In the summertime, doesn’t it seem like guests are dropping over all the time? It sure seems like that around my house — and I’m glad! It’s fun to play hostess and it’s a lot easier if you have the fixings for distinctive drinks on hand. Because, admit it: beer is boring. Beer is so boring, it cries out for snacks to liven it up. Pretty soon, you’re not only pouring drinks, but serving as short order cook during your own relaxation time! Instead, a good flavor-packed beverage — whether it’s an easy-peasy 2 ingredient mixed drink or a 3+ ingredient cocktail (you already knew the difference, right? — will satisfy your guests’ palate. The drink will feel like enough. That will save you time, stress and money!
Here’s a product suggestion for something you can keep on hand to dazzle at your get-togethers: Merlet fruit liqueurs. I was happy to be hosted to experience them!
The Merlet family had been producing wine grapes and distilling eaux de vie on their land since 1950. In the 1970’s, the market determined that they branch out into farming other fruits for liqueurs.
Creme de Cassis (now known as Creme de Cassis de Saintonge, with its own impressive geographic indication) is what started it all! It has an intense opaque burgundy-purple color that will pack a colorful punch, even when mixed.
Nose: I experienced fresh black currant, Concord grape, prune, citrus tang, floral.
Flavor: It has a full mouth feel. I learned while on a special wine tour in Europe that sweet wines can still be refreshing and drinkable if they’re properly balanced with acid. This is an extremely well balanced liqueur, mixing sweetness with tangy acid flavors. It mellows into a rich, stewed fruit taste upon swallowing. Merlet describes it like this: “Very intense nose of ripe cassis. Bold spices, mint, tobacco and pepper notes. Supple, lightly syrupy palate and an explosively tangy and pure cassis fruit finish that leaves a lasting, delicious impression.”
Add it to any clear mixer soda or do as the French do: Top it with wine for make a Kir or Champagne (drop in a sugar cube if you like) for the classic and elegant Kir Royale.
How good are Merlet’s currants? So good, that they are able to trade them with other local producers/gatherers for 2 varieties of wild and cultivated strawberries! Creme de Fraise de Bois — which translates to cream of strawberry of the wood (wild) — is one of their unique products that they rightfully take much pride in. They carefully select the ripest of perfect berries and glean every bit of flavor from them. Sugar is then added to the fruit infusion. The resulting liqueur is a deep ruby with the faintest rich golden tinge.
Nose: I experienced candied strawberry, bright berry tang, then a mellow finish.
Flavor: I tasted bright, tangy red berries — more tangy than sweet — that develops into a richer, port-like flavor. Merlet describes it like this: “Rich strawberry coulis aromas with a hint of watermelon and mint. Lively, fruity and sweet full-bodied palate, with a long, tangy strawberry jam and honey finish.”
Try this: mint simple syrup drizzled into a little vodka, top with the liqueur and tons of crushed ice. Give it a quick stir and garnish with a perfect strawberry, big, green mint leaves and a straw.
Lune d’Apricot is a very special product: it’s actually an apricot brandy. Rousillion apricots — with some of their almondy kernels — are pressed, added to young cognac and a bit of sugar. It’s a deep, darker golden orange color.
Nose: I experienced rich floral notes, sweet apricot, a whiff of salted caramel, candied apricot.
Flavor: Rich cooked apricot compote, honey, caramel. It has a thicker consistency. This is how Merlet describes it: “Nose: Sophisticated and powerful apricot, with notes of spice, wood, wild flower, exotic fruit (mango) and a hint of almond.
Palate: Smooth and lively, with notes of honey (acacia, lime flower), apricot pulp and hints of citrus (lemon, orange). Very long finish, with slight notes of honeysuckle and bitterness. Generous, rich, unctuous and even dry.”
They suggest using this intense spirit in classic legacy cocktails as the Charlie Chaplin — invented at the Waldorf-Astoria 100 years ago. It incorporates, along with the apricot brandy, fresh lime juice and sloe gin. You could also try a splash in what is widely considered a “Tennessee Julep”: a mint julep with apricot brandy.
Creme de Peche de Vigne is made from a unique variety of peach with red and white flesh, that was once grown along the vineyards. It’s got a medium toned golden-orange color and fluid consistency.
Nose: I experienced juicy, tangy, ripe fresh fruit, along with white peach.
Flavor: Sweet, but not overly so. It’s fresh tasting, with notes of rose and sweet almond. It’s great chilled. This is how Merlet describes it: “Bright golden amber colour. Incredibly vibrant and three-dimensional peach and honey aromas with a rich, silky, sweet full-body and a seemingly endless and evolving Technicolor peach finish.”
This liqueur is crying out to be served along richer meats, like foie gras, sweetbreads and with lots of crushed iced and soda, even sweet pulled pork BBQ!