Thursday, March 5, 2015

Floral Spirits Deliver a Delightful Bouquet

From left: Tempus Fugit Liqueur de Violettes, Grand Poppy,
G’vine Nouaison, Koval Chrysanthemum and Honey Liqueur,
Crispin’s Rose Liqueur. Photo by F. Martin Ramin WSJ.
Styling by Alejandra Sarimento. 
By Matthew Kronsberg
WSJ, March 4, 2015                       

Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye grow 160 rosebushes—20 different varieties—in Mendocino County, Calif. If you want to experience their flowers, you don’t need to visit, and you don’t need to get a vase; what you need to get is a bottle. Mr. Cain and Ms. Kaye make Crispin’s Rose Liqueur, an intensely perfumed spirit, using a blend of rose petals gathered early in the mornings, when they are at their most fragrant. Small batches of the petals are steeped in apple-honey eau de vie, then pressed. The tannins in the petals tint the spirit a dusky shade of red and also help to offset the cloying quality that afflicts the taste of so much blossom-based booze. Crispin’s Rose also has half the sugar of most liqueurs.

Capturing a flower’s essence is challenging—so far, more than 400 aromatic compounds have been identified in roses alone—but the end results can be incredibly compelling. “The way to best work with florals is to not keep them by themselves. You’re working with [other] flavors that have a savory aspect to them,” said Litty Mathew of Greenbar Craft Distillery in Los Angeles. Ms. Mathew and her husband and business partner, Melkon Khosrovian, make several spirits infused with flowers, including jasmine, hibiscus and California poppy.

The inspiration to use poppies came about during hikes the couple would take in the hills and mountains that surround Los Angeles, where the orange and yellow blooms grow wild. If sickly sweetness is the risk for many flower spirits, poppies, Ms. Mathew found, are “hellishly bitter.” She and Mr. Khosrovian embraced the plant’s bold character, though, and developed an amaro—a bittersweet aperitivo.

The life of a blossom is notoriously short. Preserving that moment in alcohol is one of the more impressive demonstrations of the distiller’s art. Here are a few bottles where the bouquet truly matches the bouquet.

Tempus Fugit Liqueur de Violettes, 22% ABV
This is an international affair—a California company, inspired by a French recipe from 1868, hired a Swiss distillery to produce. The aroma of this spirit may be violet, but the color is a saturated, vivid fuchsia. Yet it dials down the hue and the sugars one finds in many other violet spirits, to make a floral liqueur you’ll want to use in drinks beyond the classic Aviation cocktail.

Grand Poppy, 20% ABV
First things first: While the Eschscholzia californica variety of poppy is used in herbal medicine, any effect you feel from drinking this will come from alcohol, not opiates. This gently bittersweet spirit combines California poppies with a meadow’s worth of other organic botanicals including dandelion, blessed thistle, burdock and geranium, to make a bracing but highly sippable spirit that works just as well neat as it does replacing the Campari in your Negroni.

G’vine Nouaison, 43.9% ABV
This London Dry-style gin from the Cognac region of France features the flowers of the Ugni Blanc grape in its blend of botanicals. The blossoms, only open for a few days each June, are distilled with a grape (rather than grain) spirit before being combined with distillations of other plant-derived flavorings including cardamom, cassia, ginger and juniper. The floral flavors, subtle here, come across more forcefully in Nouaison’s sister spirit Floraison, wherein the sweetness of the flowers outshines even the juniper.

Koval Chrysanthemum and Honey Liqueur, 20% ABV
As with chrysanthemum tea, the aroma of this liqueur is subtly herbal and rather soothing. Chicago-based distillery Koval infuses their own white whiskey with two types of chrysanthemum before sweetening it with Wisconsin wildflower honey.

Crispin’s Rose Liqueur, 25.4% ABV
It takes the equivalent of nearly a dozen and a half heirloom roses to make each 375ml bottle of Crispin’s Rose Liqueur, and the precise blend of breeds is a closely guarded secret. Whatever the recipe, the flowers are as distinct in character as wine grapes. “Some are more bitter, some are more astringent, some taste like soap and some taste like candy,” said Ms. Kaye. There’s the Don Juan, which Mr. Cain described as “beyond just smelling like a rose. It also smells like raspberries and chocolate at the same time.” Another rose in the blend, said Ms. Kaye, is the Othello, which “smells like Hawaiian Punch.” Needless to say, the liqueur made with them smells like nothing else on the market.

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