The category of violet liqueurs has few entries. This is perhaps Darwinian in that few are needed, and even fewer are rewarded through natural selection. After all, any given bottle of violet liqueur, a luscious, enticing yet singularly and invasively floral elixir, is so rarely used in a cocktail (with the notable exception of the Aviation) that it may be called upon to sit, and sit, and sit, like a pretty wallflower seldom asked to dance.
Only a truly dedicated small batch artisanal-minded top quality producer would even consider creating and distributing a liqueur that would be used infrequently and in small amounts. When sales can be counted in bottles rather than cases, and shelf space is at a premium, the volume-driven distributors simply aren’t interested.
Fortunately, there are just enough dedicated producers to fill the void. Three excellent ones are Crème Yvette, Rothman & Winters Crème de Violette, and Tempus Fugit Liqueur de Violettes. Yet the three are entirely different and distinctively styled liqueurs.
First, Crème Yvette is not crème de violette, technically. That is to say, Crème Yvette, while delicious, is not labeled as a violet liqueur. It is an intensely sweet (crème, which has nothing to do with cream, signifies a higher amount of sugar) berry, honey and spice liqueur. Be aware of this; if you use the Crème Yvette you’re getting more than violet; this may alter any drink you use it in.
The formula for Crème Yvette is actually four berries (blackberry, raspberry, cassis and wild strawberry) macerated with dried violet petals and laced with honey, vanilla and perhaps other spices. It’s a delicious liqueur, but it, as well as the floral Parfait Amour, is not primarily violet, simply a liqueur with violet in it.
Rothman & Winters Crème de Violette is a true violet liqueur from Austria, with selected Queen Charlotte and March violets, chosen for their intense florality, macerated in German ‘weinbrand’, a clear grape brandy, with cane sugar for sweetening. The Rothman & Winters has proven exceptional for use in cocktails, and is something of a gold standard now. An indication of its quality is the longevity of the company (three generations now); another is that the liqueur is customarily used by local Austrian and Swiss-German pastry and chocolate makers in their recipes.
The Liqueur de Violettes, from impressive newcomer Tempus Fugit Spirits, is yet another fine quality and highly individual spirit, and is busily attracting attention from serious bartenders. Less sweet than the other two (it is labeled as a ‘liqueur’, not a ‘crème’), this Violette is a pure, delicate, brightly floral liqueur without being cloying and oily on the palate. Some floral botanicals leave a soapy residue in the finish; the Tempus Fugit doesn’t; the finish is fresh and clean. At 44% alcohol, the liqueur asserts itself, lingers in an appealing way, and leaves you with a fond memory of violets rather than cheap perfume. It is ideal for an Aviation Cocktail: floral, pretty in a pink-purple hue, and delicate enough to allow the complex botanicals of the gin to shine through.
If space is limited and you can have only one of these…I’d go with the Tempus Fugit Liqueur de Violettes. It is not as cloyingly sweet, is more delicate and evanescent on the florality, yet intensely aromatic and flavorful nonetheless, good for cocktail use, cooking, or even as a small after dinner sip, if violet is your passion.
Of course, there is a but. The Tempus Fugit Violettes is great…but it’s also hard to find. It is not yet currently available in Oregon, so you’d have to go north to Washington or south to California to locate