I got an email from my pal Nic Palazzi a while back about a portfolio of high-end fruit distillates he was considering bringing to the states. You could tell he was a bit apprehensive about the decision. On one hand, he was getting the opportunity to represent one of his favorite distillers in the world. On the other hand, the producer had little notoriety in the United States, despite a stellar reputation in his native France, and the prices were not cheap. In fact, they were three times as high as anything comparable on our shelf. Nic's question to me was: do you think K&L might carry these products if I decide to move forward?
"That depends on how good they are," I said. That's the standard answer I'll usually give, even though I had total faith in Nic's judgement at the time and he's never sold me anything I haven't liked. Shortly there after I received a package at my desk with two samples: a bottle of quince liqueur and a bottle of cherry liqueur. I brought them home to taste with my wife who wasn't really paying attention to what she had been poured. I walked into the other room with my glass to use the computer when I heard a scream coming from the living room. I ran back in to see what had happened. I saw my wife looking at me with huge eyes and a shocked look on her face. "What the hell is this?" she said to me. "Why? You don't like it?" I asked. "It's without a doubt the best thing I've ever tasted with alcohol in it." she said. "Can you get more?!"
I immediately emailed Nic back to get the scoop. Laurent Cazottes is an artisan distiller in the south of France whose love of produce has spawned into a very serious operation. According to Nic, Laurent's father was a traveling distiller who also grew produce, but this was during a time when Monsanto was convincing farmers to use chemicals to boost their overall yields. Laurent still grew up with a passion for farming, but not for the type of practices he observed during this period. He wanted to take the complete opposite approach of his father. Using the same still, he now farms his own flowers, berries, and grapes around his propery, using rare and unknown varietals like Mauzac Rose and Prunelart to make distilling wine. As his dedication to biodynamic and sustainable farming increased, his reputation for high-quality distillates did as well. All of a sudden you could find Cazottes products on the menu at Pierre Gagnaire, Ducasse, Arpège, and Troisgros, Le Baratin and Le Verre Volé. He also began doing contract work. A restaurant might tell Laurent about a special source of blackberries and ask him to use their produce in a special eau de vie exclusively for their establishment.
All of the fruits used by Cazottes in his spirits are hand-picked, hand-macerated, and distilled on his double pot still with only a small percentage of heart cut kept for the final product. You can taste his dedication to quality immediately in both the Mauzac Rose and Prunelart eau de vies. Both are almost ethereal and ghostly (true spirits!) in their aroma and quite dainty in their flavor profile. They're unlike anything I've ever tasted, almost more like grappa than standard eau de vies. Nicolas has also brought in the quince and cherry liqueurs that need no further description because they simply scream quince and cherry. They're not inexpensive, but they're also the best I've ever had, so I'm not in any position to tell Laurent what they're worth. The amount of work and detail that goes into creating them may not be worth it to the average consumer, but these products are not for everyone. They're for a very specific client who enjoys fruit brandies and fruit liqueurs, and appreciates the efforts that Laurent is taking to use only chemical-free produce of the highest quality to create them.
The first four Laurant Cazottes products have arrived at K&L. Nicolas has told me he plans to expand the selection once these four catch on, hoping for the pear and stonefruit distillates in the near future. While I consider myself a retailer that attempts to focus on value, I also feel a responsibility to carry the best products available. The Laurent Cazotte products are perhaps the best in their class. The pricing is as follows:
Laurent Cazottes Prunelard Eau de Vie 375ml $79.99 - The Prunelard eau de vie is breathtakingly pure. It's delicate and nuanced in a way that almost seems impossible with more funky and herbaceous notes, yet total elegance.
Laurent Cazottes Mauzac Rose Eau de Vie 375ml $79.99 - The Rose eau de vie is light on its feet and ethereal in its profile. It has subtlety that goes beyond anything I've ever tasted in an eau de vie.
Laurent Cazottes Wild Quince Liqueur 375ml $59.99 - The Wild Quince liqueur is an odd duck, but it's one that grows on you with each sip. Never having tasted anything near to its flavor, the spice and character of the fruit becomes more clear as you sip, until you almost can't believe how pure it is.
Laurent Cazottes Wild Sour Cherry Liqueur 375ml $59.99 - The Wild Cherry is without a doubt the best cherry liqueur I have ever tasted. It transcends what we think cherry liqueur can be and makes any competitor look foolish for even trying. The tangy vibrancy of the fruit is front and center, with a sweetness that pops with each sip.
Whether these are worth the price of admission will eventually be up to the consumer, but there's no arguing that these spirits are in a category to themselves.
If you don't know who Nicolas Palazzi is he's the guy who brings us as many additive-free Cognacs as possible from his native France. We like him a lot. So does my pal Steve Ury over at SKU's Recent Eats who recently sent me this awesome Meme he created while I was in France. I've been waiting for the right opportunity to post it and this seems like as good of a time as ever.