Liqueurs have the ability to transform spirits into elegant cocktails. And most of what we see on the back bars have histories that go back hundreds of years.
So it’s not very often that we see a new liqueur come across the bar, but this year we have seen the birth of Fleur Charmante. With a name that means charming flower, the liqueur is made in a small village of Saint Sauvant in France.
To understand more, we talk to Eddie Varsalona, New Product Development Manager at Blue Ridge Spirits And Wine Marketing about maceration, versatility and the cocktails you can make with this new liqueur.
Tiff: Liqueurs have the ability to transform spirits into elegant cocktails. And most of what we see on the back bars have histories that go back hundreds of years.
So it's not very often that we see a new liqueur come across the bar, but this year we have seen the birth of Fleur Charmante.
With a name that means charming flower, the liqueur is made in a small village of Saint Sauvant in France.
To understand more, we talk to Eddie Varsalona, New Product Development Manager at Blue Ridge Spirits And Wine Marketing about maceration, versatility and the cocktails you can make with this new liqueur.
Thank you for joining us Eddie.
Eddie: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here
Tiff: I believe the liqueur draws its inspiration from the golden age of cocktail making. Can you explain a little bit more what that means?
Eddie: Sure. Back before prohibition, right? Bartenders were using fresh ingredients and very particular about what products they used in their cocktails. There was a lot of pride in their cocktails and the bartender from back then would have loved to have had Fleur on their back bar. So we really wanted to replicate what that bartender would want.
Tiff: And what about the liqueur fulfils that brief?
Eddie: I think to be completely honest with you, the golden age of bartending is right now. If you think about it. We have farmer's markets where you can get ingredients from around the world at any moment that are fresh and exciting to use. You can go to any major city. You can go to a bowling alley and get a properly made cocktail and Fleur gives them something unique, something exciting to pair with ingredients that are unusual. So it's quite exciting to bring it to market.
Tiff: There are quite a lot of liqueurs already on the market. What is it about Fleur that made you think that there was room for one?
Eddie: Innovation is the, what I would say, the soul of the spirits industry, so bartenders are constantly looking for something to stretch their creativity. We took great detail to find ingredients, to bring together, to bring something totally unique to market. And I think we really accomplished that with Fleur.
Tiff: How difficult was it to come up with the flavour?
Eddie: I'm very lucky. I worked for for an amazing importer that just gave me free will to do what I wanted. So they basically said 'we want to make a liqueur, and have at it'. So I was looking around the world for things. And I started out in Sweden with the Lingonberry, but one day I was, I went to the market. I had a hankering for a PB and J and I'm staring at the jelly aisle at all these French jams. And it just, it hit me. And I just started buying all of them, black currant, cherry, a mix of berries, raspberry jam. I brought them home and went to work and I had always admired France for their ability to produce incredible spirits. And I think that going in that direction was amazing.
Tiff: Was it difficult to find the maker that you have in France?
Eddie: That's a, that is a difficult process. You want somebody that has validity. You want someone that has the ability to grow with you. You need a facility that truly cares. Some of these distilleries, even though they've been around a long time, their main focus are their legacy brands. So we needed a facility that would really bring to light what we wanted. When I first met with the family I said, I want to make a traditional French liqueur, and then I explained to him what I wanted to do and what I've been doing and experimenting with at home with flowers and fruits. And the gentleman looked at me and tilted his head and said, There's nothing about that, that's French, in a way, he's like the French wouldn't combine such things. And then we started talking about it and he's actually, yeah, you're right. Okay. And they were willing to work with us. So finding a facility that would be willing to take something so classic from the golden age, a liqueur and being willing to work with us to produce something that's fresh and exciting.
Tiff: You spoke about experimenting with flowers and berries, is there any historical basis for how you developed the liqueur.
Eddie: Historically, liqueurs were also a preservation means, right? Alcohol and sugar allow fresh berries to last. That's also why jam even exists or jellies exist, there's preserved fruit. So historically, it was very medicinal as well and when you look at going back into history having a product where you could sustain fruit outside of season was important. I think there's a lot of ways you could look at history and say, gosh this has relevance.
Tiff: Now, can you tell us a little bit more about the region in France, where the liqueur is made?
Eddie: The Saint Sauvant region has a long history. For your cognac drinkers out there, it's in Fimoise, so it's in the cognac region and these distilleries, these liqueur houses go back for generations and it was a starting place for me. Actually, I started in Cognac and I worked my way around the country. And then I came back to Cognac, to this region and homed in. And I think when you look at the soil, the climate, the passion and especially black currants have been grown in this area for, oh gosh, literally generations. So it was a place that I wanted to be.
Tiff: Now you mentioned black currents. Can you talk us through the berries and flowers that you've used to create the liqueur?
