Saturday, April 4, 2009

Orange County

I’m being lazy this week folks….not really, but my friend Kira Kohrherr recently visited the Combier Distillery in France, so I asked her to guest blog about it. So without further adieu…

Combier Liqueur d’Orange is new to the U.S., having just launched in New York and Pennsylvania in 2008. However, it is actually the original triple sec, created over 175 years ago! The distillery's hometown of Saumur is situated in the serene Loire Valley and is an easy two-hour train ride from Paris, so I packed my bags and headed across the Atlantic to find out what it was all about.

On the day I visited, it couldn’t have been scripted better. Mist floated above the cobblestone streets as I walked through town, and I arrived at the gates of the famed operation just as the golden sun was peaking over the river. I met Master Distiller, Franck Choinoise (the perfect French gentleman!), who guided me through the process. Walking inside, I peered through the hiss of rising steam and was transported back in time to 1834 when the distillery first opened its doors. Amazingly, the historic copper stills and the lacy gold-and-maroon wrought-iron passerelle (walkway) are the original design of Gustave Eiffel who also designed the Eiffel Tower in 1887.

The process begins with bitter orange peels shipped from Haiti. The peels soak for 24 hours to rehydrate. The white pith is then removed by hand and discarded. Next, the peels soak for 2-3 days in alcohol to macerate. Precise measurements of the peels, alcohol, and water are then added into the stills to begin the first round of distillation. The stills are then heated, and the heat produces a vapor that travels through the unique “swan neck” pipes. The vapor is cooled and condenses into a concentrate the drips slowly down to be separated. The “head flame” and the “tail flame” are discarded and the middle portion, the “heart,” is retained. That batch (an astounding 185 proof!) goes through the distillation process again, and then is stored in vats for a number of months to oxygenate. That final batch is distilled once more to create the crystal clear final product we sip today.


Want to try some Combier cocktails? Stay tuned -- Kira is hosting a tasting in NYC in early May. Watch this space for details!

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