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Creme Yvette

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Greg Gioia Posted: 20 Oct 2014 10:53 PM

In July, I was in Paris at Harry's New York Bar. I ordered an Aviation cocktail. When the drink came, it had a pronounced almond flavor. I thought either the waiter had misheard my order, or the bartender had inadvertently added amaretto to my drink. I asked the waiter, and he confirmed that he put an order in for an Aviation at the bar.

After I finished the drink, which I found to be absolutely delicious, though nothing like an Aviation, I approached the bar and began a conversation with the two bartenders. When I explained my confusion, one suggested that it could be because they use Creme Yvette in lieu of Creme de Violette. I mentioned that I have Creme Yvette at home but have never found it to have an almond taste. The other bartender chimed in, saying that the recently re-released Creme Yvette is different than the original, and that Harry's still has a supply of the original stuff.

They brought out the bottle of Creme Yvette, which was indeed an original, pre-1969 bottle, and poured me a small amount. Taken neat it tasted very almond-y. The second bartender explained how they came to still have some. He said that in the late 1960s, the owner of the bar was pushing his distributor for a larger discount than usual on his spirits. The distributor relented, offering a lower overall rate, if Harry's would buy their remaining cases of Creme Yvette, which wasn't selling. As the drink has an indefinite shelf-life, and was used in a handful of drinks, and as it was being discontinued, Harry's owner agreed to do so and bought 30 or 40 cases of Creme Yvette. As the bar only goes through, at most, a few ounces of the liqueur per week, if that, it's no surprise that they still have a lot of bottles left in 2014.

The story may be apocryphal, but has a ring of veracity to it, to me anyway. They definitely had a bottle of the old stuff there, and it tasted nothing like the new stuff. Does anyone here know anything about this?

Meanwhile, I'm now experimenting with variations on the Aviation that include Amaretto, though I've not yet perfected the recipe. I'll post again if and when I do.

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That is indeed very interesting. I don't think I've ever had a chance to try the original Crème Yvette before, and I'm a little surprised that there would be such a distinct difference between it, and the "modern" versions coming out. I would have assumed Cooper Spirits would have had some original to work with?

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My thoughts were similar. I wonder if age had anything to do with it. I believe high proof spirits (Creme Yvette, at least the modern incarnation, is 55.5 proof) won't go bad per se, but will the flavors change over time? Is it possible that over the past 45+ years subtle changes in the flavor have added up to produce the almond flavor?

I don't think the bartenders were lying to me. They definitely produced an original bottle and poured me a taste directly from said bottle. Unless it was an elaborate ruse perpetuated on foreign drinkers, the Creme Yvette there has a definite almond taste to it.

If any Society members are in Paris, or visiting soon, I'd love to hear their thoughts after drinking an Aviation, and possibly getting a taste of Creme Yvette, at Harry's New York Bar.

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Very interesting topic. Spirits don't rot, but they can undergo a variety of chemical reactions as they age over such long time intervals. This is a wild guess of mine, but I came up with a plausible example. Some flower extracts, such as jasminehyacinth, and ylang-ylang (I don't know about violet) contain benzyl alcohol. The primary product of oxidation of benzyl alcohol is benzaldehyde, which has a very strong characteristic almond flavor.

I would say that several decades of storage are more than enough for some of the benzyl alcohol to be oxidized to benzaldehyde by the air contained in the headspace of the bottles, or slowly penetrating from outside if the seal is not perfect.

The owner who bought the bottles is in the best position to know whether the almond flavor was present originally or is a product of aging, but in the latter case he may hesitate to tell you the truth, so I would ask someone else. Please keep us informed of your findings! Wink

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