Liqueur From Foreign Flower Pours Dividends For Spirits Company With Local Ties
By Ian Bush
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Its taste is described as a smooth blend of pear, grapefruit, and tropical fruit — but it isn’t for kids. It’s a 40-proof liqueur that’s one of the best-selling boutique alcoholic beverages in the US.
St-Germain is the only product made by Cooper Spirits Company.
“The liqueur is made from a small white flower that grows in the French Alps — the elderflower,” explains president and Philadelphia native Robert Cooper.
“It’s produced in Dijon, the Burgundy region of France — the wine-producing region,” he says. “Then it comes through Philadelphia into the US.”
Nearly as quickly as it gets here, it’s sold: Cooper says the company is on track to ship more than 100,000 cases and take in $22 million this year — a 50 percent jump from 2011.
Cooper credits what he calls the “top tier of the bar trade” — such as the mixologists who help bars refine their menus with custom, stand-out creations — for making St-Germain so popular.
“Impassioned, creative, and inspired bartenders are working brilliantly to create handcrafted, well-made, classically-inspired cocktails, and this resurgence of cocktail culture hinges upon quality ingredients,” he says. “The drinks are only as good as the ingredients you put in them. We work very hard to make an all-natural product that we produce once a year exclusively from fresh flowers in a very arduous, handcrafted manner. It’s an extremely care- and attention-fueled process that we employ. And the bar trade respects that.”
But St-Germain is not only for a night on the town.
“It’s actually something that can be used in the home environment very easily,” Cooper says. “People can make these really wonderful, elegant, simple cocktails at home without having to have a ton of bar tools or squeeze a lot of fresh juice.”
To try it at home, he suggests an aperitif that mixes one-and-a-half parts of the liqueur, two parts champagne, and two parts club soda over ice with a lemon twist.
The St-Germain website has more recipes.
The antiqued, fluted bottle is itself a conversation starter. Cooper says it was born out of frustration with a 3-D computer modeling program; having failed to make a simple sphere after a month of screen-staring, he went old-school with a chunk of modeling clay.
“I knew it was a very esoteric product — and being elderflower, no one really had any frame of reference as to what that tasted like, so I knew the bottle had to be distinct to draw people in,” he says. “I landed on this design, and that’s what I bought to the glass company. It was a roundabout way of designing a bottle, but it worked.”
Cooper is a third-generation distiller. His grandfather owned a pre-Prohibition brewery; his father runs Charles Jacquin Et Cie, Inc., the Philadelphia-based producer of such liqueurs and cordials as Rock and Rye and Sloe Gin.
Colorfully, Cooper’s dad declined to add St-Germain to his company’s roster — “no one’s going to drink this flower s—t,” Cooper recalls hearing more than once — but he says his dad is very supportive of the venture and Cooper is “interminably grateful” for the experience of owning his own company.
For now, it’s bottoms-up for Cooper. St-Germain is now sold in all 50 states and in 20 international markets.
“It has this wonderful, infectious, delicious flavor that you can’t really put your finger on what it tastes like,” he says, “but you just know you like it.”