When we think of cocktails, we often think of the spirits that we use to make them, but the modifiers, the Liqueurs, the Cremes, the Vermouths, and the Amaris, that balance the drink, often become an afterthought.
But one brand not only seeks to bring those liquids into the spotlight but also explore the history and seek out modifiers that may have been lost over time.
Tempus Fugit, a Latin term that means time flies, is a brand that has been digging through the annals so as to source and recreate rare spirits and cures and their latest release. Creme De Moka is a perfect example of this.
To find out more, we talked to John Troia from Temps Fugit about history, cocktails, and the archaeology of liquids.
To find out more, go to tempusfugitspirits.com
When we think of cocktails, we often think of the spirits that we use to make them, but the modifiers, the liqueurs, the cremes, the vermouths, and the amaris that balance the drink often become an afterthought. But one brand not only seeks to bring those liquids into the spotlight, but also explore the history and seek out modifiers that may have been lost over time. Tempus Fugit a Latin term that means time flies is a brand that has been digging through the annals so as to source and recreate rare spirits and cures, and their latest release. Creme De Moka is a perfect example of this. To find out more, we talked to John Troia from Temps Fugit about history, cocktails, and the archeology of liquids. Thank you for joining us, John.
John Troia (01:35):
Now, aside from being co-founder of Temps, you are a spirit historian. How did that come about?
John Troia (01:44):
Well, there's a long version to the story, but the the short version of the story is that in, in my former life, I was a clothing designer with Levi Strauss and a few other brands. And I had a friend that I'd known for quite a number of years, who ended up moving to Paris, marrying a French woman. He lived near the Paris Flea market. And one of the things that we both had in common over the years was our love of history and antiques. So whenever I'd come over for a visit, we'd go over to the Paris Flea market, and one of the things that he would come across with regularity was absent antiques glasses, spoons, other paraphernalia, including sealed bottles of absent that had never been opened. And one thing about absent that's really intriguing is that it actually ages over time in the bottle mellows out, it starts to change a little bit in the flavours soften, but they also become more complex.
And the first absent I ever had was a 1910 CF Berger absent, and it was absolutely fantastic. And we both discussed this was ever legal in the US be something fun to to, to bring back to, to the US market and the US consumer. But doing it the way it was done historically, not kind of that check experience where people are just macerating herbs in a bucket somewhere in a back room, and it's just bitter and nasty and you just want to get it over with. A well produced absent the way it was done historically is extremely elegant and a very complex spirit has a really rich history. Not at all, like some of the lore that was, was kind of spread during its ban. So we, we set about to reintroduce true distilled absence to the historic market and, and kind of dispel and to, to give true history and context to what Absent was historically. And that's kind of how we started down the journey of of exploring and producing historic spirits.
A little jealous over what you would've been able to find at the Paris Flea market in those days. But let's get on.
John Troia (04:02):
What made you expand your range from Absenthe into Liqueurs and, and Cremes and Amaros?
John Troia (04:16):
Well, very very early on when we were visiting some of the major markets in the us, the New Yorks, the Chicagos our home markets, San Francisco of the world, when we would go into depth, especially with really fantastic bartenders that are, that were running great bar programs, they really appreciated the historic information and detail and just really geekiness of our getting into the, the history and the background of, of Absent. And we quite frequently were asked, have you ever considered exploring other spirits? Because there's all these classic cocktails in these historic cocktail books that use ingredients that yeah, you can buy them, but they're low quality usually made from artificial flavours, artificial colors. And the, the thought or expectation was, is that a well-researched, well-produced historic version of these things like creme de cacao, creme deon, things like that would make a much better cocktail.
So we set about to use the same methodology that we used and doing that similar type of research and in depth discovery into things like creme de cacao, creme Deon were often mentioned by bartenders as something of interest where they felt there just wasn't a very good version of these particular spirits and, and they felt there could be something better. And very early on there was definitely a, a concept or an expectation that if something was done historically and could be plugged into a classic cocktail recipe, you would come much closer to replicating the balance, the flavour, the complexity of those original recipes with a more authentic product than what was typically available off the shelves. Which in modern times, I, I think most people would agree that a lot of those modifiers, like acc creme de cacao is just reduced now down to oils, extracts, flavourings, artificial flavourings sugar, artificial coloring. It's just really a mere shadow of what it was at its height in the mid to second half of the 19th century.
