Cocktail making is often compared to liquid cuisine. Both work on the association of ingredients and the search for the perfect balance between flavours. Replace flavours with fragrances and you can compare the spirits industry to the perfume industry. The parallels are strong: both work with alcohol they infuse/macerate – one with flavours, the other with aromas -, both attach importance to packaging and brand imagery. So why not apply the principles of perfume-making to spirits production?
That’s the conclusion Marlène, a graduate from ISIPCA (Institut supérieur internationl du parfum, de la cosmétique et de l’aromatique alimentaire, a French post-graduate school for studies in perfume, cosmetics products and food flavor formulation) came to in 2014. She shared it with her friend Camille, a business school graduate, and voilà! “Marlène and I knew we wanted to do something together one day. We didn’t pressure ourselves though. Then one day, Marlène had this idea of launching our own brand of liqueurs, following the principles of the perfume industry. I was sold!”, Camille reminisces. The idea was born in 2014, their company H.Theoria created in 2016 and the first liqueurs produced six months later with funds coming from crowdfunding and a bank loan.
A former R&D intern for French liqueur producer, Gabriel Boudier, Marlène contacted the company to ask for some ingredients macerations. Boudier was truly seduced by Marlène and Camille’s idea. Not only did they agree to send them ingredients, they bought shares in H. Theoria!
While Marlène devises the recipes, Camille proof-tests them. As with perfumes, Marlène first comes up with a “personality”. “She starts with an idea, an emotion we want to share.”, Camille explains. “In this way, we differ from the traditional path of spirit production which usually starts with a product.” The Greek letter H – eta – in the name H.Theoria represents a rung between emotions and matter.
Once she has determined the liqueur’s personality, Marlène then looks for the flavours, aromas – and thus ingredients – she thinks will best translate it. She will work with around 25 different ingredients until she gets the result she is looking for. It took her 7-8 tries to get to Hystérie and Procrastination final recipes; 13 for Perfidie.
Ingredients are macerated and distilled separately in stainless steel stills on Gabriel Boudier’s site. Then they are assembled and bottled in apothecary style bottles topped with glass stoppers, just like old perfume bottles. The labels are the work of graphic designer Samy Halim who artifully translates Marlène’s ideas into visuals. For example, to represent Hystérie, he draw a broken mirror glass, a wild goose, cactus plants, agitated hands and scattered feathers.
The quantity of ingredients used gives each liqueur a tasting complexity similar to the olfactory complexity of a perfume. Some notes take first stage, others are more discreet but together they make an very pleasing whole.
True to its name, Hystérie is a dynamic, extravagant liqueur. At first, it is sweet, calm. These are the notes of cranberry and violets. Then it bursts into a spiciness that deflates just as fast: that’s the Espelette pepper. For the launch of H. Theoria in Switzerland last Monday, Little Barrel created a Hystérie Tonic mixing Hystérie with quinoa vodka, chilli pepper tincture and tonic water.
To the nose, Procrastination smells like sweet tea. Normal two of its ingredients are black tea and rooibos tea. To the palate, there is a soft leathery taste courtesy of the use of Azuki beans! Finally, there is a sweet note of jasmin. Little Barrel made a twist on the classic Louisiane cocktail using Procrastination, bourbon, sweet vermouth, Peychaud bitters and absinthe .
The thickest on the palate, Perfidie tastes strongly of tomato. Other ingredients, including red orange, rhubarb, black currant, ginger, lavender, sage and cinammon, add complexity to the liqueur. It works wonders served chilled without any mixers and must be nice paired with cheese. To help promote H.Theoria, Little Barrel lists a cocktail on its new menu made with Perfidie, sage infused tequila, red vermouth and fresh orange juice: La Perfidie d’Audrey.
Promoting their liqueurs and dealing with retailers themselves, Camille and Marlène have concentrated their efforts on the French market.How did H.Theoria end up in Switzerland then? Well, in the young entrepreneur world, word gets around fast and people are really supportive one of another. “We got into the Swiss market by chance. Quentin from Little Barrel in Geneva, another young entrepreneur like us, discovered us and wanted to support us. We also have the support of Bacchus Spirits, a liquor store which sells our products in Geneva.”
After the success of H.Theoria’s launch (the first batch is almost sold out), more bottles are currently under production. They will be ready for release in early 2018. Sounds to me like 2018 is going to be a great year for H.Theoria!