The drinks world is becoming increasingly dominated by pre-mixed, homogeneous beverages. Because of this, the relevance of individual specialty liqueurs is becoming ever more tenuous—it seems like few individuals are willing to stock up on a variety of liqueurs and mix their own drinks; it's just so much easier to be lazy and buy a bottle of pre-made sangria or Cosmopolitan mix. Even in restaurants and bars, the skills required to be a bartender are often no more than being able to push the right button on an automatic dispenser.
So it was with great curiosity that I attended a recent tasting workshop of several liqueurs from Bols, led by the company's product developer Peter van't Zelfde. Bols has a line of 36 different flavours of liqueurs, which flies directly in the face of the trend towards pre-packaging. As someone who despises pre-packaged anything—but especially drinks—I find it extremely refreshing to find brands like this, that celebrate the diversity in the world of spirits and cocktails, rather than reject it.
"It's one liquid, one bottle," states van't Zelfde. Though Bols may make three dozen different liqueurs, each houses a single flavour—allowing bartenders to choose which ones they want to highlight in their drinks. "The bartender creates his own spectrum of flavours to make his final cocktail."
In addition to several classic liqueurs like blue curaçao and triple sec, Bols is also continually developing new liqueurs based on current trends. This is van't Zelfde's home territory: "I wear a white coat; I'm not a bartender." Over the last four years, he has developed a handful of new flavours, including sour apple, pomegranate and yogurt.
Having a product developer host a tasting session is a little unusual; usually such events are led by a brand ambassador and/or mixologist. However, this fits in nicely with Bols' take on liqueurs—it's not just about using the liqueurs as a flavour in a cocktail, it's about showcasing the essence of the main ingredient.
In tasting several of Bols liqueurs, it was evident that each accomplishes this goal nicely. Though they aren't the most unique liqueurs I've ever tasted, they are definitely among the most reliable, and are therefore invaluable as cocktail components. "We are a brand for bartenders," van't Zelfde affirms.
Yet despite all this, I still look towards brands like Bols with a bit of trepidation. The pre-packaged trend looks to be here to stay, and it will take a lot of effort and ingenuity on behalf of these brands to convince people, even many bartenders, that they should keep a liquor cabinet stocked with a dozen different liqueurs. Many liqueurs will probably never rise beyond being a niche market item—but nonetheless, I think everyone can agree that it's important to keep these niche items around, lest our world be overrun by mass-marketed homogeneity. V