It was the bottle that first drew me to Chareau. With wonderment, I approached the simple, yet elegant, clear glass vessel. It has no adornment save for a swath of green tape over a wooden topped cork stopper. An unassuming white label reads “Chareau Aloe Liqueur.” What I found inside is so much more than the gelatinous goo used to soothe burns and cuts.
Chareau is the only one of its kind in the world — a distilled spirit made from aloe. But, to simplify it that way would be an injustice. Chareau is the brainchild of Kurt Charron. The harmony and freshness enclosed in a bottle is a remarkable, sustainable attainment of a sense of place from a man tethered to the soul of California.
In a glass, Chareau is soft and approachable, with discernible flavors. Aloe macerated into eau de vie (unaged brandy) gives the spirit a smooth, textural feel and slight bitterness. There are no added flavors, only farm fresh ingredients, with essences that clearly come through. Cucumber adds fresh, vegetal neutrality. Muskmelon lends subtle sweetness. Lemon and the oils from the fruit’s skin balance, and spearmint mellows the concoction. Charron keeps the sugar really low, so the drinker can enjoy its simplicity on its own, like freshly pressed juice.
It only takes a few moments speaking with Charron to see beauty in this liquid so tied to place. The liqueur housed in imported French glass is his way of “putting California in a bottle,” he said.
He originally set out to distill unaged brandy with cucumber and gin botanicals. This all changed with the sip of a cocktail mixed with aloe juice in a New York bar. “Something just sparked,” he said. What if he distilled “local, fresh ingredients that really go well together with aloe? No one had ever bottled them together.” He began experimenting in his apartment kitchen and eventually teamed up with a Northern California distillery to make it (with much tweaking). For his first batch of 100 cases (600 bottles), he built his own crates and delivered them.
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The name is a portmanteau of his great grandparents’ surnames: Charron and Favreau. One had a dairy, and the other had an animal feed farm. “I remember always looking at old photos of dairy trucks. I wanted to bring it full circle,” Charron said. The Chareau distillery is 40 miles north of Los Angeles, nestled in land lush with avocado trees, horses, strawberry fields and citrus groves. “I wanted it to be closer to all the ingredients, with better air and water quality,” he said.
When Charron speaks of “old school methodology,” he means it. He uses an old German Arnold Holstein copper pot still for distilling. “We use real ingredients straight from the source, distilled at their harvest time individually, to get peak freshness of the flavors and to continue to source locally,” he said. Everything comes from two neighboring counties. He collects produce in his pickup truck. Everything except the spirit base, made from Muscat Caneli grapes, is certified organic.
Sustainability is important, too. Charron sources ugly fruit deemed unsellable in store bins from farms, which often is wasted. Like the bottle, Charron offers complete transparency — no fluff, no fancy story, just ingredients.
Bartenders are over the moon about the depth of flavor Chareau adds as a cocktail modifier. It won double gold in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2017 (the Oscars of the spirits world). Some like to use it in a tiki riff, replacing falernum. At Atlanta’s Bacchanalia, Andrew Harris loves mixing it into cocktails, saying, “I feel like it’s just a breath of fresh air! It reminds me of being a kid.” Tim Weigel, chief mixologist with Hakkasan Group, uses Chareau at his sites. “It is a wonderful, subtly complex modifier, because it has multiple components that make it more than the sum of its parts. You get several aromas, flavors and sensations in one complete liqueur, and it plays well with other spirits, namely agave-based spirits and gin.”
In design and form, the minimalism and essentialism of Chareau shows what is really important through its humble glass bottle — the transparency of the contents bottled within and their connection to a particular piece of earth. Sip on some succulence this summer.
Where to find Chareau in Atlanta
Toco Giant Package Store. 2941 N. Druid Hills Road NE, Atlanta. 404-320-1903. $44
Roswell Hightower Liquor. 8529 Roswell Road, Atlanta. 770-993-0810. $38
Total Wine and More. 740 Ernest W. Barrett Parkway, Kennesaw. 678-354-0168. $37
Tower Beer and Wine. 2161 Piedmont Road NE, Atlanta. 404-881-0902. $37
Where to try Chareau in Atlanta
Bacchanalia’s riff on a margarita, using tequila, Chareau, Cocchi Americano, lime and Hawaiian salt, sounds like its name — a Smooth Ride.
Bacchanalia. 1460 Ellsworth Industrial Blvd. NW, Atlanta. 404-365-0410, starprovisions.com/bacchanalia.
Tequila and pineapple are natural companions; add another succulent with aloe, lime juice, the spice of jalepeno syrup and a cucumber sliver and you have Bocado’s memorable Muetro Verde.
Bocado. 887 Howell Mill Road N.W. Atlanta. 404-815-1399, bocadoatl.com.
Like a unctuous gimlet, Hampton & Hudson stirs up gin, Chareau, txakolina, cucumber and mint in their What a Babe.
Hampton & Hudson. 299 N. Highland Ave., Atlanta. 404-948-2123, hamptonandhudson.com.
Restaurant Eugene conjures up even more aromas and flavors, mixing lavender and spruce syrup with Chareau, gin, lemon and tonic water in the Debutante.
Restaurant Eugene. 2277 Peachtree Road NW, Atlanta. 303-355-0321, restauranteugene.com.
Chareau across the country
The Lion’s Eye at Longman and Eagle in Chicago sounds sultry and silky, with Pearse Lyons Reserve malt whiskey, Chareau and tiki bitters.
The name of the Forbidden Dragon at Hakkasan in Las Vegas comes from stirring together Casa Dragones blanco tequila with Chinese 5 spice along with Chareau, lime and sherry.
Kurt Charron enjoys the silky gimlet Famous Last Words at the Spare Room in Los Angeles, near his home, where they stir Chareau into gin, cucumber, vermouth, lime and bitters.
At First Blush is a French 75 riff using Chareau at Employees Only in New York.