Monday, September 13, 2010

Old Paris, New Bottle: A romantic-looking French liqueur bottle is testament to the power of great product design.

I love well-designed products and great packaging. 

After many years of choosing inventory for my shop, of handling and examining countless new products, I've discovered that a product's “first look” is a vital key to its long-term success. I really enjoy picking up a product and feeling the quality—the weight and texture of hand-etched leather, for example, or the nubby feel of embossed paper, the subtle shimmer of grosgrain ribbon. Great design does not come easily. There is often an enormous amount of thought and expertise that goes into any product  before it gets into a merchant's hands.

I recently came across a bottle of French liqueur that exhibits thoughtfulness and care in product design. Robert and I were at a casual gathering when the host, John MacPherson of the Foster Harris House B&B, in Little Washington, announced he had a surprise for us. He brought out a beautiful bottle of French artisanal liqueur called St-Germain and proceeded to make each of us a St-Germain champagne cocktail. We then found ourselves continually talking about not only the taste of this delectable French liqueur but also the look and feel of the mesmerizing bottle. Everybody had something to say about the pretty bottle.  I have posted a picture of it here, and as you can see there is nothing boring about this bottle, inside or out.

I am a serious Francophile, and everything about the shape and look of this bottle just oozed late-night Paris hotels, smoky Left Bank bars and curvy Art Nouveau Metro entrances. I have no doubt that every inch of this bottle was creatively considered: the glass weight, the feel of the bottle in your hand, the beautiful blue and gold labels. The front and back labels are pure French cleverness. They were designed in such a way that when you look through the bottle, you see a romantic French damask green and gold wallpaper that coordinates with the color of the liqueur bottle cap. 

They tout their liqueur on the bottle as “Parisian Life in a Bottle,” or “Vie Parisienne en Bouteille.” Mais Oui!  Great designs create beautiful illusions, and this one certainly does. This eight-sided fluted container gives the appearance that it has been around since the turn of the century, when in fact it was not introduced to the marketplace until 2007, with much praise and accolades for the liqueur itself: a Double Gold Medal at the 2007 and 2008 San Francisco World Spirits competitions.

How this liqueur is processed is unique. During a short period of time each spring, elderflower blossoms are handpicked in the foothills of the Swiss Alps by 40 to 50 specially trained pickers called “bohemian,” who transport the blossoms on bicycles to the processing facility in France. As no preservatives are used in this liqueur, you must drink it within six months for best taste.

What does it taste like? Upon first sip, I was not prepared for the amazingly smooth, delicious taste of elderflower—think subtle, aromatic pear, apricot and lemon zest, and not gooey sweet like some liqueurs can be, but much lighter. That evening we partook of St-Germain with champagne & club soda, which gave it a bubbly touch.

For more information on St-Germain liqueur, I recommend clicking through their artfully designed website, done in their signature art nouveau/art deco style and filled with their history, cocktail recipes, photographs of the pickers, and retail locations that sell it in the United States. Yes, Virginia, there is a St-Germain near you. 

Here is a delicious cocktail recipe to imbibe:

St-Germain Champagne cocktail: Their signature recipe, this drink has a simple and elegant presentation.

2 parts Champagne or dry white wine
1 ½ parts St-Germain
2 parts sparkling water or club soda
Stir ingredients in a tall, ice-filled Collins glass, mixing completely. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Find more St-Germain cocktails, including the Pear Tree martini and the St-Germain mojito, here.

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