whiskey/tequila categories, as well as niches within these categories. As I introduce various liquors/liqueurs and mixers on this blog, I will attempt to update this page to serve as a running glossary of cocktail components.

For recipes on this blog that feature any of the spirits below, see the sidebar categories to the right.


In the Liquor Cabinet:

 Absinthe: a formerly banned (in Europe and in the U.S. in 1912) botanical spirit with flavors of anise, wormwood, and fennel seeds. Usually used sparingly.

Agave nectar: non-alcoholic syrup from the sap of the agave plant. Very mixable in cocktails.

Amaretto: Italian sweet almond-flavored liqueur. Sometimes made from almonds or apricot kernels, or both (Disaronno brand says it uses no almonds so is safe for those with nut allergies).

Aperol: bittersweet Italian aperitif flavored with bitter orange, rhubarb and gentian.

Applejack: aged American apple brandy.

Aquavit: clear grain or potato-based Scandinavian spirit flavored with caraway seeds, anise, fennel and citrus peel.

Becherovka: bittersweet liqueur from the Czech Republic since 1807.

Bénédictine: An herbal liqueur created by French monks and now produced commercially in that country. B&B, a related product, is Bénédictine and brandy mixed.


  • Angostura: aromatic bitters with secret herbs and spices
  • Orange: orange peel, herbs and spices
  • Peychaud’s: hints of cherry and anise
  • many more flavors like chocolate, celery, cardamon, peach, grapefruit, mint…

Brandy: Types include Calvados, cognac, eau-de-vie, grappa and pisco

Cachaca: Brazilian rum made from sugarcane juice

Calvados: aged brandy from Normandy, France made from apples.

Campari: bitter Italian aperitif

Chambord: black raspberry liqueur

Cherry Heering: Danish brandy-based cherry liqueur

Chartreause: monk-made French liqueur made from 130 different herbs. Green Chartreuse is more potent, which Yellow Chartreuse is honey-sweetened and lighter.

Cider: Hard cider is a fermented alcoholic drink typically made from apples or pears. “Apple cider” is akin to apple juice, and is non-alcoholic and less processed.

Cognac: oak-aged brandy from grapes grown in Charente region of France only.

Cointreau: French triple sec

Crème de cacao: chocolate-flavored liqueur

Crème de cassis: sweet, black currant-flavored liqueur

Crème de violette: sweet, violet-flavored and –colored liqueur

Curacao: orange-flavored liqueurs produced in the Dutch West Indies that are typically sweeter than triple sec.

Eau-de-vie: clear, un-aged fruit brandy, such as framboise (raspberry), poire (pear), abricot (apricot), kirsch (cherry) and Mirabelle (plum).

Egg white: Raw egg whites add a frothiness and silky texture when shaken into cocktails.

Falernum: low-alcohol, sugarcane-based liqueur flavored with clove and spices.

Fortified wines: wines augmented with spirits (usually brandy) and often additional herbs and spices. Includes lillet, Madeira, marsala, port, sherry and vermouth.

Galliano: Italian liqueur made with 30 herbs and spices, such as lavender, anise, juniper and vanilla.

Genever: Clear, grain-based spirit from Holland with botanical flavorings.

Gin: clear spirit flavored mostly with juniper berries and other botanicals.

  • London dry: dry, bold flavor
  • Old Tom style: slightly sweet, less botanically intense

Ginger beer: non-alcoholic sparkling beverage made with ginger and other spices. Ginger beer has a sharper ginger taste than most ginger ale.

Ginger liqueur: liqueurs made with ginger; sometimes brandy-based.

Grenadine: sweet red syrup made from pomegranate juice and sugar

Honey syrup: Equal parts honey and warm water combined.

Infused syrup: Simple syrup that has been steeped with herbs, spices, citrus peels and more to impart flavoring.

Lillet blanc: Fortified wine aperitif

Limoncello: Italian liqueur made from lemon peels.

Maraschino liqueur: dry Italian liqueur made from the pits of bittersweet marasca cherries.

Mescal: Agave-based (like tequila) spirit that comes from roasting agave hearts before fermenting.

Okolehao: Okolehao, a traditional Hawaiian moonshine, is still produced illegally in small quantities, as well as in liqueur form by one Maui rum producer. Okolehao “liqueur” is made by blending extracts of ti plant root with sugar syrup, rum, neutral spirits, bourbon, and other flavorings.

Orgeat: sweet, non-alcoholic syrup made from almonds and accented with orange flower water; frequently used in Tiki drinks.

Pernod: flavored with star anise, fennel, herbs and spices and often used as an absinthe substitute.

Pimm’s No. 1: gin-based English apertif

Pisco: South American brandy made from grapes. Versions produced in Peru and Chile.

Rum: distilled from cane syrup, molasses or pressed sugarcane.

  • White: clear rum aged less than one year
  • Amber: usually aged in oak barrels
  • Dark: aged for five years or more, caramel in color
  • Rhum agricole: made in the French West Indies from sugarcane juice

Sake: wine fermented from rice

Simple syrup: equal amounts of sugar and water heated until sugar is dissolved; rich simple syrup is typically two parts sugar to one part water.

Sparkling wine: champagne, Prosecco and cava

Sherry: fortified wine from Spain’s Jerez region. Varies include the dry styles like fino and manzanilla; nuttier, richer amontillados and olorosos; and sweet versions like Pedro Ximenez and cream sherry.

Shrub: Fruit preserved with vinegar and sugar into a syrup. Can replace citrus as the acidic element in some cocktails.

St. Germain: a French liqueur made of macerated elderflower blossoms and eau-de-vie.


  • Blanco/Silver tequila: “youngest” tequila, in that it is aged only a maximum of 2 months before filtered, bottled and distributed. This tequila usually has the strongest taste and sharpest bite, and is the core of most margaritas.
  • Reposado tequila: “medium” aged tequila, and can rest in wood or steel barrels from 2-11 months prior to bottling. These tequilas, called aged or rested, tend to be smoother, darker and mellower than the blanco varieties. Do not confuse the reposados with the Joven/Oro (or Gold) types, which are blancos with coloring and additives (like Cuevo Gold). Bleh.
  • Añejo tequila: Aged for at least one year in smaller barrels, these tequilas are very smooth and complex and often fall into the “sipping neat” category, if that’s your thing. Extra añejo tequilas are aged for 3 or more years.

Triple Sec: orange-flavored liqueur that is similar to curacao but not as sweet. Cointreau is most famous.

Vermouth: fortified wine often used in cocktails. Dry white vermouth is used in martinis, while sweet vermouth (usually red) is often used in Manhattans.

Vodka: made from fermented grains or potatoes, usually lacks aroma, taste and color.


  • Bourbon: corn-based, aged for more than two years, tastes of brown sugar and toffee
  • Irish: a long Irish tradition
  • Rye: rye-based spirit that is aged in oak barrels.
  • Scotch: single-malts come from just one distillery, while blends come from more; smoky taste

Most of the above information was culled from Food & Wine’s Spirit Lexicon and Wikipedia.