Eddie: Oh, sure. So it's black currant, raspberry and cherry berries. The black currant that gives depth, raspberry brings brightness and acidity. Cherry is a sweet fruit, but it's multi-dimensional as well. And then violet, lavender and Jasmine flowers. Violet's been used, and lavender too, in liqueurs for probably as far back as they've been doing that. And so this kind of petite bouquet of flowers adds elegance, and the whole thought was, how do we take these wonderful Berry flavours and really give some elegance and style to them in a new and exciting way, and the floral component was a big part of that.
Tiff: You've used an Eau de Vie as the base spirit. Why did you choose that?
Eddie: So, with liqueurs, the base spirit in my mind, should be a canvas. It should be a way for the fruit and the flowers to shine. I wanted the ethanol to be pushed and I wanted the fruit and the floral notes to be able to come to the forward and ethanol when it attacks your palate, it can be a distraction, and we, without giving away any secrets, we really were careful about the base spirit. We wanted it to be clean. We wanted it to be neutral and we wanted the base spirit to allow us to also back off on the sugars a bit. There’s a relationship between sugar and acidity, when you're talking about macerating or crushing fruit. And in my mind, the more that you can restrict sugar, the more you can allow multi-dimension to come in and so the base spirit that we chose really allowed us to do all of those things, accomplish that goal.
Tiff: Can you tell us a little bit more about the production?
Eddie: Sure. We start with fresh ingredients. That's, I think one of the most critical parts of the piece, sourced, as close to the distillery as possible. Maceration, that crushing of the fruit in tank, a gentle pressing or crushing of the fruit to expose the pulp and the juice and the skins.
So you do a gentle pressing of the fruit. You add your high proof spirit and you let that sit to extract aroma, flavour, texture. And we do about a 30 day roughly soak on those ingredients, right around the peak of harvest.
So once that's done and those fruits by the way are soaked separately. So that's just that maturation. We do the black current separate from the raspberry, separate from the cherry. And that allows you to blend back in. You're going to have variations from year to year from crop to crop and you want to be able to play with that a little bit, to have consistency in your product.
So we do that. And then once your macerations is done, you start combining other ingredients. We do a distillation, a separate kind of component, where we take orange peel and lime peel and make a separate spirit out of that to blend in to also add dimension to the spirit as well. So technically you're talking about fruits, you're talking about flowers and you're talking about also the introduction of some sweet orange and lime as well.
Tiff: Now the liqueur comes in a very elegant bottle with very elegant label on it. What was the motivation behind the design?
Eddie: Our design team did a phenomenal job. Gosh, everybody has their role. I work with an amazing team. My part of this is just one small piece to a puzzle. The design team found this French perfume bottle from the 18 hundreds and obviously elegant and unique. It had these wonderful teardrops coming down the side of it, and it was off centred to where the label could be placed, where it would really stand out on the shelf.
And they did a magnificent job using that as the inspiration for the bottle. And I have to say, the bottle was a very difficult piece of this puzzle. Once the bottle's designed, then you have to go to your bottle manufacturer and take that design and actually produce it.
And so we had to go back to the drawing board several times over several months to get that aspect of it. And I think they did a phenomenal job.
Tiff: How long was the process? From the initial idea of the liqueur through the flavour design through the bottle design and through all, the naming of it, how long was the whole process?
Eddie: The process was three years, almost exactly three years. It was an agonising three years, back and forths and meetings. Everybody on the team from their role and responsibility was just trying to get it right. Pushing and pulling, but in the end, everybody just wants to put out the best product. I believe we accomplish that as well.
Tiff: Was the aim to create something that looked like it had possibly been around for a hundred years.
Eddie: Absolutely. Absolutely. Let's face it, we taste with our eyes. There's a reason why fine dining loves to use a white plate. You get this wonderful food that comes to your table and it's on a white plate to let all the bits and pieces stand out.
And we get them to pick this bottle up, when they're staring at the bottle on the back bar, or if they're at their local bottle shop, and if we can give them, pick the bottle up and hold it in their hands, I believe we get a purchase.
Tiff: Now, if someone were to taste the liquor for the first time, what should they expect?
Eddie: No one flavour note sticks out. We've talked about the ingredients and you're not going to taste this and get cherry. You're not going to taste this and get black currant. You're going to get hints of it, but no one sticks out and it changes on your palette from the big fruit in your initial assessment, and then in the mid palate, you get this wonderful acidity. The finish is dry and not sweet and almost has a hint of herbaciousness to it. It's complex.
Tiff: Will it be familiar though, to people?
Eddie: Oh, I would say it'll be intriguing and everyone can find something in this to adore. Down here in the south, in the Southern United States, people eat things like rattlesnake, and if you ever asked somebody what does rattlesnake taste like? They say it tastes like chicken. If you asked them what half a dozen things taste like, they'll say it tastes like chicken and because the reason we taste is to protect ourselves, right? We want to acknowledge what we're consuming. And I think everyone can taste this and find something in it that they're just going to adore.
