French spirits and liqueurs are mispronounced as much as any other French words. Just because something is popular, doesn’t mean that the pronunciation doing the rounds is automatically correct. Very often, the mispronunciation gains more of a foothold than it should, and you will have people correcting moi 😯 no less when I say it correctly.
To be fair, the names of wines and spirits don’t always follow the normal French rules of pronunciation for a myriad of reasons, so you can be forgiven for not being sure how a word is pronounced even if you have studied French.
The audio pronunciation included here is courtesy of a native French speaker, so you will have audio as well as phonetic spelling to guide you how to pronounce the main French spirits and liqueurs. I’ve added in some quick details so that you can sound knowledgeable on the subject, along with knowing how to pronounce them correctly. There is a bewildering array of alcoholic beverages to choose from, and it helps to have an idea which one fits in where.
Where you see this sign: “~“ in this article or anywhere on this site, it means the ‘n’ or ‘m’ is nasalized. The best way to describe it is to say that it sounds like the ‘n’ only in a word like ‘sing’. I have the odd know-it-all asking why I don’t use the IPA. People here just want to know the best way to order a drink – they don’t want a linguistics lesson – so I like to Keep It Simple and Straightforward.
Between the audio and the phonetic spelling, you should have no problems with this “~”sound – it is included in the English language via foreign words. My advice is always to get the phonetic pronunciation substantially correct, using your own accent. This way you get to sound knowledgeable without being phony. I’m a big fan of using your own authentic accent when you are pronouncing French or other foreign words. For more about that, see my FAQ‘s
The Trio Of French Brandies: Armagnac, Cognac And Calvados
The flavor of Armagnac is more delicate, and is particularly associated with prunes – you will often find recipes combining these two ingredients.
AOC regulations (you will find full details if you simply must know – click on the link) mean that brandy called Armagnac may only be made in the Armagnac region of southwestern France. Cognac, which is considered a more heavy brandy, can by the same rule only be made in the Cognac area of France, which is also in the south west, but a little higher up than Armagnac. The image above is of the ancient town of Cognac!
It’s handy to group Armagnac and Cognac together for pronunciation purposes, because they have common features. Whenever you see a ‘gn’ in French (or Italian!), pronounce it like the ‘ny’ in ‘canyon’ (think of lasagna). ‘C’s at the end of French words are usually silent, but in both these words you pronounce them.
Calvados, the apple brandy from Normandy
Calvados is distinct from the other two brandies in that it is made with apples instead of grapes, and comes from Normandy in the northwest of France. In French, the final letter is normally silent, but Calvados is also an exception to the rule, and is pronounced with a hard ‘s’ at the end.
The Orange Flavored Liqueurs
Grand Marnier grah~ mahr:nyay
There are a couple of orange flavored liqueurs, everyone has heard of them, and no-one really has a clear idea of which is which. Grand Marnier is a good place to start, because Grand Marnier is a cognac flavored with secret ‘tropical wild orange’ essence according to the company website. Grand Marnier is also situated in Cognac territory, Normandy.
Curaçao is not a French liqueur – it comes from the Caribbean island of Curaçao which is a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but it did prompt the French to start making Triple Sec, in rivalry with Curaçao. Curaçao is made by different manufacturers (most notably Bols), and sometimes colored a distinctive blue that makes it a favorite in cocktails. Curaçao is categorized as a ‘Triple Sec’ which is what the French and others call a pedestrian orange-flavored liqueur.
I’ve added in the pronunciation of Curaçao here, because it is an odd one, even though it’s not French. The name is Spanish or Portuguese in origin and is thought to come from the word for ‘heart’ which is ‘corazón’ and ‘coraçao’ in those languages respectively. The cedilla, which is that ‘comma’ under the ‘ç’ has the effect of softening a ‘c’ to an ‘s’ sound when there isn’t an ‘e’ or ‘i’ in the spelling (think of words like place or city).
Triple Sec treepl sehk
The name Triple Sec which means ‘Triple Dry’ if you translate it directly, is said to be a nod to either the distillation process or to the fact that it was the third recipe tried. There are two major Triple Sec manufacturers in France: Combiers, and the more famous Cointreau.
Both compete for the title of ‘who made the first Triple Sec’ with no clear winner. I may be cointreauversial here, but in my opinion Cointreau is a far superior liqueur to any regular Triple Sec. You can drink it either on the rocks or in in cocktails.
Triple Sec pronunciation is quite straight forward – it’s yet another case where you do sound a ‘c’ at the end of a French word (isn’t it handy to have them all bundled up together like this?). The French word for ‘triple’ is identical to the English.
In French the pronunciation of Triple Sec is very close to the English: treepl sehk
Cointreau is a tricky word for English speakers to pronounce, but once you’ve practiced it a couple of times, you will never forget it. My advice is to follow the phonetic spelling I’ve given, and be guided by the audio. Again, you want to aim for phonetic correctness using your own accent, not perfect French – unless you plan to use it in a French setting. In an English setting, rolling the ‘r’ in Cointreau sounds ridiculous.
The Crème Liqueurs
Crème liqueurs are well-known but for all that, I have found that people equate the word ‘crème’ with creamy liqueurs such as Bailey’s Irish Cream which isn’t the true meaning of ‘crème’ on the liqueur’s side of things at all. The word ‘crème’ which means ‘cream’ in French, is used to refer to liqueurs that are high in sugar, and there are loads of different kinds including fruit flavors that have no hint of dairy in them.
Crème de Cassis krem d[e] kah:seess
I’m going to particularly refer to Crème de Cassis, because it is a personal favorite, as well as another one of those rebellious names which does not conform to the normal French rules of pronunciation because you pronounce the final ‘s’. ‘Cassis‘, which means ‘blackcurrant’ in French, is the liqueur which is used to make Kir where it is topped with white wine, or champagne (for Kir Royale).
Crème de Noyaux krehm d[e] nwah/yoh
Crème de Noyaux is a vastly underrated and unknown. It is an almond flavored crème liqueur made from apricot kernels (and is very similar to the Italian Amaretto). There are fanciful fictional accounts of cyanide poisoning resulting from drinking Crème de Noyaux (“Bitter Almonds” by Dorothy L Sayers), but you are quite safe enjoying it in traditional cocktails like the Pink Squirrel (you make it with Crème de Noyaux, Crème Cacao and heavy cream in 1:1:1 proportions) and The Old Etonian (made with equal parts gin and Lillet, with 2 dashes each of Cointreau and Crème de Noyaux).
Crème de Noyaux is pronounced krehm d[e] nwah/yoh
Crème de Violette krehm:d[e] vyoh:leht
Finally, I’m going to suggest Crème de Violette. Really Brut champagnes have become very popular, but for those like me who find the astringency too much, a very French dash of Crème de Violette (Violet Cream) may be the answer. Use it as you would the Crème de Cassis in Kir, for a delicious and novel twist.
Crème de Violette is flavored with violets, whereas the hideous Parfait d’amour has more of a vanilla and citrus flavor profile. Crème de Violette is more difficult to find, but worth the extra effort.
Crème de Violette is pronounced krehm:d[e] vyoh:leht
Parfait d’amour par:fay dah:moor
Parfait d’amour is pronounced par:fay dah:moor
Looking for more French words or other how to say the names of different drinks? We’ve got everything covered on the site – including important Bordeaux, Champagne facts and a guide to French pronunciation. If we don’t, please let us know what you’d like us to add!
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