Online, you’ll find quite a few variations on the B52 shot cocktail. The classic recipe layers Kahlua, then Baileys Irish Cream, and then Grand Marnier on top.
Why the B-52?
You may be wondering why would you want to learn to make this cocktail. It’s so fussy, with the layers. Is it really worth the trouble?
Short answer: yes. It’s such a delicious little drink, light on the alcohol, and it always makes an impression on guests.
And once you get used to making it, it will seem easier and easier to do.
What does the B52 taste like?
The flavor is described by some bartenders as a little like caramel. And that’s pretty good for a very short answer.
This shot is a subtle blend of coffee, orange, cream and whiskey flavors. There’s no single flavor which stands out much above the others.
The overall taste is caramel with hints of orange. This drink really deserves to be savored alone – it’s a dessert all on its own.
As with most shots, drinkers usually toss back a B52 quickly so they get the flavors of all three layers in one taste. And if you like it like that, go for it.
But you can also savor it. The delicious flavor of this drink definitely deserves savoring, nice and slow.
Don’t tell anyone I said this, but you can even stir the layers after it’s been served. That way, the ingredients of your B52 shot are all mixed together, and you can drink it nice and slow.
Note that if you make brand substitutions, the layers might settle in a different order. This is okay – it’s all about specific gravity and it’s going to taste great no matter what.
So let’s get on to the main work of making this drink: layering.
If you’ve never tried to layer a cocktail before, check out our guide to layering cocktails. It has photos and detailed instructions, or a video if you prefer it. It even uses the B52 as its example.
Here it is, if you just want to see it in a nutshell. But be aware I was using different brands of liquor for this photo session, so the layering isn’t exactly what you’ll get from this recipe.
Begin by simply pouring the first layer of alcohol into the glass.
Put a spoon against the edge of the glass, with the backside of the spoon facing up. Pour your next spirit very, very slowly over the back of the spoon.
If you think you can’t layer a cocktail, think again. It really just takes a little practice. And the effect is so beautiful.
And even when you fail, the drink still ends up delicious. If you struggle with the spoon layering technique, these pourer spouts are your best friends.
Attach them to the tops of bottles, and you can easily control the stream of liquid from your bottle. That means you can pour as slowly and smoothly as you want.
You just press the pourers down into each bottle of liqueur. From now on, you’ll use the plastic tab attached to your pourer to close the bottle instead of recapping it each time.
Put the pourer against the side of the glass. Let the liquid slowly pour. With a little practice, you’ll be able to layer beautifully with this technique.
A lightweight cocktail
You may be used to thinking of shots as straight up high-proof spirits, as in tequila or whiskey shots. This is not that sort of drink.
Because the B52 is all liqueurs, it’s a lightweight little cocktail. You can afford to have more than one. Or you can pour it in a bigger glass and enjoy a longer drink.
If you opt to chug it like a shot, served in shot glasses, you’ll probably want more than one just because it tastes so good.
But you could also add some vodka to raise the proof and turn this into a longer drink. Technically, that makes it a different cocktail. But who cares?
To do that, just pour each ingredient in equal amounts, using a rocks glass or a martini glass. The vodka can float on top, or you can just stir it all up.
Variations on the B52
Note that some versions on this drink recipe substitute amaretto for the Grand Marnier. That changes the flavor profile of this drink.
First, it removes the orange flavor and emphasizes the caramel notes. And it also changes the order of the layers.
In the picture below, I made it with Baileys, Kahlua and Amaretto. The Amaretto went to the bottom, the Kahlua floated on top of that, and the Baileys floated on top of the Kahlua.
It’s still delicious. It’s just not your usual B52.
If you make this drink with the classic Kahlua, Baileys and Grand Marnier, the Kahlua goes to the bottom. The Baileys floats on top of it once again, and the Grand Marnier floats on top of the Baileys.
This seems to be the more common way for the B52 to be made. It’s how most bartenders do it.
Most people seem to prefer the Grand Marnier version of the B52, but your mileage may vary. The orange notes add something nice and surprising to the mocha notes. That little taste of citrus makes it different.
But amaretto tastes amazing, too. You might prefer the drink with amaretto if you don’t like orange, or just if you want to try something different.
Do Brands Matter?
Some people have asked if you can use different brands of liqueurs in this drink. The answer is yes – any coffee liqueur, any Irish cream, any orange liqueur.
But as we mentioned above, be forewarned that different brands can have different specific gravity, and that determines which liqueurs will settle below or another another.
If you do use a different brand and one of them decides to settle unexpectedly below another layer, this is usually okay. One layer can typically sink right through another one and settle after a few minutes.
Once it settles, it will still look beautiful. Just be patient and give it time to settle, and now you’ll know what order to pour the layers in for any additional drinks.
If you like this drink…
Before we get to the recipe: if you try this drink and like it, there are a few other drinks you should check out.
The Irish Flag is another three layer shot. It’s similar to the B52, but features creme de menthe, Baileys and Grand Marnier.
The Velvet Hammer isn’t layered, but it tastes amazing. It blends cognac and cream with Tia Maria, Cointreau and creme de cacao.
The T-52 Shooter is another beautiful shot featuring Kahlua, Tequila Rose Strawberry Cream Liqueur and Grand Marnier.