Goodness, I've been getting lots of questions lately. I love it. Send me more! Leave them in the comments if you so desire. This week's burning question reads:
"What's the difference between white and green crème de menthe, and white and dark crème de cacao? And why is it 'crème' when there's no cream in it?"
Crème de menthe and crème de cacao are a little odd in the spirits world specifically because they come in colored and clear varieties. To my knowledge, the only other liqueur with multiple color options is curaçao, which is most commonly orange or blue, but comes in almost every color of the rainbow.
See Also: What the Hell is Triple Sec?
As with curaçao, the only difference between clear and colored varieties is the color. You can use them interchangeably, as long as you don't mind the possibility of your drink looking funny.
But why are they called crème liqueurs? The white version of both isn't white per se, but crystal clear. Obviously, dairy products haven't come close to either bottle. It's because of the texture of the liqueur. Crème liqueurs have plenty of sugar in them, enough to give them an almost creamy consistency. Many spirits makers also add a touch of glycerin to give the liqueurs some extra body and creaminess.
To add to the confusion, many makers of chocolate liqueurs also make a chocolate cream liqueur, which contains actual dairy products. The quick and dirty way to tell the difference is in the spelling: Crème has no dairy, while cream has dairy.
A well-stocked commercial bar should have both varieties of each spirit. The only reason to have both white and green crème de menthe (or white and brown crème de cacao) in a home bar is to show off. You can certainly get by with just one bottle of each at home. But which ones?
My answer is to get white crème de cacao, and green crème de menthe. The power of suggestion is at work here. The color makes green crème de menthe seem more flavorful, even though the only difference between the two spirits is the color. It could also just be that I like green more than I like brown. Go ahead and get which ever your heart desires.
Of course I have something to do with the liqueurs. A terrific way to use both is in the classic after-dinner drink, the Grasshopper. It gets its name from its green hue from using green crème de menthe and white crème de cacao. You can adjust the taste of the drink by adjusting the amount of cream. I find that equal parts of everything works best; the cream helps keep the mint flavor in check, keeping the drink from tasting like toothpaste.
But what if you have a bottle of dark crème de cacao and don't want to make your Grasshoppers look like swamp sludge? Have a Brandy Alexander. When the Alexander was first created, its base spirit was gin. The original soon fell by the wayside, with brandy becoming the Alexander's spirit of choice.. Bourbon Alexanders are also quite nice; just substitute the base liquor of your choice for the brandy to make an Alexander your own.
Grasshopper 1 ounce green crème de menthe 1 ounce white crème de cacao 1 ounce heavy cream
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Shake with ice cubes until very cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Brandy Alexander For a stiffer drink, use 1 ½ ounces brandy, ¾ ounce crème de cacao, and ¾ ounce cream. 1 ounce brandy 1 ounce dark crème de cacao ½ ounce heavy cream.
Shake with ice cubes until very cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.