Taking its cue from gin and whisky, the liqueurs sector is using natural ingredients, provenance and small-batch production methods to escape the doldrums and assume a new premium image.
As consumers and bartenders show more interest in provenance, liqueurs are communicating unique artisanal narratives and assuming an altogether more premium image.
"In the past, liqueurs has been less dynamic than other categories," says Julian Fernandez Estevez, global marketing director for spirits at Zamora Company, the family -run firm that produces Spanish liqueur Licor 43.
As Mark de Witte, CEO of Dutch group De Kuyper, puts it: "Bartenders and consumers want more than just a bit of colour and sweetness."
While according to EU law most liqueurs must contain a minimum of 100 grams of sugar per litre, natural ingredients give brands a healthier image.
"The category has evolved a lot, and has definitely improved," enthuses Paul Bungener, global brand ambassador at Fair Spirits, which exclusively uses Fair Trade -certified ingredients in its spirits range, which includes six liqueurs.
Natural ingredients also give liqueur brands greater opportunity to communicate their provenance something that has become inherent to the marketing campaigns of premium brands in more advanced spirits categories.
"Quite frankly, if you have a range of 30, 40, 50 or 60 liqueurs, all with the same packaging except for the colours and the name on the label, it's not sending the signals of craft, artisanal uniqueness it's more commoditised," says de Witte.
Despite the category's new premium push, Bungener spies an ongoing challenge for liqueurs: do consumers actually know what to do with them?
To compound the problem, Bungener says that many of the signature serves for liqueurs particularly classic cocktails are too daunting for many consumers to make themselves, and also lumber them with additional costs for more utensils and ingredients.
One answer, he says, is for liqueur brands to recommend more basic drinks.
Fernandez Estevez also believes consumers are under educated when it comes to liqueurs, and says the category's variety of flavours and styles makes it particularly difficult to grasp.
The fact that the product is made with 43 natural ingredients, which the marketer says many people did not know before, will become more central in its communication with consumers.
Fernandez Estevez says that consumers' ability to understand the liqueurs category has developed thanks to the gin boom, likening the use of botanicals in gin production to natural fruits used in liqueurs.
"Generally speaking, gin is creating more interest in botanicals and natural ingredients, which is what liqueurs is all about," he says.
A number of liqueur producers believe that their category has benefited from gin's windfall more broadly, since many popular gin cocktails require a splash of something sweet.
In addition, successful artisan gin brands, such as Pickering's Gin and The Lakes Gin, are joining the liqueurs category with colourful line extensions, opening up the opportunity for gin -based liqueurs to give a twist to the ubiquitous G&T.
For instance, it acquired the historic Cherry Heering brand to pair with the Singapore Sling, and created the Bebo coffee liqueur in house "with the best Espresso Martini in mind", says de Witte.
Bartenders have always been key to the success of liqueurs thanks to the category's symbiotic relationship with mixology.
"Our strategy is to grow Riga Black Balsam brand awareness among bartenders to promote this brand as a perfect component for modern mixology," says Maris Kalnins, global brand director, who sees that herbal bitter and liqueur drinkers are moving "from a shot- consumption pattern to mixed drinks".
Innovation is also important to the growth strategy of French group Marie Brizard Wine & Spirits, whose namesake liqueurs date back 260 years.
"If the liqueurs category wants to stay in tune with consumers' expectations, it has to reinvent itself and regularly offer new concepts, as other more expanded categories have done before," believes Stanislas de Parcevaux, group chief marketing and digital officer.
With intense experimentation, continued premiumisation and the benefit of favourable consumer trends, it's an exciting time for liqueurs.