Not being funny, but liqueurs don’t have the greatest rep. At best, they get sipped somewhat sheepishly, like the guiltiest of pleasures; at worst they get overlooked altogether. It’s the sweetness that scares people off. That and the fact that only a few liqueur brands have even attempted to blow the cobwebs off the image of what most consider a dusty category, barely attempting to speak the same language as today’s discerning drinkers. Until now…
“Liqueurs is one of the last remaining categories which hasn’t become premium yet, they’re so stuck in the past,” says Alex Kratena. And who better to give them a facelift than him, together with Monica Berg and fellow enquiring mind, Simone Caporale? “We wanted to create a liqueur a modern bartender wants to work with. Why are there no woody, earthy, complex liqueurs? Maybe some have been made but if you were to say ‘I want to use an amazing woody, earthy liqueur’, where would you go?” The answer, as of spring 2019 is Muyu – the new range of sexy, super premium liqueurs the trio have designed with enquiring palates in mind.
There are three expressions to play with: Muyu Jasmine Vert, Muyu Vetiver Gris and Muyu Chinotto Nero. “The names indicate the ingredients used but also the complexity inside the bottle,” says Monica. “For example, for my jasmine I wanted a very green, lively, bright, nice, fresh approach to it – that’s why it’s called Jasmine Vert.” “We’ve each added a colour to indicate a feel, which is why you have green, grey and black.” Alex chips in. “Anyone who’s tasted them blind can clearly define who they’re created by. Each liquid is a mirror of our personality and also our bartending style, so you can see how I compose flavours as opposed to Monica or Simone.”
It’s true. The fresh, floral, seemingly soft but sensual characteristics of Muyu Jasmine is distinctly Monica’s, while the bold, earthy, grassy, uniquely woody notes emitted from Muyu Vetiver Gris couldn’t be down to anyone other than Alex. Then there’s Simone’s Muyu Chinotto Nero, packing an intense citric punch, bursting with intrigue and drama. “He was using bitter oranges to accentuate the bitterness you normally get in chinotto but it wasn’t clicking, so he came up with using cinchona bark. He’s done a really good job of constructing this really rich citrus but he also stayed true to the concept of chinotto, so it has a really pleasant bitterness which is very unusual for a liqueur.”
Unusual yes, but then these are no bog standard liqueurs. Working with an expert team from Grasse, an area in France widely regarded as being the perfume capital of the world, as well as De Kuyper Royal Dutch Distillers in Schiedam, partners in the project who come in with 300 years of distilling experience, there were no short cuts in getting the liqueurs just so.
Each liquid as imagined by the author, or ‘nose’ (Alex, Monica or Simone) starts with the extraction of a single note of a flower, plant or fruit, followed by the meticulous undertaking of seeking out the precise ingredients to bind it all together. Then comes one or more exacting processes – either enfleurage, infusion, steam distillation and CO2 extraction or vacuum distillation – before it’s blended with alcohol, water and minimal sugar, ready for bottling.
“It was an exciting project for the partners in Grasse,” says Alex. “A lot of the ingredients have never been used in food and beverages in a commercial capacity before. Which meant that some had to be specifically sourced.” As you might expect, the procedure wasn’t exactly quick. Or cheap. But the result is all the better for it. “We’ve combined niche perfume attitudes and our own cocktail-making philosophy to redefine the liqueur category,” adds Monica proudly.
The idea was inspired by the flavours, traditions and techniques of the ingredients they encountered on their travels to the Amazon jungle. “We wanted to create a liqueur brand that excites fellow bartenders in much the same way we were [excited] when we were given these unique flavours to work with. Except we’re creating a completely developed and complex liquid without taking anything from the rainforest,” she continues. Instead they’re giving – part of the proceeds of all Muyu sales will go to non-governmental organisations working in the Amazon.
As for the name: it means ‘seed’ in Quechuan languages and the packaging – all muted, modern-looking flora – also nods in the rainforest direction. “For us it was very much a partnership which creates unique, modern liqueurs with the flavours of now.”
Muyu is available from 19th February exclusively from Muyu pop up boutique and Cellar Trends
Muyu boutique, 67 Neal Street, Covent Garden, London WC2
This interview is part of an article from the upcoming Perfection Issue of The Cocktail Lovers Magazine, available on Monday 27th January. Subscribe for your print copy here