One of the questions I was going to ask you was, do you regularly consult with bartenders?
John Troia (06:57):
Over what they wanna see on the shelf, so to speak?
John Troia (07:02):
Yeah, yeah. From a very practical marketing point, why produce something that nobody wants or nobody could use? I think sometimes it's interesting to ask the question if nobody's doing it, maybe it's because nobody wants it or nobody's interested in it. But if I, in my travels, I often ask bartenders, what's missing in the back bar? Mm-Hmm.
And then once we come up with one that we feel is kind of the best of all the recipes that, that we've trialed, then I set about sending samples to different bartenders that I feel are going to give us really honest feedback. We may feel it's great, but if we're the only ones that feel it's great, then I don't think that's very helpful. So we wanna get some feedback. Because we're a small company, we can't make mistakes and bring in a full container load of product that nobody wants. That would be a financial disaster for us. So we wanna make sure we get to the point to where when we've sent these samples out, bartenders are coming back to us not only with positive feedback, but asking us how soon can they get it? It needs to be something more than, yeah, it's good. I'll buy a bottle of it. I won't use it very much, but it's interesting. I want something where they say, gosh, I could do a whole lot with this. And those are the types of products that we're interested in bringing to the market to, to really give the bartenders and the, the home cocktail enthusiasts tools they can use, hopefully, tools that are very versatile as well. So they could be used in a variety of different ways to make exceptional cocktails.
Now, from your research, both in terms of speaking to bartenders and through going through historical documents, are there a lot of modifiers that have been lost? Well, are there still a lot that could be recreated?
John Troia (09:42):
Yeah. Oh gosh. I could come up with a list of in, in the hundreds of, of different things Oh, really? That that could be brought back to the market. But I think the, the, the main question is, and what I kind of alluded to in my prior answer is to what end, you know, is it something that people are interested and, and would want? Mm-Hmm.
And it's maybe a flavour, you know, like Mira Bells, for example, in a region where Mira Bells grow it's like a plum of sort, you know, they're going to make a mirabel laur, and typically you would drink it after a meal Yeah. Or maybe dilute it a little bit with soda water. And when you, when you talk about your higher sugar laurs or CREs, the, that high sugar content would maintain a good amount of viscosity, especially if you did dilute it with soda water. And these were typically consumed after a meal as a after dinner drink or digestive of sorts. But when you're drinking something on its own it has nowhere to hide if it's a low quality product mm-hmm.
It needed to be in a way like a fine wine, good entry, good med pallet, good complexity, nice finish to it. It needs to have balance. Once cocktails came into vogue, people were simply grabbing what already existed on the back bar and started using them in combinations. Right. And then certain ingredients started becoming more popular than others, but in a way, cocktails and, and many of these spirits like creme de cacao, it's use in cocktails actually was one of the things that led to the decline in its quality. You know, once you are adding it as one ingredient amongst many, all you need to do at that point is just have a product that tastes sweet. It tastes like chocolate, and you've checked the box. So there is no need to get the best cacao beans. There is no need to go through a lot of complicated processes to create something that is balanced and complex on its own, because all it needs to do is give you that chocolate sweet flavour.
You could do a much cheaper product that's not very good to drink on its own, but is quite serviceable in a cocktail. And before long, people didn't want to spend money on something that was well made and very complex because they weren't looking necessarily for something that was over the top in that regard. They just wanted something that just gave you that chocolate flavour and a specific cocktail. And so before long producers were just making it quicker, cheaper, fewer ingredients. And the industrial age really kicked in for spirits. Then you saw the use of extracts and flavourings and artificial colorings and things like that.
Now I imagine the sort of, I'll call it liquid archeology that you do to find these recipes is a fairly difficult process. How do you go about it?
John Troia (13:53):
Well, it's a, it's quite a bit of research. One of the helpful things is, historically small regional distilleries would often have a library of so-called distilling manuals. And sometimes they were in, in fairly good size print, and sometimes they were just handful of copies that were produced. But oftentimes it was kind of a, a how-to manual for a small regional distillery. And in some cases, even like a, a small merchant that is maybe in a remote area, and all they have is neutral spirit that they could work with. And then there would be recipes on how to create any number of different things, including faux versions of things like cognacs and things like that, where it was simply a maceration of botanicals and combination of sugar and a little bit of coloring. And I've, I've tried some of these recipes and it's like, yeah, it kind of tastes like cognac.
