Long Live Liqueurs: All The Bottles You Need for Your Favorite Retro Cocktails

Photo credit: Esquire

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Move over, whiskey snobs: all the cocktails you make fun of are officially back in style. With veteran cocktail magazine PUNCH heralding the return of the Appletini in 2020, and the New York Times profile of the Grasshopper following this spring, the buzziest drinks these days are creamy, strong, and sweet. Just like they were when your parents went out for date night.

At the core of almost all of these recipes is an oft-maligned liqueur, a sweetened alcoholic spirit like cassis or créme de menthe. Yet while the well versions of these liqueurs might deserve their syrupy, saccharine reputation, for every regrettable bottle of apple schnapps there's a fantastic apple cordial that could win over the harshest skeptics.

Which is exactly what I aim to do. With this roundup, I'm leaving out amaros and aperitivos – already beloved by every bearded bro on this side of Brooklyn (myself included, to be fair) – and doing justice to the sweet, fruity heroes of yesteryear. No matter how you stock your bar cart, these bottles are well worth throwing in the mix for a whole host of different cocktails.

We've had enough of Don Draper cosplay. Let's bring the happy back to happy hour, shall we?

Mr. Black

Coffee Liqueur

$39.99
$39.99
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Photo credit: Mr. Black

This one's practically cheating, since the Espresso Martini is an undisputed cool kid. Still, for decades, coffee liqueur was synonymous with Kahlua – a brand that's not exactly known for its complexity. That's all changed in the past few years, as bartenders have all but unanimously turned to Mr. Black, an Australian brand that brings both the bitter and the sweet. Whether you opt for the brand’s classic Cold Brew liqueur or its rum-and-mezcal aged variations, it'll elevate even a White Russian to stratospheric heights.

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Berentzen

Apple Liqueur

~$17.99
~$17.99
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Photo credit: Berentzen

Alright, no more dancing around it: we're diving back into the Appletini. While recipes vary on how they incorporate the titular flavor – apple juice, Calvados apple brandy, the aforementioned schnapps – Berentzen is the industry consensus for the best apple liqueur. Yes, it still skews sweet, but at the end of day that's what you want. Plus, with a ratio that often calls for a much heavier pour of vodka, it's putting up one hell of a fight.

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St. George

Spiced Pear Liqueur

~$38.99
~$38.99
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Photo credit: St. George

Why stop at all? Pear and raspberry are equally fun, and less expected, stars for a fruity martini, especially with the aromatics that St. George brings to the table. The brand’s spiced pear liqueur is heady with cinnamon and clove, and the fresh tartness of its raspberry liqueur bottle tastes like peak season produce. The French Martini, which calls for vodka, raspberry liqueur and pineapple juice, is like a spiritual cousin to the Cosmo – and just like that (see what I did there), it can be a part of your repertoire.

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Current Cassis

Crème de Cassis

$29
$29
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Photo credit: Current Cassis

The Kir Royale traces its origins to well before "The Good Decade": in fact, it was invented in Dijon by a French priest around the time of World War II. WASPs embraced the drink stateside closer to the Y2K millennium, however, spiking their champagne with crème de cassis for its signature fuschia hue. No spirit seemed less poised for a hipster makeover until Current Cassis single-handedly made cassis cool again with its Hudson Valley blackcurrants and very chic eye for branding. Whether you're eager to try a Royale or just want a bracing sipper to have with soda, this is one I'm quick to recommend.

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Tempus Fugit

Crème de menthe

$34.99
$34.99
Code:
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Photo credit: Henrys Wine and Spirit

Of all the throwback drinks, none feels more like dessert than the iconic Grasshopper. With its chocolate and peppermint flavor profile, plus a solid dash of whipped cream because why not, it's a cocktail that feels more at home in a malt shoppe than a drawing room. Minty crème de menthe and (you guessed it) chocolatey crème de cacao are two of the key ingredients, and Tempus Fugit is widely regarded as their best purveyor. But I'd be remiss not to mention the brand’s outstanding crème de banane, introduced to me by my favorite cocktail bar in L.A., Pretty Dirty. Perfect in banana daiquiris, Old Fashioneds, or even just paired with a nice bourbon, it's my favorite surprise discovery of the last few years.

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Don Ciccio e Figli

Orange Liqueur

$35.99
$35.99
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Photo credit: Don Ciccio e Figli

Orange liqueur will always be a mainstay thanks to its crucial role in rounding out a margarita. And there's nothing wrong with Grand Marnier or Cointreau, two standard-bearers that rarely disappoint. Yet the delicate, floral taste of Amalfi mandarin oranges perfumes Don Ciccio's fantastic orange liqueur, which is well worth the detour. From margaritas to Cosmos to even a souped-up Mimosa, this bottle plays a starring role – and goes toe-to-toe with the brand’s delicious limoncello, perfect as an after-dinner digestif.

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Golden Moon

Crème de Violette

$34.99
$34.99
Code:
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Photo credit: Golden Moon

What better bang to go out on than a big old dose of electric purple? Creme de violette is almost futuristic in color, dyed as it is with blue violet flowers and buds, but its use in the Aviation cocktail dates all the way back to the 1910s. Like the ever-popular St-Germain, crème de violette has a pronounced floral flavor, so choosing the right brand is essential to avoiding liquid perfume territory. Golden Moon, a Colorado-based distillery, is the best of the best, and not just because I love its Belle Epoque label design. It's higher proof and uses less sugar, while still feeling like Grandma's house in the best way.

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