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Cocktail comeback a magic recipe for French liqueur houses
18 Dec, 2006 07:30:33
BORDEAUX, France, Dec 18, 2006 (AFP) - In the French wine capital Bordeaux, as winemakers battle stiff competition on the world market, two centuries-old liqueur houses are doing brisk business across the Atlantic thanks to a booming fashion for cocktails.
In the US blockbuster "Casino Royale", James Bond orders a Martini laced with a splash of Kina Lillet, a public relations dream for the liqueur's French makers who see the United States as their most promising market.

For the small family-owned firm, it was free publicity since the reference was lifted straight from the 1953 Ian Fleming novel, which named the liqueur as a secret ingredient of 007's trademark drink.

Founded in 1872, the family firm employs seven people in the southwestern town of Podensac near Bordeaux, producing the traditional Lillet aperitif with 85-percent wine, 15-percent orange liqueur and a zest of quinine.

It saw its US sales jump by 15 percent this year, as Americans ordered more than 20,000 dozen-bottle cases, mostly for use in cocktails.

With its US sales already booming, Lillet's director general Bruno Borie sees the Bond movie as the cherry on the cake, helping to bring home the message that cocktails are "elegant, fun, tasty, chic and sexy".

"James Bond was a beautiful gem lying on the company's path," he said. "In the 1950s, our number one fan was the Duchess of Windsor -- now it is Eva Green," the Bond girl in Casino Royale.

"Hopefully, we will manage to make the most of it," Borie said.

Lillet is not alone in placing high hopes on the revival of the cocktail -- especially in the US market, where sales of cocktail bases grew by four percent in 2005, almost twice as fast as overall alcohol sales.

From tried-and-tested mixes to the latest fads, liqueur makers are confident cocktails will continue to make inroads in the market.

"The big comeback of the cocktail started a few years ago in the United States and in Britain," said Jean-Paul Saubesty, chairman of the Bordeaux-based liqueur house Marie Brizard.

"Now it has clearly become a global phenomenon," he said.

Marie Brizard, which has distilled a sweet aniseed liqueur called Anisette since 1755, is confident it will double its export sales within five years, thanks in part to healthy US sales.

According to legend, the traditional Anisette recipe was whispered by a sailor to a nurse -- Mademoiselle Marie Brizard -- after she saved him from a life-threatening fever.

But alongside its core product the company has branched out with a new range of more "glamorous" cocktail bases, according to Marie Brizard's marketing director Edouard Griton.

As well as smaller firms, the cocktail boom has also benefited France's giant Cognac business.

This year is set to rival the industry's all time sales record with more than 150 million bottles sold, one third of them in the United States where Cognac is mainly used as a cocktail ingredient.

US bartenders use Cognac to shake up everything from a "Side-Car" -- a Cognac, lemon and triple sec drink invented in a Paris bar in the 1920s -- to the 21st-century "Pulp Fiction", which blends Cognac, apple and lemonade.

Four brands -- Hennessy, Remy Martin, Martell and Courvoisier -- account for 80 percent of the market, with export sales in 2006 worth the equivalent of 25 Airbus jets.

To the horror of traditionalists, Jerome Durand, who heads the French Cognac association, said the industry was now trying to convert consumers to drinking Cognac with a splash of Champagne or soda.

However another popular cocktail ingredient, Grey Goose vodka -- though distilled in the French town Cognac and associated with France -- was designed as a premium brand for the US market by the US businessman Sidney Frank.

In 2004, Frank sold the manufacturing rights for Grey Goose to the drinks giant Bacardi for 2.2 billion dollars, in the largest single brand sale on record.
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