Published on March 21st, 2014 | by Adam Ydstie0
Tacoma hosts a rare taste of France
I got to be a part of something special, something I want to have happen regularly in Tacoma, but I really don’t want to tell you about it. When you get to be a part of something like the event I’m about to describe, a part of you (or at least a part of me) wants to hoard it and not tell anyone. Fortunately for you, I was asked to write about my experience by the fine folks of this online magazine. It just so happens these are folks I respect and love, so I will do what I’m asked and let you all in on a little secret.
On one of those rare radiantly sunny spring days in Tacoma, Hilltop Kitchen hosted a tasting of the Giffard line of liqueurs as well as a number of other products carried by Young’s Market Company, a local distributor. Young’s was gracious enough to foot the bill for food, drinks, and tastes of basically the entire impeccable line of Giffard liqueurs, two varieties of mezcal, and other lovely treats.
Here in town it’s not difficult to find and enjoy a local coffee cuppings or wine and beer tastings, but not many places offer tastings of special liquors. Sure, you can get some great cocktails at a handful of places in Tacoma but to have the opportunity to try the ingredients as they stand alone is a rare treat.
See, I told you. You’d want to keep this a secret as well. What’s better than free food from Hilltop Kitchen and free booze of the highest quality? I can’t think of much more I’d ask for on a late spring afternoon, with sun shining brightly, in the middle of the work week.
Generations of excellence
Perhaps the sun was shining as brightly almost 130 years ago when Giffard came into existence: it was an unusually warm summer in 1885 in the French city of Angers located in the heart of Loire Valley. At that time Emile Giffard was an inventive pharmacist and curious gourmet who took interest in the digestive properties of mint.
That summer, Giffard debuted a pure, clear, and refined white mint liqueur which helped to cool and refresh both the vacationing visitors and the Angers locals. His experiment a success, he named the new product Menthe Pastille, converted his pharmacy into a distillery, and launched the Giffard family business into massive popularity throughout France and much of Europe.
To this day, Giffard is still a 100% family owned company, producing over 100 different liquors and syrups distributed in over 50 countries. They remain connected to their roots by sourcing a large majority of their fruits, herbs, and other ingredients directly from the Loire Valley.
Giffard products contain no artificial flavors at all; instead the flavors are captured through a maceration process which can take up to months. Each is unique, subtly balancing the bite of the alcohol with the very real taste of the featured fruits and herbs. It really is astonishing – the snozberries taste like snozberries – and not one concoction is in any way even reminiscent of the disgustingly sugary liqueurs saturating the current American market.
Giffard recently expanded into the United States and even more recently to Washington State, but you won’t find their product on shelves in Tacoma. Why? Because no one knows about it, and quite frankly, the market doesn’t demand it. At least not yet. This is why Hilltop Kitchen and Young’s partnered to put on this event: to get people excited about liquor.
We CAN have nice things
This tasting event was encouraging to say the least. There was a palpable energy from the more than 50 who attended. Many raved about each flavor and wanted to know how they could get their hands on the product. Unfortunately, if you don’t own a bar or restaurant with a liquor license, the answer is “drive to Seattle.”
I have to say, I am tired of that response. I live, work, and play in Tacoma and I want to see more options in my city. I applaud and thank Hilltop Kitchen and Young’s for inspiring the small group of people who spent an hour or so of their weekday afternoon to learn more about the liquor industry, the craft, and most importantly how to appreciate the nuances of that which we quaff.
While I wait for the next tasting I will take to my favorite local liquor store and start asking for Giffard; and I’ll do the same after the next event if I like the product and can’t find it locally.
The spirit of summer 1885
This summer I’ll wow my guests with margaritas, swapping out Cointreau for Giffard’s cheaper and superior alternative Curaco Triple Sec, and adding their Pink Grapefruit Liqueur for an added citrus depth. I also can’t wait to pair their William Pear with their Ginger Liqueur in some way. But sometimes the simplest option can be best; in the spirit of the summer of 1885, I look forward to dropping a few ice cubes into a glass and pouring a dram of the Menthe Pastille Regardless of the weather, this gem will lift your spirits and make it feel like a warm, blue sky day.
It was welcome news that Hilltop Kitchen and Young’s look forward to hosting more events like this. My hope is that more people attend and get excited about continuing the growth of the craft cocktail scene in Tacoma, and that more restaurant and bar owners show up to subsequent tastings don’t get me wrong, let’s keep the cheap drinks flowing; I wouldn’t have Tacoma any other way. But it is clear that there is energy and passion growing for us to do more. And it’s time to start demanding better.
Photographs courtesy of Adam Ydstie and Kris Hay.