I could kind of see that, but it's not really cognac. But if you're in the wilds of Montana and you're the only merchant for, you know, 80 miles, they're probably not gonna be too picky, number one. Number two, not, not have ever tasted the best cognac to say, wait a second, this doesn't really taste like cognac. So what we'll end up doing is we'll create this matrix of, of maybe 20, 30 plus different recipes, and we'll kind of identify recipes where they're very similar to each other. I often find these distilling manuals where the recipe is almost identical between the manuals. I, I don't think that is a coincidence. I think it is somebody reading somebody else's work and also, you know, kind of making it their own. But you, you find maybe eight recipes for example, for like creme de cacao that that are very similar to each other.
And we call that recipe number one. And then we'll maybe find three or four that are slightly different, but similar to each other. And that's recipe number two. And then we'll just kind of go down the progression and always look for recipes that are very complicated or kind of off the beaten path and very atypical of what the other recipes are. And that's kind of intriguing because maybe that's an exceptional recipe, but people didn't do it because it was very expensive. Very time consuming, but that may have made the very best version of something. So we're definitely eager to explore those types of recipes as well. And then we just said about doing small batches, tasting them on their own, because remember, these things existed before cocktail, so that it was something that would be expected to be consumed on its own and to have great balance and complexity.
So if we can identify a recipe that has those attributes, then we will set about making classic cocktails that use that ingredient, and we will compare it to maybe the most popular produced product of that brand X, shall we call it. And I'm, I want to compare a classic cocktail where one uses brand x and one uses our favorite creme de cacao recipe, for example, to see how the flavours are different or similar, how different, better or worse that cocktail is. Because there's, there's always an assumption that just because if it's an older recipe and you're doing it with real ingredients and you're using these old historic protocols, there's an assumption that that's gonna make the best finished product. And I always want to part that as a, as an assumption and not a guarantee. But quite often we find that, you know, doing a historic recipe using real things, following the exact protocols, the macerations, the percolations, the distillations and then marrying all these different techniques together results in a significantly better and many times different, the flavour profile.
And once you make a classic cocktail with it, you very often see how improved that cocktail is by using an ingredient that is more like what was available when that cocktail was originally created. I like using the 20th century as a, an as an example for bartenders. We make a keena AIF called Quin Laro Door, which is for one of a better explanation. Like Lele circa 1900, for example. There are literally hundreds of Ken AIF wines in France during that time period. And Lelay was the most popular one, and probably for good reason. But our keen AIF is an aromatized wine with a nice quinine signature to it. And then we also have our creme de cacao. You combine that into a 20th century with a fresh lemon juice and a nice lemon dry style gin. And it will be as if you've never had a 20th century before.
Yeah. Because suddenly you get this balance and this complexity and this harmony of flavours that I never got from using modern ingredients in cacao or aromatized wine like a lile, it, it always tasted like a, a kind of a strange semi chocolatey lemonade. And I always thought, well, you know, maybe these people didn't have very good taste back then because it's, to me, it's not a really great cocktail. But then when I had historic style ingredients and I made that cocktail, it's like, what, well, where's this cocktail been all my life? Because now I understand what they were going for when they put all those ingredients in combination, and now using ingredients that were more authentic to that period, when that cocktail was created, you get the full experience of what that original cocktail was like. Hmm. And that's the kind of epiphany that I think bartenders really get from our products is you can actually replicate that cocktail, not just in name, but in actuality, because you're using ingredients that tasted like they did when those cocktails were first created. How do you replicate that cocktail if you're using modern ingredients that really don't taste anything like they did historically? You use it in name. Yeah. It says use this type ingredient, that type ingredient. But if they're different than what they were originally, you're not gonna replicate that cocktail and you're probably not gonna get a positive result.
Your latest release, the creme deka mm-hmm.
