by Vicki Arkoff
Caramel is known for its soft and smooth contours derived from a creamy and delicious base, hence the popularity of caramel-flavored liqueurs. This delicious class of spirit is normally sweet, so has typically been served after dinner as a digestif, enjoyed chilled, and sipped slowly. It is produced by either mixing or redistilling spirits with natural ingredients, such as fruits, plants, flowers, or chocolate. Sugar must be at least 2% of the contents by weight.
Bailey’s -- the famed Irish brand known for its rich and creamy concoctions – makes its popular Crème Caramel liqueur with an opaque formula that accents its milky consistency with gentle spices rather than caramel. Its dense creaminess is ideal on the rocks or on top of ice cream, or mixed into coffee and hot chocolate drinks rather than cocktail hour recipes. It’s no wonder that Baileys Crème Caramel is the key ingredient for a multitude of decadent caramel cake recipes. www.Baileys.com
Caramel liqueurs, however, aren’t just for dessert, anymore. The range of caramel liqueurs has widened significantly over the past few years, creating more variety in flavor notes, density, clarity and even aroma. Multiple-award-winning Dancing Pines Brulee, for example, is a notable premium caramel liqueur made from caramelized cane sugars. Sweet like the candied topping of crème brulee, this is a natural addition to many desserts and cocktails, particularly since its process begins with caramel made in an antique copper kettle. But it’s also an ideal ingredient for pre-dinner drinks. Kimberly Naslund of Dancing Pines Distillery (www.DancingPinesDistillery.com) recommends the simply delicious French West Indies for cocktail hour: 1 ounce of Dancing Pines Brulee caramel liqueur and 1 ounce of premium white rum, shaken over ice, and double strained into a chilled martini glass. Add 5 dashes of orange bitters and garnish with a burnt orange peel.
Lovoka -- a recent South African entrant to the premium liqueur category (www.luvlovoka.com) -- provides a fresh alternative to the “shooter” market with their line of triple-distilled infused-vodka spirits that lend themselves to being blended in cocktails, added to coffee, or simply poured over ice and enjoyed slowly. Wrapped inside a sleek aluminum bottle, the soul of Lovoka Caramel is a sophisticated party starter, especially the Lovoka Sunset recipe: Lovoka Caramel Liqueur, peach schnapps, and champagne blended in a ratio of 1.5 to 2.5. Serve in caramel liqueur-coated flute with fresh diced peaches. The Lovoka Bliss is an interesting martini concoction: Lovoka Caramel Liqueur, vanilla vodka, and coconut milk mixed in a 2 – 1 – 1 ratio. Serve chilled or blended with a caramel/shaved-coconut rim.
From Holland, Van Gogh Dutch Caramel Vodka (www.VanGoghVodka.com) balances the sweet caramelized sugar taste and creamy texture. Undertones of vanilla and chocolate are finished with caramel and coffee notes. “The taste is very decadent of pure caramel,” says Tim Vos, Van Gogh’s master distiller. “We used the burned sugar to naturally color the vodka a rich shade of caramel.” There’s perhaps no better match for caramel flavor than apple, so Vos recommends Van Gogh’s Caramel Apple Martini: 1½ oz Van Gogh Dutch Caramel, ½ oz apple liqueur, 1 oz lemon-lime soda, a splash of cranberry juice.