On rare occasions, if you’re lucky, you encounter a product so superior that it becomes your benchmark for the category. On such an occasion we discovered the fabulous fruit liqueurs from Merlet. I first encountered the Merlet Crème de Casis a few years ago and it definitely caught my eye. I have seen these spirits on several occasions since that first encounter and in my view these liqueurs can’t be beat and better still; they are remarkably affordable.
In the past decade we have been fortunate to witness the birth of many new and innovative liqueurs. Liqueurs that often feature unique and exotic ingredients creating spirits that thrive in modern cocktails. However, you need not be new to shine and we have fallen in love with a tremendous portfolio of liqueurs in a decidedly “old school” category – Crème.
Crème sounds remarkably like cream to the English-speaking ear but it is certainly not created with cream. Rather, the term crème is more of a reference to the texture of the liqueur as these sweet and concentrated spirits have a very silky and creamy mouthfeel.
Born into a wine growing family, Firmin Merlet was the first to add a pot still for distillation in 1850 ushering in a new family tradition as Cognac producers. For generations (five generations now) the Merlet’s supplied famous Cognac houses such as Hennessey with young spirit. Just over three decades ago the Merlet family diversified creating a line of distinctive fruit Liqueurs taking advantage of the great fruits produced on their estate as well as neighboring farms.
By the way, the Merlet’s are no longer content with producing Cognac for other brands and have recently introduced their own label in France in 2009. The US will receive their first taste of Merlet Cognac this year.
To create these little masterpieces fresh fruit is lightly crushed and married with a neutral spirit at a ratio of two kilograms of fruit to one liter of spirit. This blend is allowed to macerate or steep for one month with the juicy mix being pumped over the top every two days to break-up the packed natural fruit pectin. When the month has elapsed the liquid is separated from the solids and held in a stainless steel tank.
A second of addition of lighter neutral spirit is then added to the remaining fruit solids. This too is allowed to steep for some time before the liquid can be carefully drawn off. The remaining fruit solids are then pressed to extract any remaining drops of juicy spirit.
At this stage the Merlets have three unique spirits: the first steeping, the second steep, and the pressed juice. A blend is then made typically comprising of 90 percent of the first free-run spirit. The second steep spirit as well as the pressed juice adds tannin, structure, and subtle complex flavors.
After the blend is created a sugar addition is made – for a liqueur to be labeled “Crème” in France it must contain a minimum of 200 grams per liter of sugar. This sugar addition does not render the spirit “too sweet” as the fresh fruit possesses a great deal of natural acidity which is evident as you sip these liqueurs. The key to a great liqueur, or any beverage, is balance.
As you would suspect the quality of the fruit is paramount to the creation of the great Merlet Crèmes. The Black currants are grown on the family estate while the other fruits are sourced from local farms. The Merlets work closely with the farmers picking the fruit at its optimal maturity.
The results are stunning. It’s a pure fruit explosion on the palate with an aromatic signature to match. The portfolio included six natural fruit crèmes: Cassis (blackcurrant), Mûre (wild blackberry), Framboise (raspberry), Fraise (wild strawberry), Pêche (peach), and Poire (pear). Trust me, you will be simply overwhelmed by the purity, intensity, and unmistakable mastery of the craft of creating fine fruit liqueurs at your very fist sip.
These great crèmes are surely good enough to serve neat or on ice and they are a great addition to a wide range of cocktails. Enjoy them in the classic Kir or Kir Royal. For summer sipping I suggest a dose of ¾ of an ounce of any flavor you desire with 3 ounces of dry white wine served over ice in a tall glass topped with soda and a lime wedge.