John Troia (21:35):
Well, the, the creme de mocha first, when I talk creme, we're talking a liquor classification where you have a high sugar content, you're usually at about 200 grams of sugar per liter, or higher saturation is about 550 grams of sugar per liter. Now, it's very important to understand the context of sugar, or a high sugar spirit, or leor sugar in the 19th century was still very labor intensive and very expensive. I think we get a little spoiled that we can just run down to our local grocer and pick up whatever quantity we want at any time. Back then, it was considered a luxury item. The higher quality of spirits also tended to have a higher A B V. The, the higher the alcohol, the higher the taxes, the more luxurious that product would've been. But the other aspect of a high sugar leor is that when it is diluted with soda water, which it often was when it was consumed on its own, or if you do add it to a cocktail, that higher sugar content added texture.
And it ensured that the flavours tasted robust and didn't taste water down. So when we're talking about a creme, I'm talking about a higher sugar content leor, but it's by design, not just the sweeter, the better. It's there. There's kind of a, a method to that madness. When we set about doing the creme de mocha, you know, a lot of, a lot of products that I've tasted in the coffee genre seem to be, Hey, let's do a coffee, whether it's cold brew or hot brew added to alcohol, and then add sugar to it. And voila, we have coffee leor. Mm-Hmm.
It was the only country in the African continent that was not conquered by Europeans. It remained an independent state. The masthead or the mascot on the flag for the kingdom of Asinia was the lion. And it's also on the modern Ethiopian flag. Now, the reason Ethiopia is so important to the coffee conversation was that the origins of coffee are pretty much undisputed as being in the, from the Ethiopian Highlands. Hmm. So we knew we wanted to focus on coffee varietal. That was from really the birthplace of coffee. And we wanted an Arabica style varietal of coffee. And we centered on two, two particular coffee types, Yugo, chef and Saddam. We weren't sure which one we wanted to go with, but we thought we would trial both. Now, the original recipe has, you do what's called a green roast, or really just is really a light toast of coffee beans.
And then you do a maceration of the coffee beans in neutral spirit. So about 60% neutral alcohol. We use a wheat, a neutral spirit, and we will m rate or soak the toasted coffee beans in that for about two weeks. Then we take additional coffee beans, we put them in a still with a higher a b v of alcohol, 80%. And then we distill it and we get a distillate, or kind of an OTA v, if you will, of coffee. Now, the important difference between the maceration, which is really a passive room temperature extraction of the flavours from the coffee beans, we're talking about the essential oils for the most part. Mm-Hmm. But other flavour components. But when you distill and now you have the heat and pressure, you're extracting even different flavours. So by combining the, the flavours we get from maceration in alcohol and the flavours we get from distillation, we combine those two together and we're getting a broader spectrum of what the flavour is.
In a coffee bean in itself, if you just do one or the other, you leave a whole lot of flavour on the table. Now, in normally what you would do is you take your alcohol components and you re would reduce them with filtered water. This recipe, we actually do a cold brew of the coffee to extract water soluble components. And then we use the cold brew coffee as the reduction water of the alcohol. And of course, we add sugar. It gets its color naturally from the, the maceration process where it extracts a lot of these color components. Mm-Hmm. Now we did those three steps with Saddam, and then we did those three steps with Yugo, and we set about comparing those two. Turned out there were features of the Saddam that we liked a lot, and features of the Yugo chef that we liked a lot.
Oh. I ended up doing a 50 50 blend just to see what it tastes like if I combine the two. And that was even better yet. So unfortunately, that's what we have to do, is we're doing two different coffee varietals, three different steps each. And that's how you make a, a creme de mocha. Yeah. And Mocha was the port city in Yemen, which was a central trading post for all the coffee growers in the region would come to the port of mocha and sell their coffees. And in the port of mocha, it's now silted up. It hasn't really been in use since the, say the mid 18 hundreds. But there were a lot of European trading posts that were located in the porta mocha where they would buy coffee beans and then they would ship 'em over to the European continent for the, the coffee houses that were on the continent.
And there was a French trading post run by an ex-military guide by the name of Captain Merve, which actually translates as Captain Marvel. It's actually a story I've come across in three different sources. So it seems to be a legit story, but he, he kind of coined the term for the best coffee beans that were available as mocha m o k a. And so if you wanted the mocha varietal that was buying the very best of, of the coffee beans, and they had somewhat of a distinctive chocolate undercurrent to it. But in a little trick in the coffee houses in Europe is if you couldn't afford the best quality of coffee beans, the mocha style, you could always add a little bit of chocolate to your coffee, and it would mimic some of the flavour attributes of the best qualities of coffee beans.