Tiff: You haven't been out on the market for very long, but what is the reaction to the liqueur been so far?
Eddie: It's been fabulous. When you do this, you don't get a lot of samples to play with. It's a very difficult process to scale something from an idea where you're experimenting first at your kitchen counter than at the distillery.
And when you say, okay, we've done it. This is it. This is our product. You don't get a lot of samples. So it wasn't until we got our first true batch here in the U S that I could get out in the market, very recently actually, and start selling and start tasting and consumer tasting.
And I have just been blown away. How people are taking to this liquid. I've yet to have somebody say that they don't want it. The thing you don't want to hear is 'well, I have this on the back bar. I don't need your new product, I can just simply use this other thing', and I've yet to get that .
Tiff: Do you think it fills a gap?
Eddie: Yeah. Yeah. I think that especially now, we're working through this thing called COVID. I think that people are looking for something exciting and new. People haven't been able to go to their local haunt, and so to go there and to get something completely new or see something on the menu that's interesting, is exciting. I think it fills a gap for sure.
Tiff: How difficult has it been to launch a new product in a " post COVID" world?
Eddie: Gosh, it's challenging. It's challenging for a company like us, right. Here we have this brand new brand and our route to market often goes through restaurants and pubs and in cocktail bars, that's where consumers get out, they taste it for the first time, then they go to their local bottle shop, they buy it and bring it home. And it has been challenging. So just as, when prohibition happened in United States, there was a drain of talent, bartenders had to go and find a new job.
And with COVID, there was a bit of that, right? Here are all these out of work bartenders and they wound up saying, you know what, I've been a jewellry maker on the side, my whole life, I'm going to go ahead and follow this passion and they did it and they transitioned away from bartending.
So even with relationships that I've had, I've gone into some local bars looking for Joe and Joe is now a real estate agent. So it's been challenging.
Tiff: You spoke of consumers wanting something new. Do you think the same is the case for the bartenders?
Eddie: Bartenders today are culinary experts. They're passionate. They get into the farmer's markets, they source daily ingredients. And they're very excited. When you hand them a bottle that has weight, that's beautiful, and they taste the liquid and the liquid has dimension, they immediately start talking about what they would do, how they would do it.
Tiff: Now, if someone were to buy a bottle for the first time, how would you want them to first experience the liquid?
Eddie: Gosh, I'd love for them to get to know the liqueur. So take it home, pour two ounces on the rocks. Taste it, add a little soda, water, and just enjoy it. And then you can get out and mix it into your favourite cocktail.
Tiff: What cocktails do you think work particularly well with Fleur?
Eddie: How much time do we have left in this segment? If it's tacos Tuesday, I would say instead of the triple sec, mix it into a margarita. On a Friday night. if I'm smoking a cigar, you can mix it into a sidecar, it pairs incredibly well with cognac. Brunch on a Saturday, late morning, two ounces in the bottom of a champagne flute, and top it with Prosecco and enjoy it with your with your brunch.
Tiff: If people are experimenting with established classic cocktail recipes, what would you use the Fleur to replace?
Eddie: It would quite easily replace Creme de Violette in an aviation. It would replace triple sec in any cocktail that would put triple sec in it - a margarita, a sidecar. You can replace it for Creme de Cassis in a Kir Royal. So there's a lot that you can do. If you use liqueurs, try it, you'll be delighted.
Tiff: What other flavours do you think work particularly well with Fleur?
Eddie: I would say, pair it with food , just like you would a red wine or port have it with a wonderful charcuterie board with salty hard cheese or smoked salmon bites with lemon dill cream cheese.
After dinner, just like you might enjoy a port. You can enjoy Fleur with chocolate truffles or simply pound cake with a berry compote on it. I would say that when you get this be excited and think of different times to enjoy it, on top of what to pair it with.
As far as what, what works well with it? I believe that there's a golden ratio for cocktails, especially for the at home cocktail maker. And that's a 2, 1, 1, 1, or even a 2, 1, 1, 1 half. And that's two ounces of based spirit, right? And then one ounce of Fleur, one ounce of a citrus of your choice, lemon, lime, or orange juice, and then one, or one half ounce, of simple syrup. You can run it through vodka, gin, tequila, mezcal, cognac whiskey and find something different and exciting with any one of those base spirits,
Tiff: Have you created a signature serve for the liqueur?
Eddie: Yeah, I think that with your favourite seltzer water, like I was saying two ounces on the rocks with your favourite seltzer is a nice, refreshing drink. It mixes really well with gin. So if you build a Collins and add three quarters of ounce to a Collins, it's a fabulous pour. When I think of signature pours, I think more of when and where, just based upon on when you want to enjoy something unique.
Tiff: In that case, where do you imagine that people are drinking this? Is it a summer by the pool drink?.
