Growing up as a scion of the venerable Philadelphia-based Charles Jacquin et Cie liqueur company, young Robert Cooper became fascinated with the defunct products that lined the “memorial” wall in the office of the company’s plant manager. “I kept asking questions about this unusual product called Crème Yvette,” he says. “Nobody thought much of it.”
But if the folks at Jacquin weren’t that interested in the purple-hued, violet-scented liqueur—which plays a role in such classic cocktails as the Blue Moon—others were. “I started getting e-mail from cocktail experts like David Wondrich and Dale DeGroff,” Cooper continues. “They knew the Yvette brand was in my family. They kept chipping away at me. Finally, I decided, ‘What the hell?’ ”
Cooper resolved to revive the elixir. He could afford to gamble: His most recent venture into distilling had been the popular elderflower-flavored liqueur St. Germain in 2007. And he had no problem locating the recipe: The formula for Crème Yvette had been in the family since Cooper’s grandfather acquired the rights to it from Sheffield of Connecticut back in the 1930s. However, much else had changed since Yvette was taken off the market in 1969. “We couldn’t track down the same raw materials,” says Cooper. The original suppliers had faded away. So, new purveyors of the needed ingredients were found. He sourced dried violet petals from Provence, and the berry maceration (a mix of blackberries, red raspberries, wild strawberries and cassis) from Burgundy. A spice blend of honey, orange peel and vanilla completed the flavor profile. (The influence of the berries and vanilla, and a more viscous mouthfeel, set it apart in terms of taste from the more violet-dominated Crème de Violette already on the market.) Armed with a few old bottles from his family’s stash, Cooper was able to test the new liquid against the original.
The revived Crème Yvette is expected to start hitting the market in early fall, to the delight of many a bartender. “I think we’re in a time where we are all so committed to classic cocktails and their origins, we want to know more,” said Michael Madrusan, a bartender at New York’s Little Branch. “Crème Yvette’s return brings with it answers to questions which, without Rob Cooper’s efforts, we would not have access to.”
The enthusiasm of the cocktail crowd aside, Cooper is realistic about the potential pull of his latest project. “Without taking anything away from Crème Yvette, I don’t think it’s going to have the same broad appeal St. Germain has had,” he says. “St. Germain has a very approachable flavor. It’s so user-friendly in cocktails. Crème Yvette doesn’t have anywhere as near the same versatility. I see it as being a welcome reintroduction.”
There’s just one thing Cooper was unable to discover during his years of research and experimentation: Exactly who was Yvette? “I have been searching for the answer to that question for years now. Nobody seems to know.”
For more Crème Yvette cocktail recipes, check out the September/October 2009 issue.