Okay. And so that's where we feel that the, the term moca as in moca, M O C H A because that was the name of the port that it got associated with coffee and chocolate and moca, M O K A was that term that was coined in the port of moca by Captain Merve is being the highest quality of coffee beans that they would trade in. And that's kind of the, the short history of of mocha coffee, chocolate, and, and how the recipe creme de mocha to aia came into bean because it was specifically coffee from Ethiopia or the Kingdom of Athenia that they were calling out in that recipe.
And I assume the aian lion explains why there is a lion on the label for the bottle.
John Troia (29:59):
That is correct. That is correct. And you'll also see a traditional Ethiopian coffee service on there. In the background is the Ethiopian Highlands in the foreground, the the, the beans the, the coffee at the, when they're red, the, the coffee cherries are Arabica. But yeah, it's, it's all homage to to the region and the heritage and the history of, of Ethiopian coffee and coffees being the foundation of, you know, where coffee essentially evolved from.
It's a great label.
John Troia (30:35):
No, thank you. Thank you. Appreciate it. We try to put a weave, a lot of historic in the imagery of the labels, because I feel that, you know, foreman function is kind of the pinnacle of design, and you wanna have something that's well packaged. A lot of bartenders are very proud of their back bars, and they're very well curated, and they'd like to have something that looks good on the back bar something that reflects the arrow or the heritage of the recipe itself. But you also have to put an equal amount of intensity into, you know, doing, doing your recipes and making sure that you produce the very best liquid that you can. Mm-Hmm. So the packaging may be sets you up for an expectation, but the liquid has to deliver. And hopefully we've achieved that. So far the, the response has been very, very positive.
Now, aside from an espresso martini, how else should people use the Kreme deka?
John Troia (31:41):
I've had old fashions where instead of sugar, instead of muddling a sugar cube, they use a half to three quarter ounce of the creme de mocha. Okay. as the sweetener in an old fashioned. And it lends itself extremely well to the caramelized notes in whiskeys.
I can imagine, actually. Yes.
John Troia (32:04):
Yeah, it's fantastic.
What do you want people to take away from their experience with the liquids you create?
John Troia (32:12):
Well, my hope and expectation is that they're able to connect the heritage of an authentic spirit to whatever cocktail they're drinking. It is the most authentic experience that they can have. I think gins are pretty solid, for example, is a base spirit, rums, you know, they're a number of things that are really, probably not very much changed, if anything, maybe a little bit better a little bit more refined than they were historically. But whereas a lot of base spirits, you, you want to, to clean up those, those flavours and, and make sure there's no funkiness in it. Sometimes with modifiers, the laurs or the verus or things like that, you really wanna capture the botanical aspects of those. And you, you really want the earthiness those organic flavours, those vegetable notes, things like that. And when you're working with extracts and flavouring, you, you have kind of a, a very narrow band of flavours.
But when you are working with the, the real ingredients, whether it be mint leaves or cocoa beans or bitter almonds and cherry pits and things like that, you really want to expand that flavour palette. And it should create a better balance and give the drinker a more authentic experience, if you will. Again, something where oftentimes I hear people say, you know, I, I just put this over ice cream. It's absolutely fantastic. And it is fantastic because it's how it was originally before cocktails. It wasn't watered down. It was really the pinnacle of the distiller's art. You know, when you think about something like a creme de cacao, you didn't just go online and order cocoa beans, and these things came on ships that took months to go to South America, and the locals weren't thrilled about you taking their natural resources. So that was a little dangerous.
Malaria was always a problem, and you get this cargo onto a ship, sail it back to France, and it's not a cheap ingredient or raw material to work with. But to produce something from such a luxurious, rare, exotic ingredient with very expensive sugar and fairly expensive alcohol, and to put it on a top shelf in a beautiful package was really the pride of the distiller's art. Many people could make, you know, gins and rums and things like that. Sometimes there just weren't a lot of moving parts in a lot of base spirits. But when you're talking about some of these exotic ingredients, vermouth having 22, 23, 24 different ingredients from different parts of the world made it very luxurious. And people respected these things and treated them as such. And our hope is to really res restore the respect and integrity back into these historic spirits by doing it the way it was done originally, when it was at its very best.
