The Guide to Drinking & Enjoying Spirits
Learn the basics of spirits, distilling, and the history of man's efforts to make delicious liquor

Spirit vs liquor - What's in a name?

Nobody goes to a spirits store. When we want hard alcohol, we go to a liquor store. Where they sell spirits. Aka liquor. Which shouldn’t be confused with liqueur…Right?

Alcohol terminology can get confusing. Thankfully, for our purposes, and most purposes in the selling and consumption of fermented, distilled beverages, “spirits” and “liquor” are the same thing: a hard (the hardest) alcohol product made by distillation, often clocking in around the 40% ABV mark, possibly flavored but always unsweetened—the stuff of good sipping, hearty toasting, and ill-conceived drinking contests.

But what about liqueur? That one’s pretty easy, too. Liqueur is made from liquor; it’s sweetened, often flavored (think almondy Amaretto or chocolatey Crème de Cacao), and generally lower proof. And just as spirits is the same thing as liquor, a liqueur is basically the same as a cordial. If someone offers you a cordial, usually after dinner, maybe even as dessert, expect a sweet, flavored alcoholic beverage served in small quantities. (In Europe, a “cordial” may refer to something sweet that’s alcohol free.)

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