If you’d told me in January that I’d be writing about liqueurs at the end of the year, I wouldn’t have believed you. I can hardly think of a drink – sugar-laden, high in alcohol – that’s more out of kilter with our times.
And yet here I am, doing exactly that. Because liqueurs, for all their evils, seem to be making a bit of a comeback, thanks largely to a clutch of new brands created by bartenders themselves.
The one that got the ball rolling was Italicus. This stunning-looking bergamot liqueur, created by Italian bartender Giuseppe Gallo, is a reformulation of the flower-and-citrus-laced “rosolio” elixirs that used to be drunk at the Court of Savoy in the 18th century. Today, you can find Italicus on cocktail lists from Tokyo to Manhattan, but it’s also easy to enjoy at home – try serving one part, over ice, topped up with two parts sparkling wine and a green olive (£29.95, from masterofmalt.com).
Next came Muyu, a trio of liqueurs from three of London’s best mixologists: Alex Kratena and Monica Berg (both of Tayer + Elementary) and Simone Caporale. Inspired by perfumery, these all-natural liqueurs come in three contrasting flavours: Vetiver Gris, Chinotto Nero and Jasmine Verte. They are delicious but potent, so use sparingly – add a couple of teaspoons of the Vetiver to an Old Fashioned; a dash of bitter-orange Chinotto to a spritz; or a splash of fragrant Jasmine to a cool gin sour (£28.75 each, from thewhiskyexchange.com).
Another good newcomer for 2019 was the kumquat liqueur Fortunella, created by bartender Lukas Stafin. This zesty, small-batch liqueur is like a more tart version of Cointreau. Shake it in a Sidecar, sip it neat after dinner or sprinkle a shot or two over a bowl of fresh strawberries for a really decadent fruit salad. The little brown apothecary-style glass bottle, with the Chinese script on the label, would also look very nice in a stocking (£30.95, from gerrys.uk.com).
Last but not least is the new range of “savoury liqueurs” from historic Italian producer Casoni. This trio of liqueurs, created in collaboration with Marian Beke (the London-based bartender behind award-winning cocktail lists at Nightjar and, latterly, The Gibson), includes two recipes that are based on a blend of inky Aceto Balsamico di Modena and fresh fruit: Fig & Cherry and Wild Berries. My pick, though, would be the Amarotto, which is made from a blend of bitter herbs and smoked almonds. If cowboys drank Amaretto, they’d probably drink this. Smoky, leathery, with a core of sweet marzipan, it works in just about any cocktail containing whisky (£24.95 each, from masterofmalt.com).
What it will do for your blood sugar levels, I cannot say. But New Year’s resolutions are still two weeks away. So drink deep while you still can...
Alice Lascelles is Fortnum & Mason Drinks Writer of the Year 2019. @alicelascelles.