What Does it Take to Become a Liqueurist?

Dried herbs and honey and a mortar and pestle.
To be a successful liqueurist, one must have the keenest sense of how flavors complement each other and how to accentuate each subtlety. (Photo: ChamilleWhite /iStock)

Surprisingly, the term “liqueurist” is unfamiliar to many, including bartenders and those in the spirit business. Even while doing research for this piece, we discovered that information on liqueurists via good old Google was scarce and relatively unhelpful. So we did something even better: we hit up a couple liqueurists themselves to get a glimpse into their daily lives as liqueur makers and to learn what it takes to enter the field.

So, what exactly is a liquerist?

In short, a liqueurist makes liqueurs. He or she does this through a variety of processes — and a lot of trial and error — in order to find the perfect balance of spirit, sugar and flavor from fruits, herbs, spices, flowers, nuts or similar. The finished result is a refined liqueur (sometimes referred to as cordials or schnapps) that you can use to enhance a cocktail.

“[My] mission is to gently coax out the quintessential character of a plant's aroma and flavor and store it in the cleanest alcohol possible,” explains Philip Moore, co-founder and lead distiller/liqueurist at Australia’s Mr Black Spirits. “Success in this endeavor is a drink which has the pure, authentic, unadulterated flavor of the plant that donated its essential oils.”

A day in the life of a liqueurist

According to Mac Kenney of Brovo Spirits, there are three main components that make up his day.

“I’ll start with new product development and experimentation usually in the morning, followed by production, which involves distillation, infusion, maceration, cooking or other techniques. Finally, I do documentation, clean up and paperwork — lots of paperwork,” Kenney says.

Paperwork and logistics must be tended to and are obviously an integral part of the job. That said, the most enjoyable part of anyone’s day is when you get to play, which for liqueurists means experimenting with new plants, herbs and fruits, trialling new techniques and developing flavor profiles.

Moore says there’s a predictable rhythm to the job, which is only enhanced by having the privilege of taste-testing the liqueur being distilled at regular intervals.

“A warm inner glow results from the completion of a successful distillation,” says Moore. “Also, regular exposure to the final consumers of our drinks is essential. This keeps us on the track and prevents derailments.”

The prerequisites for being a liqueurist

Like any job, the most important qualities for a successful liqueurist career is to be passionate, and to be willing to put in the work to hone your craft.

“Iteration is important,” says Kenney. “You need to make lots of liqueurs over and over again. We have made more than 50 new products, so we have a knowledge base of how ingredients work together, timing and process. There’s no substitute for doing something over and over again, and I’d say it takes at least three years to get consistent. We’ve been around for six years now and have consistent formulas and processes.”

Moore agrees, adding that an educated palate is perhaps the most important aspect of being a liqueurist.

“You must have a great understanding of plants and what they can contribute to a drink, and also knowledge of which plants can be combined together successfully,” he says. “You need to start with a concept for a drink and have the patience to do many hundreds of trials over many months to create a drink that will make drinkers faint with pleasure.”

Changes to the profession over the years

Liqueurs have been around for centuries, and are historical descendants of medicinal herbal drinks. It was in approximately the 13th century when true liqueurs started being developed, and the primary makers were monks. Since then, a lot has changed, and recent years have particularly seen an enormous amount of innovation.

“In some countries, there have been literally hundreds of new distilleries over the past 10 years. This has led to a raft of new drinks and lots of lateral thinking and drinking,” says Moore. “Old ideas have been challenged, which is refreshing and exciting for spirit drinkers.”

The influx in the marketplace of liqueur ideas has also resulted in improved and more efficient techniques, as well as a higher caliber set for flavor. Right now, there’s a strong movement to utilize all-natural plants that speak for themselves in the liqueurs, versus using artificial flavors.

More changes are surely forthcoming, and we can’t wait to taste what happens next.

Wendy Rose Gould is a freelance lifestyle reporter and photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona. From Tel Aviv to Miami, from Prague to NYC, she enjoys sipping on well-crafted cocktails in all corners of the world.

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