Though it sounds like the kind of spirit you find stashed away in a dusty cabinet, crème de cassis deserves your attention. An essential component in the popular Kir and Kir Royale cocktails, the dark, elegant liqueur is made by infusing a neutral grain spirit with crushed blackcurrants. As a result, it has tart berry flavors and a rich, earthy profile, with a hint of spice.
Commercial production of crème de cassis began over 150 years ago in Burgundy, France (“cassis” means “blackcurrant” in French). The nation’s distillers continue to produce some 16 million tons annually.
Outside of French borders, however, crème de cassis has had to navigate some troubled waters. In the latter half of the 19th century, U.S. distillers began growing blackcurrants and producing their own versions of the Burgundian liqueur. American production halted abruptly after the turn of the century, when the federal government banned growing blackcurrants because they carry white pine rust, a potential threat to the timber industry.
Though imported versions of the liqueur remained on sale in the U.S., the drink’s popularity dwindled. In 1966, when disease-resistant strains were introduced, local governments were given the option of whether or not to lift the blackcurrant-growing ban.
New York became the latest state to repeal the ban in 2003, following in the footsteps of Maine, New Hampshire, Virginia, Ohio, and Massachusetts. The intensely flavored tart fruit is yet to regain its previous popularity stateside, however.
Like many French wines and spirits, crème de cassis is subject to local appellation laws. Bottles labeled Crème de Cassis de Dijon contain only blackcurrants grown in Dijon, while Cassis de Bourgogne uses currants grown in the greater Burgundy region. Legislation dictates that the liqueur must have a minimum alcoholic content of 15 percent ABV, and contain at least 400 grams of sugar per liter.
To make the Kir, a classic aperitif popularized by French Resistance war hero Felix Kir, mix crème de cassis with still white wine (traditionally Aligoté, a wine made with Burgundy’s other white grape variety). The Kir Royale swaps in sparkling white wine for an upscale iteration. When mixed with dry reds, meanwhile, the cocktail is known as a Cardinal.
In the El Diablo, crème de cassis’s sweetness balances the spicy kick of ginger ale, while in the Arnaud Martini, the colorful liqueur provides a vibrant, blackcurrant-driven riff on the classic mix with gin and dry vermouth.
Alternatively, the liqueur can be enjoyed straight over ice as an after-dinner digestif.
Brands to Try
Classic French crème de cassis brands worth sampling include Briottet, Giffard, Gabriel Boudier Dijon, and Lejay. Each continues to produce the liqueur without additives or additional coloring. In America, producers like Tuthilltown Spirits and Clear Creek Distillery spearhead a domestic mini-revival.
An ingredient in several classic cocktails, crème de cassis provides a tart, bittersweet tang to drinks.
- 2 ounces reposado tequila
- ¾ ounce crème de cassis
- 1 ounce lime juice
- Ginger ale to top
- Shake tequila, crème de cassis, and lime juice with ice. Strain into an ice-filled glass.
- Top with ginger ale.
Recipe: Arnaud Martini
- 1 ounce dry gin
- 1 ounce dry vermouth
- 1 ounce crème de cassis
- Stir all ingredients with ice.
- Strain into a chilled Martini glass.