Friday, 20 June 2014

LOST INGREDIENTS: Parfait d’Amour and Créme de Violette

By Jared Brown & Anistatia Miller

The Aviation would never have achieved such a lovely hue if it hadn’t been for a soupçon of Crème de Violette. The same could be said for the aroma and tint that Parfait d’Amour lends to the Jupiter Cocktail. At the turn of the 20th century, these two floral liqueurs appeared in dozens of recipes. But what were bartenders really using? Were they both violet liqueurs? Their profiles are confusing as they vary from vintage cocktail book to vintage cocktail book.

Take Crème de Violette. Pierre Duplais in his 1855 book Traité des liqueurs, et de la distillation des alcohols provided commercial producers with an easy formula: “Infusion of Irises [Florentine] 12 litres; 85° ABV alcohol 24 litres; Refined white sugar 56 kilos; Common water 26 litres”. Blended together, the resulting spirit was given its violet hue with cochineal red and blue food colouring.

By 1918, American-style Crème de Violette was all the rage as the Aviation landed in Europe. A more alluring recipe appeared in Encyclopedie Roret’s Distillateur Liquoriste that year: “Blend the following ingredients with 7.2 litres 87° ABV alcohol, 11.2 kg refined sugar, and 5.2 litres water, then steep for 48 hours before filtering and bottling: extracts of violets 8 gr; redcurrants 8 gr; jasmine 3 gr; and roses 3 gr; infusions of Florentine irises 1.6 gr and nutmeg 0.02 gr; essences of Parisian neroli 0.4 gr; Nice geranium 0.2 gr.”

From this formula, one can imagine why the Aviation was such a hit and why the Blue Moon Cocktail also made its appearance.

Blue Moon Cocktail
60 ml Beefeater London Dry Gin
15 ml fresh-squeezed lemon juice
15 ml Crème de Violette
Shake ingredients over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The equally violet-hued Parfait d’Amour or Parfait-Amour was even quirkier in its profile, which some say had the aroma of violets, others say roses, and still others say coriander and lemons. Pierre Duplais once again offered a fast commercial solution, in 1855, to making “Parfait-Amour”: “Distill essences of the following in pure spirit: lemon 50 grams, citron 20 grams, coriander 1 gram. Colour with red food colouring.” The 1900 book La Distillerie dans le Monde Entier nearly concurred with this approach citing the main ingredients as citron and coriander. But this did not please everyone.

Recipes such as these led to the scandalous criticism of Parfait d’Amour in Eneas Sweetland Dallas’s 1877 cookbook Kettner’s Book of the Table which noted: “Parfait Amour unhappily is a liqueur which lives by its name and nothing else. We all like to taste that unknown bliss which is not to be found on earth, and we hope to find its semblance in the bottle. The liqueur is too true as a satire. Starting with the idea that love is a bitter-sweet, Parfait Amour is made of the bitter zest of limes, mollified with syrup, with the spirit of roses, and with spicy odours. It is in fact a kind of orange bitters spoilt. Whoever drinks of Parfait Amour says in his heart, this is a mistake. And therein lies the success of the liqueur: it has a rosy colour, it has a fine name, and it is nought. One trial is enough.”

What roses?!

A better, yet still not perfect recipe in Benson Earle Hill’s 1842 The Epicure’s Almanac: or, diary of Good Living gave a slightly rosier rendition even though it also lacked roses: “The peel of a dozen lemons should be bruised in a mortar, the strained juice added, then mixed with an equal weight of Cognac brandy; put these into a stone bottle, cork it down well, and keep it in hot water for ten days. Reduce a quarter of an ounce of cinnamon and two ounces of coriander seed to a fine powder, mix these in a quantity of clarified syrup, equal to the brandy and lemon juice. At the expiration of the ten days, add the sugar and spice to the former. Shake the jar or bottle well, and let it stand for ten days more in hot water, then filter through blotting paper, into case or liqueur bottles. … If you desire two sorts of “Perfect Love,” red as well as white, you may convert half the latter into a roseate liqueur by adding a drachm of cochineal and a drachm of alum to the other materials.”

It seems that long ago, the rose petals were cast aside for commercial reasons. Fresh rose petals are not cheap. Producers had to compete with  perfumers in the flower markets to gain these precious ingredients, especially in the perfume capital of the world—France. So what was the original recipe that gave cause for lament? One only has to look toward the eastern side of the Piedmont mountain range to find a clue.

Rosolio de Lavanda is a traditional Italian liqueur that not only provides the hue but the aroma that these authors sought to replicate. Macerate 30 gr lavender flowers, 10 gr rose petals, 5 gr orange flowers, 5 gr nutmeg, and 5 gr cinnamon stick in 500 ml of 85° ABV alcohol for 10 days, shaking the mixture each day. Make a syrup from 900 gr sugar and 1 litre water and add to the botanical mixture. Steep for 3 days before filtering and bottling. Decant after a few weeks to remove any remaining sediment.

With that profile, it is easy to understand where the English Rose got its name, not only from the colour but from the heady floral aroma, too.

English Rose
50 ml Plymouth Gin
20 ml French dry vermouth
15 ml Parfait d’Amour
5 ml fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 barspoon pomegranate syrup
Shake ingredients over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cocktail cherry.

Perhaps the truth of a lost ingredient is that when people attempt to guess decades later what the old masters were using, they are more times than not absolutely wrong. And as commercial producers take steps to revive these ingredients, they sadly refer to manuals such as Duplais’ that offer the path of least cost and least effort rather than search for the essence of what made that ingredient a critical element in a cocktail.

That is why it is important to understand what flavours and colour an ingredient brought to the bar and then, if necessary, take the time to make it yourself to truly appreciate the inspirations of the past.

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