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14 Herbal Liqueurs to Have on Your Cocktail Shelf

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Once you start to venture into the world of cocktail making beyond some of the simple, three-ingredient style drinks, you start to run into things like herbal liqueurs. This is a subcategory of a type of drink that is at the heart of many types of cocktails but isn’t as well known as others in the group such as fruit liqueurs or even chocolate liqueurs.

Shall we get to know them a bit better?

What are herbal liqueurs?

A liqueur is defined as

“Alcoholic drink composed of distilled spirits and additional flavourings such as sugar, fruits, herbs and spices”


These drinks are often served with or after the dessert course of a meal and can often have a lot of sweetener in them. They can also be known as cordials or schnapps in the US whereas here in the UK, cordials are non-alcoholic fruit syrups – got to love a bit of terminology!

Herbal liqueurs are descended from herbal medicines. Some of them date back as far as the 13th century – Chartreuse is one example that was made by the monks in 13th century Italy for its medicinal properties and is still available today.

In modern times, they are used in a variety of cocktails, served neat or something as part of coffee recipes. They are also sometimes used in recipes to bring their unique flavour to the dish.

14 top herbal liqueurs

The best way to understand herbal liqueurs is to give a few examples of them and the flavours they bring to the drinks. So here are some of the most popular from around the world.


Amaro is a category of herbal liqueurs that has a silky texture similar to a syrup. The original version came from Italy in the 1800s where it was made from herbs, flowers, citrus peels, spices and either spirits or wine. There are now varieties from across Europe that can be either bitter or sweet including Amaro Montenegro which is an Italian Amaro.

Amaro vs Amaretto

Learn the differences between these two similar sounding liqueurs

Ancho Reyes

Ancho Reyes is produced in Mexico and is a unique drink that uses ancho peppers, the dried version of ripe poblano chile peppers. It is based on traditional Puebla liqueurs called menjurjes and is still handcrafted.


Anisette, also known as anisetta or anis, is a category of herbal liqueurs that are anise flavoured. They come from different parts of the world and each can have its own unique taste. One of the best known is Sambuca which is aniseed-flavoured and made with a clear spirit and other herbs and spices. It is often served with coffee beans and the alcohol content set on fire to bring out the coffee flavour.

Another is Pastis which is made with sweet star anise and a range of herbs and spices such as sage, liquorice, cardamom and pepper. It is a French liqueur whose name comes from the Provencal word for ‘concoction.


Benedictine is one of the herbal liqueurs that claims its origins from those industrious monks, in this case, Benedictine monks from France. The recipe was given to Alexandre le Grande who created the drink from it in the 1860s and today it still uses the same secret recipe of 27 herbs and spices he was given.


Chartreuse is the oldest and most well known French herbal liqueur that is said to come from a manuscript sent to the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the early 18th century. A healthy elixir was made that later led to two herbal liqueurs:

  • Green Chartreuse – 55% ABV, green colour with herbal and floral aromas
  • Yellow Chartreuse – 43% ABV, yellow in colour with a milder and sweeter flavour

Creme de menthe

Creme de menthe is made with mint (menthe) and comes in two versions – a colourless one known as white creme de menthe and an eye-catching bright green version. There’s a few ways it is made with traditional versions steeping dried leaves in alcohol whereas others use a mint extract.

Creme de menthe or peppermint schnapps?

Learn the difference between these two popular types of mint liqueur and see which one works best for your cocktail idea


Fernet comes from Milan, Italy and is made with a secret blend of herbs and spices that include saffron, aloe, chamomile and mint. It has a complex and bittersweet flavour.


Galliano is a sweet herbal liqueur from Tuscany, Italy that is made with vanilla and a range of other herbs and spices. The result is a sweet vanilla-anise flavoured drink that is distinctly different from other anise liqueurs. It is most famous for being in the Harvey Wallbanger cocktail.


Goldschlager is a cinnamon schnapps (German liqueur) that has thin but visible flakes of real gold floating in it.


This is a group of German herbal liqueurs also known as halbbitter or half bitter. They are often used in cocktails and long drinks but can also be served ice cold and neat as a digestif.

The most well known of the group is Jagermeister. This herbal liqueur was created in 1934 by Curt Mast using 56 different herbs, roots and fruits. It is usually enjoyed as an ice-cold shot or in cocktails.


Krupnik comes from Poland and is made with either vodka or fruit brandy and then honey is added. Herbs and spices are then added with different family recipes using different ones. It has been made since the 16th century and is credited to the Benedictine monks of Niasviz.

Riga Black Balsam

Riga Black Balsam is a Latvian drink that first creates an essence of botanicals in spirit-water before being added to the rest of the ingredients. The original recipe dates to 1782 when Abraham Kunze created it with 24 natural ingredients. The recipe was lost during World War II but has been pieced together again to restore the drink.


Strega is an Italian liqueur that is bright yellow in colour and mixed some 70 different botanicals including spices and herbs such as Ceylon cinnamon, mint and saffron. The result is a sweet and herbal drink.


Unicum is a liqueur made with 40 herbs and species including ginger, lemongrass and orange peel for a bittersweet flavour. It was originally created as a stomach remedy by Dr Jozsef Zwack but was later mass-produced as a liqueur.

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