Eddie: It should be. Yeah. Think about it, there's a big push towards health and drinking naturally, there's a reason why people are drinking a little bit less beer in our days.
So by the pool for something lower in alcohol by volume, but still refreshing and where you can enjoy a cocktail or if it's a Saturday night and you're dressed up, and you're out and you're in your favourite cocktail bar and you want something that looks pretty, Fleur has this just amazing colour, depending on how it's mixed, this deep red colour to it. It just looks so inviting and attractive in a cocktail, in a classic martini glass.
Tiff: Although it hasn't been out for very long. Have bartenders had the chance to create any drinks with the liqueur that perhaps you didn't expect?
Eddie: Wow. Yeah. Last week I was in town after traveling for business and I walked in for dinner. Daniel was behind the bar and a handed him the bottle. I said, this is what I've been talking to you about for years, crack it open, make me a cocktail. And I was shocked. I didn't realise it would pair so well with vermouth.
He stirred a simple martini with delightful mezcal and a little bit of bitters and vermouth with Fleur and it was simple, it was elegant and stylish and didn't take away, right? Like even the mezcal didn't overpower from Fleur, each part of the cocktail complimented each other. And when I heard that there was a chunk of vermouth in this thing, I was like, wow, you could taste it, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Tiff: What's your favourite way of drinking the liqueur?
Eddie: I do drink it on the rocks with just a little splash of soda water. I poured one just now while I was setting up. I'm a big gin fan, and so shaken, gin with lemon juice, a touch of simple syrup, even an egg white, and do a dry shake initially and then shake it with ice. It's wonderful with gin and lately I've been on a gin kick. So that's the direction I've been going
Tiff: It's early days for the liqueur, but what should people expect?
Eddie: So this is where the team comes in place, right? I'm not a single man army. You can expect us to grow like a weed. You can expect us to be proud to share this with the world. We're based out of Georgia in the Southern United States, Atlanta, Georgia. We've quickly moved into Florida, up into South Carolina, and we're going to go.
Tiff: Now, usually New York and California are the two of the major markets that people bring their spirits and liqueurs into, when can those areas expect to see Fleur?.
Eddie: Soon. They're very important markets to us. And wow, when you're talking about cocktailing and exciting and new, right? You're thinking New York city, you're thinking San Francisco. And so they can expect us in the months to come. It's going to take us a minute just to get our bearings and get the teams ready up there. The distributors ready up there. There's such competitive markets, New York and California, some of the most competitive markets in the world. And so you gain a lot by building excitement coming into those markets or you can get lost in the shuffle. And that's certainly not something we plan on doing.
Tiff: Are there any plans yet to take the liqueur overseas?
Eddie: I guess they say every overnight success is 10 years in the making or something quite like that. I would say we absolutely would love to share Fleur with the world, and it'll take us some time again. When you're doing something artisinal like this, in order to grow properly, you have to build. And when you're using fresh ingredients, when you're talking about supply chain, especially post COVID, you have to take your time, do it right. Every guest is an opportunity to grow, so I would say that we will absolutely make it overseas as soon as we can. Move up into Canada, move out from there and grow smart. Be smart about our growth
Tiff: What do you want people to take away from their experience with Fleur?
Eddie: We were talking about innovation and trying new things. I think today, there's so much exciting stuff. This isn't the last interesting liqueur to hit the market. You can find new and interesting products that do harken back to The golden age of cocktailing. Get out, try new products, give them a try and learn how to make a proper cocktail at home.
There's so many resources today and take Fleur and give it a shot in your favourite beloved cocktail. And you're going to be pleasantly surprised that it's gonna give you something new and interesting to share with your friends.
Tiff: With the market being dominated so heavily as it is at the moment by RTDs. do you think it's harder to launch a product now than it was a few years ago?
Eddie: It's always been difficult to launch a product. I think RTDs have shown that people are looking for convenience, people are looking for portability, they want consistency with an RTD. And so by looking at Fleur as something that you can be confident that you can mix it with any base spirit, even on its own, or just as a delightful way to take your favourite sparkling wine and give it a fresh twist, you'll get convenience, you'll get consistency, you'll get something exciting and new. And the RTD market is one aspect of the market that is growing, but it also shows that Fleur has a spot on the shelf and consumers are gonna find that instead of just cracking open a can and enjoying something, they can simply show up at their friend's house with a bottle of Prosecco and a bottle of Fleur, and then enjoy a quick, ready to drink cocktail.
Tiff: Now, if people want more information, they can, of course go to your website, which is fleurcharmanteliqueur.Com or connect with the brand via your socials
Eddie: correct. Absolutely. On Instagram @fleurcharmanteliqueur
Tiff: Excellent. All right, Eddie, look, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.
Eddie: Thank you. It's been a pleasure. It's absolutely been a joy.