St. Germain and Domaine De Canton, A Love Story
It was my friend’s first night bartending, and we decided to crash it and help her celebrate. I’d been experimenting with St. Germain before, and I’d had an amazing cocktail with it at APO, but I had a hunch that mixing it with Domaine De Canton would be a good idea…It was! On impulse we mixed them up with a splash of pomegranate and made the prototype for what would later become the French Fireflower Tea. It was a hit.
But there was something weird about just how well the liqueurs seemed to go together. St. Germain is a lightly sweetened elderflower liqueur that by itself can be too sweet and cloying on its own. Domaine de Canton is a warm sharp mixture of carmelized and fresh ginger balanced by honey with a hint of vanilla. It can be overpowering on its own. But when blended, each seems to fill in for the other’s shortcomings.
There were other similarities: Here’s the text from the booklets attached to both liqueurs:
Domaine de Canton:
A handcrafted infusion of eaux-de-vie and baby ginger enhanced with VSOP Cognac, Domaine de Canton is the world’s first super premium ginger liquer. Each batch is made by hand in Jarnac, France from the finest all-natural ingredients.
Over 100 years of experience crafting artisanal French Liqueurs, utilizing age-old techniques goes into making each rare vintage of St. Germain….Yes in this day and age St. Germain is exceedingly special and rare. Consequently, we are able to hand make only very limited qualities.
Hmm…Special and rare. Check. Handmade in France. Check. Sense of tradition. Check.
It didn’t stop there. The design of the bottles had similarities too. I mean, the shapes were totally different, but it wasn’t the shapes it was…The way they made you feel. Both impart a sense of history. Domaine de Canton, with its smoky bamboo shaped bottle, channels the Indochine period of Colonial French Vietnam. St. Germain, with it’s split Fluer de Lis (the traditional symbol of the French monarchy), and it’s stylized art deco design, actually seems like a very old liqueur repackaged in the 20s or 30s, the Golden Age of bars. The effect is powerful. Nobody I show these liqueurs too believes that they are only a couple years old. It’s less ”where have you been all my life?” and more “where have I been all your life?”
As it turns out, there’s an family behind all this. Norton J. “Sky” Cooper inherited the American liqueur brand Charles Jacquin et Cie from his Grandfather, who bought it during prohibition. Sky kept the company afloat but his masterstroke was in importing and designing the marketing campaign for another French liqueur, Chambord.
The story doesn’t end there. He has two sons: John and Robert. And the sons don’t get along. When dad sold Chambord to Brown-Foreman for $250 Million. Two brothers were left with a lot of time and money. Robert, the younger, was willing to work with John. But the older one wanted to strike out on his own. And it was good for Robert, because Sky didn’t really believe an Elderflower liqueur would actually work. Both liqueurs had problems in getting the production just right. But it worked out in the end: Robert’s St. Germain won best liqueur at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2007, and John’s Domaine de Canton won a year later.
Two brothers who don’t trust each other, both end up following in their father’s footsteps and creating award winning, artisanal French liqueurs that just so happen to complement each other perfectly…That’s love.
(Photo Courtesy of Dylan Cross for the Wall Street Journal, Cooper Family framed photo)