It's funny, it's the further we've come, the more we take things for granted. Yes. But also the worse we make them.
John Troia (36:39):
Yeah. Industrialization, you know, a company's bottom line. If I had to make a, a, a million liters of something, I'd have to probably by necessity find ways to streamline and make more efficient that manufacturing process. Mm-Hmm. And it's, you reach this nexus point to where it's like, if I have to buy more than five tons of bananas from Costa Rica like we do, to where I have to get a hundred tons, it's a lot easier to get an extract or flavouring of banana that comes in 220 liter drums that simply gets added into alcohol at our coloring, at our sugar level. Yes. And voila, we, we, we have a product that we could stick in our bottle and, and get to market anytime of the year. I don't have to worry about whether the crop is good this year, bad, whether the price has gone up on bananas because of the demand, or because of poor harvest or anything like that.
You know, it's a lot more reliable for a large production manufacturer to, to figure out efficiencies to streamline. And usually the nuances are the first things to go. You know, I think it's always this question of will anyone miss it if it's gone, you know, if if we simplify the flavour, it's is and is, does it really matter? Is anyone gonna know if it's being used in a cocktail so it's not so great on its own? Nobody drinks it on its own. So why, why focus on that? Why ensure that not only is it good on its own, but it works great in cocktail, just make it taste like banana and sweet and you're good. But when you go down the rabbit hole of the research of these old recipes, and you come up with something that tastes not like Laffy Taffy or Runts or like a banana candy, but tastes like a brooding, ripe banana, banana bread, bananas, foster, things like that, these, these rich complex notes, and then you add them in combination to the Esther that come with some really great funky pot distilled rums, it's like, wow, that's fantastic.
But if I have to do a million liters, you know, it's, it, it starts getting a little dicey. Can I get enough bananas? Do I have to limit the amount of production? So in as much as I envy the big guys, I also envy being a smaller guy where we can do things on a smaller scale, attend the fine details, and produce a really exceptional product. I don't mind someone recently referred, you know, to our products as the Bugatti of LA and it's like, yeah, if I'm making cards, I think I'd rather make a Bugatti and be known for that than making a, i I won't denigrate a brand, but think of the cheapest brand, a car you can come up with. And I don't wanna make that because that's not so much fun. I may make more money, but I don't know if I'd get the self-satisfaction that I do by really torturing myself over the labor of trying to surface the very best possible recipe.
And sometimes it's hard to stop because it's like that next recipe might be even better yet. And so when do you finally cut it off and say, I think I found the best I'm gonna find, and let's put that in a bottle and bring it to the market. So people joke with me all the time on that. So, you know, it's like, yeah, you've been talking about that product for about two years now. When is it gonna actually happen? Is it actually gonna happen? I don't know. But guess what? I'm gonna let the liquid guide the timeline, not a a calendar.
Now, if people want to explore the liquids that you have released, where, where are you available? Where will they find you?
John Troia (40:47):
Our biggest market is the States, but we work with Barry Brothers and Rudd, for example, in the uk. They do a phenomenal job of exposing our products to the best bar programs in London, in the uk. We're in France through Mason de Whiskey. We're sold through a nest in Italy. Barrel Brothers in Germany, of course in Switzerland. But in, in small, in small quantities in Japan Singapore Hong Kong we're soon to be in Taiwan and China, a bigger way in Canada. So for us, it's, it's about finding the right importation distribution partner because we, we like to generally work with smaller, independent distributors that have a sales team that has a high cocktail iq Yeah. Hand sales the products, as opposed to just shipping out pallets and pallets of commodity spirits. We kind of get lost in those kinds of portfolios, but mm-hmm.
Well, John, look I feel as if we've only vaguely scraped the surface, but thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.
John Troia (42:35):
Speaker 1 (42:39):
And we'd also like to thank you for listening. Be sure to visit cocktails to seal.com to access the show notes. And if you like what you've heard, we'd love you to subscribe, rate, or give a review on iTunes. Until next time, cheers.
John Troia (44:39):
Yes, yes. I, I, we have a few things in the development wing, so hopefully we can reconnect and I'd be happy to to prattle on about any of those products. But I really appreciate the opportunity and big fan and, and really really appreciate you making time for me. Excellent. You have a wonderful evening, afternoon