Liqueurs are some of the most versatile and valuable players in the drinks game. They make great digestifs, aperitifs, and low-ABV shots, and they can take cocktails from so-so to phenomenal.
That said, there are many liqueurs on the market that are cloying, unbalanced, or just plain odd. Some are mere experiments that should have never left the drawing board. That’s why it can be tough to distinguish the questionable from the high-quality on booze shop shelves when you’re shopping for loved ones. Below, you’ll find classics as well as a few unexpected curveballs we’ve fallen in love with this past year. Keep reading for VinePair’s best liqueurs to gift this holiday season.
Best Budget Liqueur: Kahlúa
Best Splurge Liqueur: Chartreuse (Green and Yellow)
Best Liqueur for Beginners: Campari
Best Liqueur for Geeks: St. George Spirits Spiced Pear Liqueur
Best Liqueur for Cocktail Lovers: Le Moné
Best Liqueur to Impress: Amaro Nonino Quintessentia
Best Limited-Edition Liqueur: Veso Earl Grey Aperitif
Best Budget Liqueur
Thanks to the rise of the Espresso Martini, coffee liqueurs have never been more in demand. And while many other brands have emerged in recent years, they haven’t dethroned Kahlúa as the industry go-to for the subcategory. A simple blend of rum, sugar, and arabica coffee, Kahlúa has been produced in Veracruz, Mexico, since 1936 and it’s as iconic as it is delicious. Kahlúa also makes a great medium to play around with in small doses. Add a teaspoon of it to a Negroni or a tropical rum drink and see where experimentation takes you, or go classic with a White Russian.
Average Price: $23
Best Splurge Liqueur
With origins dating back to 1764, Chartreuse has been made for centuries by Carthusian monks in southeastern France. The green variety has a higher ABV and is a bit bolder on the palate with heady notes of basil and sage, while the yellow iteration lands more citrusy, bright, and saffron-forward. Both recipes are kept under lock and key, and the resulting liqueurs can easily turn many cocktails from great to incredible.
Due to its explosion in popularity in recent years, and the monks maintaining a stagnant level of production, Chartreuse has become quite expensive as of late, with 750-milliliter bottles hovering around the $100 mark. Still, it’s a worthy investment — and gift — that’ll open up a treasure chest of cocktails to explore. Try it out in mainstays like the Alaska and Last Word, or take it for a spin in some modern classics like the Piña Verde, Art of Choke, and Naked and Famous.
Average Price: $70
Best Liqueur for Beginners
There’s a good chance you already have a bottle of Campari on your back bar, but for newcomers to the liqueur world, consider this their ticket of admission. Campari is the Italian flagship liqueur of the Campari Group, founded in 1860 by Gaspare Campari. Like Chartreuse, its recipe is kept a secret, but it’s rumored to have more than 80 ingredients. While Campari’s ABV fluctuates depending on what country you’re in, it generally ranges from 21 to 28 percent (24 percent in the U.S., specifically). Stats aside, Campari is a workhorse of a liqueur, and classics like the Boulevardier and the championed Negroni would be nothing without it. Once you’ve mastered those, try it out in a sessionable Americano or test your muddling skills in an Enzoni.
Average Price: $33
Best Liqueur for Geeks
St. George Spirits Spiced Pear Liqueur
Founded in 1982, California’s St. George Spirits is one of our nation’s oldest craft distilleries. Its experimentation knows no bounds, boasting a vast selection of spirits and liqueurs like California Shochu, Dry Rye Reposado Gin, Green Chile Vodka, and this Spiced Pear Liqueur. Made from pear brandy and infused with pear juice, cloves, Saigon cinnamon, and cane sugar, this liqueur opens up with baking spice and gingerbread aromas followed up by a smooth dose of peak-season Bartlett pear on the palate. Try it in a Margarita or Old Fashioned, sip it neat with some cheese and charcuterie, or put a teaspoon of it on a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This one can’t be confined to just a drinking glass.
Average Price: $35
Best Liqueur for Cocktail Lovers
For those looking for a versatile aperitif, this Meyer lemon-flavored liqueur is the thing to gift them. It’s bright, zesty, and downright delicious, with a profile landing somewhere between a vermouth and a liqueur — and honestly, it functions as both. It’ll shine in Martinis, Margaritas, Caipirinhas, or any number of Mule riffs. It also comes in additional flavors, like Bramble-friendly Blackberry and a vanilla and almond iteration that’s destined for an Army & Navy. At just 16 percent ABV, this liqueur is great on its own, but we implore you to let it do its thing in cocktails.
Average Price: $35
Best Liqueur to Impress
Amaro Nonino Quintessentia
Hailing from northeastern Italy’s Friuli region, Amaro Nonino Quintessentia is an outstanding yet approachable grappa-based digestif infused with alpine herbs and botanicals. Its recipe dates back to 1897, and the liquid oozes notes of orange and caramel with an herbal core of clove, saffron, and pine. It’s already a smooth intro to the amari world, but this liqueur’s elegant, ’70s-style look makes it a show-stopping gift. Though often paired with bourbon — it’s one of the four pillars of Sam Ross’s Paper Plane cocktail — try it out in an Amaro Spritz alongside some sparkling wine and a splash of soda to get a sense of its standalone potential. Better yet, pour it up on the rocks with nothing more than an orange twist.
Average Price: $51
Best Limited-Edition Liqueur
Veso Earl Grey Aperitif
San-Francisco based aperitif brand Veso added this stunning bottling to its roster this year as part of its Eclipse Limited Release Series. The aperitif is infused with an absurd amount of tea leaves and organic bergamot peels, sourced from India and Italy, respectively. This bottle bursts with citrusy, earthy notes on the nose, followed up by a tannic grip on the palate with a touch of added cane sugar to temper its bitterness. Underneath it all, the aperitif’s base of grape spirits and Grüner Veltliner give it a punch of acidity to round out the whole package. It clocks in at an even-keeled 18 percent ABV, contains a smidge of caffeine, and would make an unforgettable London Fog. Veso only made 650 bottles of this stuff, so act quickly while it’s still available.
Average Price: $39