Boasting a heritage of over 150 years, the history of Burgundy’s signature liqueur, crème de cassis, makes for a deliciously sweet story.
Even the most well stocked liquor cabinets tend to have a few one-off bottles cluttering the shelves; these slots are often filled by spirits that are essential for one or two recipes but otherwise linger unloved and unwanted. In particular, fruit liqueurs are often ignored, largely because the majority of them are cloyingly sweet and lacking in subtlety.
However, one exceptional elixir among this group delivers nuance and complexity to cocktails of all kinds. Introducing crème de cassis, a sweet, dark red liqueur developed over 150 years ago in the Burgundy region of France. The preferred spirit of Hercule Poirot, a fictional Belgian detective created by British writer Agatha Christie, crème de cassis is made by macerating neutral spirits with blackcurrants (cassis in French) and a scosh of sugar. When used judiciously, its berry notes and tangy finish infuses mixed drinks with fruit-forward flavors equally sugary and sharp.
“Enjoying craft cocktails on deck during sunset is a great way to kick off the evening,” says Captain Jason Ashcroft of the barge Saroche. “Our onboard bar is always fully stocked with Burgundy‘s local liqueurs such as crème de cassis.”
Crème de cassis comes with a fascinating backstory. It is perhaps most closely associated with the Kir, a simple cocktail of crème de cassis and white wine that was, anecdotally, invented by one Félix Kir (1876–1968). A member of the French Resistance during WWII and later mayor of Dijon, Kir allegedly came up with the recipe to mimic the appearance of the region’s signature red wines, the inventory of which had been seized by German forces. As Kir habitually served this uniquely Burgundian beverage to his important guests, his name was given to it eponymously.
These days, crème de cassis is found in the liquor libraries of many of the luxury barges in Burgundy. It is most often used as an alcoholic mixer to add to white wine for a Kir, or, best of all, Champagne for a Kir Royale. Possibly because of this association with celebratory spirits such as wine and Champagne, cassis adds a festive French flair to all sorts of craft concoctions and exquisite tipples.
“The Kir cocktails we serve are always made with the very best Dijon blackcurrant cassis,” says Captain Tim Harrold of the barge Randle. “Gabriel Boudier’s Cassis de Dijon is the perfect compliment to chilled white wine for a classic Kir.”
Bien sur, there is little more satisfying than lounging on a barge’s deck while moored deeply in the French countryside, sipping a cocktail made with the best crème de cassis! The Barge Ladies are delighted to share two exclusive cocktail recipes featuring crème de cassis from a few of our favorite barges in Burgundy. Bottoms up for the spirits and beverages on Burgundian barge cruises!
Sarcoche’s “Saroche 26”
“One of my favorite craft cocktails with crème de cassis is a twist on a French 75 — gin, sugar syrup, and lemon juice topped with champagne. It’s very refreshing,” says Captain Jason of the Saroche. “We add a splash of crème de cassis at the end, making it a ‘Saroche 26’, 1926 being the year she was built.”
- 1 oz gin
- 1/2 oz lemon juice
- 2 dashes simple syrup
- 2 oz Champagne
- splash of crème de cassis
- Mix the first four ingredients in a champagne flute, top off with a splash of crème de cassis
randle’s “kir classique”
“To make a classic Kir one course one needs a great white wine, and in Burgundy that means Aligoté,” says Captain Tim of the Randle. “Just ten minutes from our river mooring in the picturesque village of Chitry-le-Fort lives vigneron Aurélie Giraudon who, together with her brother Thibaut, produce one of the best Aligotés to be found. A visit to their charming cave is a must. ”
- 4½ ounces Aligoté (or other dry white wine)
- ¾ ounce crème de cassis
1. In a wine glass, add crème de cassis to chilled Aligoté and swirl to mix