Raising Spirits

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Distillation is the art of making spirits. Basically, you start with a grain or a fruit, let it ferment, then heat it up in a still to concentrate the alcohol and desired flavors. You can take this a step further by infusing botanicals and fresh juices—it then becomes a culinary art.

If you want to take distillation to a whole other level, you look around, see what inspires you, find an ingredient you call your “muse,” partner with artisans, add a little business savvy, bottle it up in the most exquisite French glass you can find, and you get Chareau.

Chareau is a new liqueur that has quickly become the darling of bartenders. Its story begins with Kurt Charron, a Los Angelesbased distiller who originally sought to bottle an un-aged brandy flavored with cucumber and gin botanicals. This all changed when he tasted a drink enhanced with aloe vera juice. Charron then focused on producing a liqueur highlighting the succulent’s sweet and floral properties.

“There was nothing on the market with those unique flavors,” says Charron. “Meanwhile, bartenders were telling me they wanted something new and exciting.” Charron says he started small, working out of his apartment in L.A. When he filed for permits, the State of California made him put a giant poster in front of the building stating he was filing for a liquor license.

“I wrote a letter to the people in my building stating I was not opening a bar inside my apartment or bootlegging bathtub gin. A few weeks later, two guys showed up at my door…one in a polo shirt, the other a Hawaiian shirt. They were LAPD and did a full inspection of my place. I don’t know what they were hoping to find, but all I could think was, ‘Really? A Hawaiian shirt?!’”

Charron soon partnered with Master Distiller Lance Winters of St. George Spirits in the San Francisco Bay Area. Winters is known for his passion for his craft and is credited with elevating distillation into an art form. The two began to incorporate botanicals that echoed the natural notes of aloe:cucumber, muskmelon, lemon peel and spearmint—each sourced from local California farms. Aloe vera juice was added after the final distillation, bringing the dry-style liqueur to proof (25% ABV).

The recipe, says Charron, was five years in the making. Today, he hand-selects the ingredients from local farmers he knows by name, and even drives many of the ingredients from the farm to the distillery himself. Each of the ingredients is found naturally in California and thrives in its soil and climate.

Charron is a Californian himself, born and raised in Los Angeles. He studied Business at the University of Southern California (USC) and has been working in restaurants and bars since high school.

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What inspired you to make Chareau?
The bountiful agriculture and natural beauty of California. The aloe vera plant was my muse and I wanted to find delicate compliments. The cucumber adds a sophisticated vegetal quality, while the muskmelon brings a natural sweetness. The lemon peel adds balance and the spearmint mellows the bite of the un-aged eau de vie distillate. It all culminates in a refreshing spirit that can be enjoyed both straight and mixed in a well-crafted cocktail.

Where did the name come from?
I named the liqueur ‘Chareau’ after my great-grandparents Arthur Emile Charron and Florence Marie Favreau. They were farmers who moved my family to California and we have been here ever since. We are all in part where we came from and Chareau is a gift from the hands and hearts of California’s farmers and artisans.

What was the idea behind the bottle design?
We found the glass from a French bottle manufacturer and it was love at first sight. The shape and weight were the perfect starting point and I wanted to highlight the beautiful design of the glass itself. The label was kept as minimal as possible to draw attention to what was inside, and not overshadow the fact that all of the ingredients are listed on the bottle. We wanted to be transparent and let the spirit speak for itself.

Was there a gap in the market for a new drink?
Definitely. The bar scene has been evolving and taking a very culinary approach with more and more bartenders using fresh ingredients, but I didn’t see a lot of products in liquor stores reflecting this. I wanted to make a liqueur that introduced a completely new flavor profile using fresh California ingredients. Something that could be substituted for other spirits in existing classic cocktail recipes.

What’s your favorite cocktail?
The New Martini. I love simple, and everyone can make it. I love the idea of doing something really simple extremely well. This cocktail substitutes Chareau for vermouth. It has a well-balanced flavor, and it’s all about the stark presentation. It’s just 2.5 oz. of vodka and 0.75 oz. of Chareau stirred over ice, strained, and garnished with a lemon twist.

When do you drink Chareau?
Almost daily. It’s so versatile and works in a variety of cocktails. Every day I’m inspired to try mixing it with something new.

Is there anything else like it on the market?
As far as I know, this is the only aloe liqueur in the world.

To learn more, visit Chareau’s website: www.chareau.us

Text by Ellen Georgiou
Photography by Phillip Lopez

THE SPRING ISSUE

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