Consumed fresh, blackcurrant is tangy and herbaceous. They burst with earthy funk, playing musty and sour on the tongue. When crushed, macerated in neutral high-strength alcohol and sweetened with sugar, the astringent fruit becomes a rich, deep red liquor with a languid pour. A specialty of the Burgundy region of France (cassis translates to “cassis” in French), crème de cassis has been produced commercially since 1841.
By the mid-19th century, black currants were also being grown in the United States, and producers began making national liqueurs from the fruit. But in 1911 the federal government black currants prohibited, which carried white pine blister rust, a fungus that infects white pines and poses a threat to the timber industry. In 1966 disease-resistant strains were introduced and local governments were given the opportunity to lift the ban, although the berry was slow to regain popularity.
In New York, where Rachael Petach uses the fruit to produce her blackcurrant liqueur, C.Cassisthe ban was reversed in 2003. C. Cassis, sweetened with honey and less syrupy than traditional crème de cassis, is closer in style and application than vermouth.
“Our point of view is a bit of a contemporary approach to the fruit; it’s kind of playful,” Ms. Petach said. “It speaks to my palate for things that are just a little less sweet, a little botanical.”
Ms. Petach began experimenting with what would become C. Cassis in 2018, intending to bottle the semi-salty, herbaceous flavor of the fresh black currants she remembers eating straight from the bush while she was working in France. “It was almost like a song got stuck in your head, it was like that flavor got stuck in my head,” she said. The company started distributing C. Cassis in 2020.
Ms. Petach describes a fresh black currant as a decidedly fruitless fruit. “It has this really bouncy acidity; it’s a bit moody and it’s not for everyone,” she said. “But for many people, these qualities of the fruit are so spectacular and so unique that it’s fun to bring them to the fore.”
The classic liquor is best known for its role in Kir, a 19th century French aperitif that combines dry white wine with crème de cassis, and the sparkling variation of kir, kir royale, which trades sparkling for still. It is also measured in the El Diablo, a spicy and sweet combination of tequila, fresh lime, creme de cassis and ginger beer. Incorporated in a fraction of bourbon and rye, the liquor helps create a contemporary, burly version of a Manhattan. You can also pour a spritz with blackcurrant notes by combining it over ice with sparkling wine and sparkling water, or serve it with dry vermouth in a Royal Vermouth.
Or take a bottle entirely out of the bar and into the kitchen. Ms. Petach drizzles crème de cassis over ice cream or adds fresh fruit instead of sugar.
If you’re looking to add a classic bottle of the liqueur to your bar, look for ones labeled Crème de Cassis de Dijon (made with blackcurrants grown only in Dijon, France) or Cassis de Bourgogne, which uses berries grown in the greater Burgundy region. . Then, measure it into your next drink to give it a regal hue and a concentrated hit of sweet, sour fruit. But pour wisely: as Ms. Petach notes, a little is enough.
Receipts: The Diablo | Cassis-Manhattan