How to design dessert cocktails and liqueurs your customers will love
After-dinner drinks don’t have to be overly sweet and cloying. Whether you’re putting together a restaurant cocktail list that covers the entirety of the dining experience, or considering guests that are stopping at your bar after a meal, there are countless ways to elevate your dessert cocktail offering.
Bars and restaurants are increasingly making use of savoury and bitter notes to bring complexity and balance to their dessert drinks, as well as creating elevated versions of classic ingredients in-house. Meanwhile, the liqueur category has been particularly vibrant in recent years, with a variety of new and interesting options to incorporate into these cocktails.
‘Rich, creamy, yet still punchy, dessert cocktails should offer the perfect finale to a special meal – and be a competitor to the main event,’ says Tim Dunlop, European commercial director for Biggar and Leith.
Dessert cocktail ideas
For a wealth of dessert-cocktail ideas, there’s Hawksmoor’s recently-introduced selection of festive, retro cocktails, such as the After 8 Stinger, made with Seven Tails XO Brandy, cacao nibs and peppermint, a tribute to the after-dinner mint. Or there’s the restaurant group’s take on the classic Snowball – usually made with advocaat and lemonade – which they’ve elevated by combining Slane Irish Whiskey, Hawksmoor’s own advocaat, lemon sherbet and soda.
‘We wanted a slightly more complex version of classic advocaat for our Snowball, so ours is sweetened oloroso sherry blended with egg yolk,’ says Liam Davy, Hawksmoor’s head of bars.
Davy highlights another ingredient worth considering when creating dessert cocktails. ‘I absolutely love good quality praline paste, particularly whipped into cold cream and layered on an Irish coffee – delightful,’ he says.
When creating a list of winter warmers, many of which make excellent dessert cocktails, Luxardo global brand ambassador Gareth Franklin took inspiration from ski resorts and the après-ski moment. His Luxardo Cherry Hot Chocolate can be made by adding 25ml of Luxardo Sangue Morlacco Cherry liqueur to hot chocolate, or for a non-alc option, two barspoons of the syrup from a jar of Luxardo Maraschino Cocktail Cherries.
While we’re on the subject of chocolate, Hotel Chocolat’s bottled Espresso Martini Velvetised Cream is a versatile ingredient, equally well suited to being shaken and poured over ice as it is being added to hot drinks like coffee or rich hot chocolate. Or just serve it chilled and neat, straight from the bottle – a creamy, coffee-and-white-chocolate dessert drink, ready to go.
Given the enduring appeal of all things coffee flavoured, and particularly with the ongoing popularity of the Espresso Martini, you can’t go wrong with bringing coffee into your after-dinner cocktails, in some form or another. For restaurant cocktail lists, a coffee cocktail is a good upsell as an alternative to dessert.
One simple coffee cocktail that’s undoubtedly on the rise is the Carajillo, increasingly popping up on menus. This combination of espresso and Spanish liqueur Licor 43, shaken and strained over ice, is particularly popular in Mexico. Jeremy Rockett, area manager UK & ROI for Licor 43 owner Zamora Company, explains why the combination works so well, in the Carajillo and beyond. ‘There is a natural marriage of aromas and flavours between Licor 43 and coffee – similar complexity and flavour characteristics allow for a different experience every time, depending on the type of coffee and extraction method,’ he says. ‘For example, you can enhance the sweet notes of an espresso; the botanical notes of cold brew and the citric and floral notes of a filter coffee. The natural home for this drink is “sobremesa”, after the meal.’
Biggar and Leith’s Dunlop agrees about coffee’s potential when it comes to after-dinner drinks, highlighting that classic combo of espresso, ice cream and liqueur, the Affogato. ‘Stylish in its simplicity, it’s the dessert of the moment,’ he says, adding that this can be turned into a cocktail by adding something like the company’s Shanky’s Whip, a combination of Irish liqueur and whiskey. ‘It sparks intrigue on drinks menus from consumers who have already bought into the dessert,’ he adds.
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After-dinner cocktail ingredients
Also in the Biggar and Leith range is Italian amaro and liqueur brand Stambecco, which includes a Tiramisu Liqueur. ‘It makes a great addition to heavier and darker dessert cocktails,’ says Dunlop.
Franklin agrees that liqueurs are the way to go. ‘Dessert drinks are all about big, rich flavours and the right level of sweetness so liqueurs are a perfect place to start,’ he says. ‘Luxardo Amaretto, Sangue Morlacco (cherry) and the new Luxardo Espresso all pack a lot of bold flavour that mix perfectly with aged spirits to create an amazing after dinner treat.’
Beyond liqueurs, products such as flavoured schnapps range Flävar offer a range of options when it comes to creating your own dessert cocktails. ‘The lower ABV and flavour diversity make Flävar a perfect ingredient for crafting inventive and delicious dessert-inspired drinks, and the clear spirit means you can bring your own colour and flair to the cocktail,’ says co-founder and brand and marketing director, Matt Bandy. ‘From incorporating these into classic dessert recipes to inventing entirely new combinations, the possibilities are exciting, and they don’t need to be complicated either.’
Dessert cocktail tips
- ‘There are two key things to remember with good dessert cocktails. The first is size – they should ideally be quite small, particularly if they are very sweet. A small, boozy, sweet treat is lovely after dinner. A bucket of cloying alcoholic ice cream is gross. Second, using a bitter or savoury flavour helps to keep things interesting. With this in mind, we use things like coffee and miso in some of our drinks.’ Liam Davy, head of bars, Hawksmoor
- ‘Like with all good desserts, try adding a pinch of salt to enhance that moreish quality. Also, adding a textural element like a Luxardo Cherry garnish or a silky foam will always elevate the serve.’ Gareth Franklin, global brand ambassador, Luxardo
- ‘Balancing indulgent dessert cocktails with a touch of bitterness is an interesting approach we’re seeing in venues.’ Tim Dunlop, European commercial director, Biggar and Leith
- ‘A great dessert cocktail is one that expertly balances sweetness, creaminess, and complementary flavours. Texture is crucial, whether through cream or frothy elements, and vibrant presentation adds to the overall experience.’ Matt Bandy, co-founder and brand and marketing director, Flävar
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