Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Great American Distillers Festival, Portland OR--- J Witty Chamomile Gourmet Organic Liqueur

The Liqueur/Cordial category is sort of a catch all of spirits---it's purposely designed to include pretty much any spirit you wish to use, any flavor or combination of flavors you wish to use, and it allows you to make the final spirit in any way you wish as well. Indeed, it's commonly known that some liqueurs are no more than synthetic flavors dumped into flavorless alcohol vats, stirred, and bottled.

The only thing liqueurs need have in common, in fact, is that they all have to contain sugar (from 2.5% to 35%, to be exact.) And even there, the type of sugar isn't specified!

Designed originally as medicines, tonics and restoratives (cordialis--of the heart, from concoctions designed by the alchemists to stimulate and revive the failing organs and appetites and desires of their wealthy patrons; and while we are in the etymological frame, liqueur comes from Latin liquifacere, to melt or soften), liqueurs eventually became fashionable as after-dinner drinks and liquid desserts.

The current fashion for mixology immediately fixed on liqueurs as a particularly good source for intense flavors---and not coincidentally useful for adding sugar to some of their concoctions---and there never seems to be a limit to the number of flavors that can be produced for the public fascination (St. Germain Elderflower,anyone?). So liqueurs remain popular for entrepreneurial purposes---and since the sky's the limit on rules, a liqueur can be as simple or as profound, as perfunctory or as magical, as the producer wishes it to be.

Enter J. Witty, a worldly and well traveled restaurateur who divides her time between California and Portland and is consumed by an interest in good taste derived from natural products. After several years of experimentation and persistence, she managed to come up with a perfect concoction that not only uses all natural products, but also expresses a unique flavor statement:

J Witty Chamomile Gourmet Organic Liqueur.

Where most liqueurs are mass-produced by large corporations and generally (okay, almost exclusively) use synthetic chemicals and manufactured essences on top of the simplest and cheapest of grain neutral spirits (translation: as little flavor as possible, made as cheaply as possible), Witty insists on top quality and organic botanical components.

But when the philosophy is stripped away, and only the flavor is left, the flavor becomes the most important thing. So how does the J Witty Chamomile Liqueur taste?

Pretty damned good!

Witty wisely elected to stay relatively low on the sugar scale---I'm not sure what the precise level is here, but it's a lot closer to the 2.5% minimum than the 35% maximum sugar. And perhaps more importantly, it's a softer, gentler style of sweetening from agave nectar and cane sugar that is in harmony with the pleasantly delicate aromas and flavors of the chamomile and spice base. This would be perfect as a light, slightly sweet, delicate after-dinner drink, or used judiciously to enhance and expand the flavor of a cocktail.

On a side note, and circling back to the original philosophy espoused by Witty, the chamomile dregs left after the fermentation and distillation process is complete are provided to local Portland gardeners as a fragrant compost, thereby completing the cycle back to the earth.

So: good quality, responsibly made, and totally sustainable. What more could you ask of a liqueur? Perhaps, another serving?

Oh, and the next time your Great Great Aunt smiles as she gently sips her Chamomile Tea---you might look at how she sweetened it.

For more information, go to www.jwittyspirits.com

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