CLASSIC CURACAO: Restoring a 19th Century Recipe

Did you know there is an orange called the Curacao? It’s a variety of orange extremely bitter to taste, with weathered skin. Drying them in the sun releases fragrant oils. Homely as the orange may be, its intense flavor was valued in making curacao in ages past.

American palates aren’t exactly prone to bitter. We’ve been so weaned on sugar, even the most subtle of bitter can throw us off. I can vouch personally that one can in time acquire the taste. In fact, these days I crave bitter and sour far more than sweet (once was the opposite).

Enter Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao Ancienne Methode. While Triple Sec, Curacao and orange liqueur brands work well in cocktails, this new product is closer to 19th century style orange liqueur. The defining Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide of 1862 calls for curacao in over 35 recipes.

Leave it to cocktail historian (and one of the more real – and crazy – guys you’ll meet in this industry), David Wondrich, to be instrumental in its revival. Cognac Ferrand proprietor Alexandre Gabriel consulted Wondrich on this modern take of a classic. The recipe utilizes Curacao sundried orange peels, along with 14 ingredients and spices, including a bit of lemon and sweet orange peel for balance. These botanicals are blended with brandy and Pierre Ferrand Cognac, then aged in oak casks. The curacao is still sweet with vanilla and Mandarin orange, but balanced by floral notes and spices, from cinnamon to black pepper.

Released to bartender and press acclaim in Europe this past October, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao Ancienne Methode will be available across the US in March. $29.99 for 750ml bottle
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Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Three Star Cognac
Alongside the Dry Curacao, Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Three Star Cognac makes lovely classic cocktails. As a 19th century style cognac, it seems “three star” was historically the younger, more affordable, yet robustly flavored cognac compared to expensive, rare cognacs. It is more akin to VS cognac today but higher in proof (90).

Gabriel again worked with Wondrich alongside Ferrand cellar-master Christian Guerin on this cognac blend. They closely modeled it on a preserved 1840 bottle of Pinet-Castillon cognac, from a time when cognac was king before grapes were wiped out by phylloxera.

It’s initially sweet and soft (despite being 90 proof) with vanilla crème brûlée notes, but as it unfolds is perfumed, buttery yet mineral. In some ways it reminds me of bright rhum agricole. $44.99