Product of: France
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The famous double spiral staircase at Château Chambord is worthy of a visit in itself. This links the château’s three floors and comprises two concentric spiral flights of stairs that wind independently around a hollow central column: if two people each take one flight they can see each other through the openings in the central column – but they will never meet.
The liqueur is said to have been introduced to King Louis XIV during one of his visits to Château Chambord during the late 17th century. This was a blackberry and raspberry liqueur, sweetened with sugar and honey and flavoured with exotic spices. At the time, only nobility could afford such a luxurious liqueur, with exotic spices then literally worth their weight in gold.
Centuries later, in the late 1980s, an American, Norton J. Cooper came across a modern version of the liqueur while in France. Better known as ‘Sky’, Norton is the son of Maurice Cooper who made his fortune during Prohibition through a contract to supply the U.S. military with de-alcoholised beer. Legend has it that Maurice was brewing and selling standard beer, merely labelled as alcohol ‘free’ beer, and unsurprisingly his beer sold well. Correctly predicting that Prohibition would soon be repealed, Maurice bought a Philadelphia distillery and liqueur producer called Charles Jacquin et Cie which had been crippled during the years of temperance.
Post-Prohibition, Maurice developed many new products, as well as recreating the numerous old recipes he had acquired with the distillery. One such product was a liqueur called Forbidden Fruit, which Maurice packaged in a particularly distinctive, orb-shaped bottle.
Charles Jacquin et Cie prospered and was further developed by Sky, who had inherited his father’s business acumen. So when Sky came across ‘Chambord’ liqueur he saw an opportunity and purchased the brand and its recipe. He then used the orb-shaped bottle which had, up to then, held Forbidden Fruit, for his newly acquired Chambord liqueur and launched the product and bottle we recognise today in 1981, giving it the full name, ‘Chambord Liqueur Royale de France’.
Combining the packaging from Forbidden Fruit with the Chambord recipe and its French heritage was an inspired piece of marketing. Sky had the product elaborated in the Loire Valley close to Château Chambord. Over the years, as the brand grew he tweaked the packaging, replacing the original metal band with a plastic strap and cage, which had to be hand-clipped around every bottle. Consumers, particularly women, loved the instantly recognisable bottle, but many bartenders would pull off what they saw as an annoying, loose plastic strap.
Chambord quickly grew in America, where Kir and other rich ‘crème’ berry fruit liqueurs were little known. If you ordered a Kir-Royale in New York you were (are still are) likely to be served Chambord and Champagne, a drink now promoted by the brand as a Cham-Cham. The popularity of the quaffable French Martin’ (two shots vodka, one-third of a shot Chambord and one shot freshly pressed pineapple juice) also ensured Chambord rode the vodka boom. Incidentally, if you have only ever tried this drink with processed juice, then please chop up a pineapple, press it and make yourself a proper French Martini.
Sky, later helped by his two sons John and Rob, built Chambord into a well-known brand over more than 20 years, until in July 2006 they sold it to Brown-Forman for US$251 million. And while the Cooper family had predominately sold Chambord in their own American market, Brown-Forman’s global reach has led to Chambord now being sold in 48 countries.
Around the time of Brown Forman’s takeover the Coopers were nearing the end of a three year process to move Chambord’s production from Huisseau sur Cosson a few kilometres even closer to Château Chambord, to a purpose-built facility in the grounds of La Sistiere, a magnificent château nestled in Cour-Cheverny. Brown-Forman recently completed the last stage of this move with the installation of a Krone labelling machine. This state-of-the-art piece of kit from Germany has allowed the launch of new packaging for Chambord, as the machine can automatically apply the six labels the new bottle design calls for. Incredibly it can do this on the 20cl, 35cl, 37.5cl, 70cl and 75cl bottles, leaving only the 5cl miniature bottles still requiring hand-labelling.
The new design is less cluttered with a label around the bottle’s mid-riff carrying the Chambord brand name in place of that “annoying” plastic belt. The bottle is also rounder. Yup, look closely and you’ll notice that the old “orb-shaped” bottle is not actually an orb. The new rounder, slicker bottle is not the only innovation from Brown Forman: American readers should also look out for the newly developed Chambord-Flavoured Vodka. I very much approve of the bottle but I have to say I do miss the old crown-shaped, heavyweight metal screwcap.
Review and Tasting
Sampled on 20/12/2014
Clear, dark burgundy red. (If your sample has the merest hint of orange/brown then your bottle has been open too long and your liqueur is oxidized. Buy a replacement and use more frequently.)
Rich blackcurrant and chocolaty vanilla with rich raspberry/cherry yoghurt and rum ‘n’ raison.
Rich flavours of raspberry fool, chocolate truffle, honey, vanilla, blackcurrant jam, cherry jam, sloe and damson with a hint of raisins and stewed prunes.
Warm, velvety, vanilla and black raspberry fruit. Overall: More rounded and not as upfront tart fruit as a typical crème de cassis, framboise or mûre, when compared the effect of the addition of vanilla and honey flavours are obvious.