Last Updated on October 31, 2023 by Lydia Martin
“Cordial” and “liqueur” are two words in the spirits industry that have always been a source of confusion. If you’ve ever wondered what cordials and liqueurs are and their differences, don’t worry – we’ve been there, too.
Consider this your guide to understanding cordial vs liqueur – after years of studying many different spirits, I’ve understood their distinctions, and I’m here to share my insights with you.
If you want to be the go-to expert at your next cocktail soirée, let’s dive into the world of cordials and liqueurs together and discover what makes them unique.
Comparing Liqueur & Cordial
Liqueur and cordial are both made with spirits. However, they aren’t your straight-up liquors – instead, the spirits are infused with different fruits, flowers, herbs, and nuts, for added flavor.
Both liqueur and cordial are also known for their added sugar, unlike liquors. This sweetness enhances their flavors and makes them perfect for elevating a cocktail drink.
“Cordials add a harmonious touch of fruity and floral notes to every sip.” – Liquor Laboratory
In the UK, the term cordial can also be used to identify a sweet, non-alcoholic liquid. In America and the rest of the world, cordial always has alcohol content, like liquor.
Liqueur vs Cordial Cheat Sheet (see outline)
How It’s Made
The main ingredient of liqueurs are distilled spirits, which can be brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, whiskey, and many more. The taste of the liqueur depends on the spirit used.
The distilled spirits are then infused with flavors like cream, herbs, or nuts, and are bottled with sugar or sweeteners. Some liqueurs achieve their desired flavor profile via distillation, while others are smoked to add more complexity to the alcohol.
Cordials are created with a fruit juice base instead, which gives them a brighter flavor and lower alcohol content. Similarly to liqueurs, they are also sweetened with sugar.
Some folks say that cordials are liqueurs both made with alcohol and fruit, but in modern days, they also incorporate other ingredients.
Liqueurs are made when spirits are blended with flavorings like herbs, nuts, sweeteners, and other additives. This is done to add complexity to their taste profiles.
On the other hand, cordials’ infusion of fruit extracts, flowers, and sugar gives them their crisp character.
That said, many liqueurs have a higher alcohol content than cordials. Liqueurs’ alcohol content varies widely, ranging from 15% ABV to 40%.
Cordials tend to have a lower proof of around 20% ABV.
Liqueur is often used to deepen the flavor profile of cocktail drinks.
Popular liqueurs like Vermouth can enhance the bitter notes of cocktail drinks like the Manhattan, while the aromatic Coffee liqueur can be incorporated into desserts like Tiramisu to enhance its taste. 
Cordial is often considered a sweet enhancer, perfect for those who want to add a delightful sweetness to dessert recipes or cocktails.
Read: Liqueurs vs Schnapps
Liqueurs have a more full-bodied texture mainly due to their distilled spirit base, infused with plants, herbs, and sugar/sweeteners.
Liqueurs can vary widely in flavor, but their blending process ensures they have a certain depth – think of the rich texture of a Coffee liqueur or the complex peach notes of a Southern Comfort.
On the other hand, cordials are quite light. Because they are crafted only with fruit extracts, flowers, and sweetened with sugar syrup, they are often less viscous.
Liqueurs offer a complex palate because they are flavored with warm spice and herbs. Beyond these other ingredients, the base spirit also provides complexity.
Some examples of this would be Coffee liqueur, which uses coffee beans in the production process; Crème de Menthe, which uses mint; and Triple Sec, which uses bitter orange fruits.
Cordials are all about that fruitiness, with flavors like cherry or raspberry. They also often have a higher sugar content.
Aroma & Appearance
Liqueurs can come in all colors, influenced by their base spirit/alcohol or other ingredients like food coloring. Their aroma is complex, usually with a bouquet of herb and fruit.
Cordials are usually more straightforward and take after their fruit base. Their aroma also reflects the type of fruits used during production.
Liqueurs have a lengthy finish, thanks to their complex taste. An interplay of herbs and spice creates a lingering, multi-dimensional taste that unfolds the longer you savor it.
Conversely, cordials have a crisp finish that leaves you with a pleasant aftertaste.
Herbals & Spices
Cordials often feature a buffet of sweet, fruity, and botanical delights, harmonizing and creating a pleasant palate.
On the other hand, liqueurs are more serious with their herbals and spices.
How To Drink It
The best way to drink liqueurs is to enjoy them straight or with ice. This will allow you to savor their intricate flavor profiles fully.
Liqueurs are often used to enhance the flavors in various cocktails. Liqueurs can even take the spotlight in some cocktails, like the Amaretto Sour. 
“Liqueurs are like the spices of the cocktail world, adding complexity, depth, and character to any libation.” – Gary Regan, British-Born Bartender and Bar-Writer
Cordials are often drunk as a luxurious after-dinner drink. Some people prefer pairing this alcoholic beverage with their favorite desserts, like chocolate truffles or tarts.
Can liqueurs also be called cordials?
Yes, the terms liqueurs and cordials can be used interchangeably because they both pertain to sweet and flavored spirits.
However, in the UK, cordials are non-alcoholic beverages, so the name varies depending on your location.
Are cordials sweeter than liqueurs?
Yes, cordials tend to be sweeter than liqueurs. Cordials are known for their sweetness and are used in dessert recipes and mixed drinks.
On the other hand, liqueurs have a broader range of flavors – some can even have bitter or herbal notes.
What is cordial called in America?
In America, cordial is often referred to as “liqueur.” Both terms can be used interchangeably.
Today, we’ve learned that cordials and liqueurs share many similarities and differences.
Liqueurs have a more complex flavor profile thanks to their distilled spirit base. They also offer a broader flavor spectrum, including herbal and bitter notes.
Liqueurs can be drunk neat on their own or served chilled with ice. However, we find that they truly shine in cocktails because their unique flavor profile enhances the base liquor and provides just the right contrast.
On the other hand, cordials are sweeter and are used in desserts. Many consider them luxurious after-dinner drinks due to their sweet, indulgent nature.