Chareau, an aloe vera liqueur made in California, has been gaining popularity since its 2013 launch as bartenders' new favorite cocktail companion. The spirit is beginning to surface on more craft cocktail lists, not just in California, but at well-regarded watering holes across the country like Chicago’s The Aviary, New York’s Nitecap, and Vegas’ Herbs & Rye.
The delicate liqueur is distilled from Northern California-grown grapes into an eau de vie, then infused with local cucumber, spearmint, lemon peel, and muskmelon. California aloe vera juice is added as the final step, yielding an alcohol that tastes bright, vegetal, with a soft mouthfeel.
"It’s just a really beautiful, clean spirit," said Karen Grill, general manager and drink creator of Sassafras Saloon in Los Angeles. "It’s honestly really versatile. I tend to go toward gin, tequila, and mezcal with it, but I’ve done it with Scotch, I’ve done it with bourbon. I just like how fresh it makes a long or Tiki cocktail taste."
Other local bars throwing Chareau into the mix include Butchers & Barbers with Sons of the Desert (mezcal, Chareau, lemon verbena, lime, smoked Sea salt), Harlowe with Aloe Me To Introduce Myself (vodka, Chareau, cantaloupe shrub, lemon, soda), meanwhile Sonny’s Hideaway is mixing the French Correction (mezcal, Chareau, Curaçao, cherry bark bitters, lime oil).
In an increasingly crowded market of craft spirits, Los Angeles distiller Kurt Charron was looking to create a unique liquor made from California ingredients to build new drinks and reimagine classics. "I was inspired by the great distillers like Hubert Germain-Robin and Lance Winters at St. George who not only make some of the most impressive and delicious products in the world, but really embraced old school methodology using California ingredients," he explains.
Originally though, Charron set out to launch a gin using a grape-based spirit, "because California undeniably has an abundance of quality grapes and not enough people were distilling them, and also because it adds a complexity that you don't get from grain." He planned for the gin to feature fruit and botanicals that reminded him of the state. But, after working on the recipe for a year, his aha moment didn’t come until he traveled to New York and ordered a cocktail with aloe juice in it.
"Something clicked. I came back home and mixed aloe juice with my gin," said Charron. "It added something so special that I decided to take the juniper out completely, brighten it up with melon, and make a liqueur with a botanical base spirit."
After two more years of tweaking the recipe, Charron launched his first batch of Chareau in April 2013 with only 600 bottles. They sold out in months. Today he continues to make his small-batch liqueur using thoughtfully-sourced ingredients, going directly to farms to meet his growers and taste the season's crop.
Chareau is presently sold in eight states with plans for expansion this spring.