When you bear the surname Cointreau, and you’re the 6th generation of the same family working in the Cointreau distillery, it must be a heck of a lot of fun – and a heck of a responsibility. Alfred Cointreau is that man.
The distillery was founded in 1849 by brothers Adolphe and Édouard-Jean Cointreau, though it wasn’t till 1875 that the company first produced the orange liqueur which is now famous around the world. Prior to that they made a cherry liqueur, but it was only when Édouard-Jean ‘s son Éduoard experimented with using various orange peels and alcohol distilled from sugar beets that they came up with the recipe for success – a recipe that is, of course, still a closely-guarded secret.
When Alfred Cointreau joined the family firm he did what every generation had done before him, and spent time working in every different department, from doing the distilling to discovering what was in the dusty archives. Today he has a roving role as a Heritage Manager, and his roving takes him all over the world, promoting Cointreau and making sure the historic drink stays relevant to the modern mixologists of today.
Somewhere along the way, Alfred decided he wanted to produce a book that brought together the memories of his many travels, his visits to cities and to the best bars in those cities, from Amsterdam to Verbier, from Beijing to Lagos, and not forgetting of course the city of Angers, home to Cointreau and to Alfred Cointreau when he’s not on the road.
The author writes just a few paragraphs about each city, some of which are accompanied by beautifully simple but striking artworks by Jessica Lisse. Most of the entries recommend a bar or two in each place, although some are just personal memories… including where he got the best tattoos! The book fell open at the page for Antwerp, which was amazing as not only had we been in Antwerp a few weeks ago, Alfred Cointreau recommended the very same guide who showed us round the city, the wonderful Tanguy Ottomer. And his description is spot-on.
‘Some bakers go on holiday with their sourdough starter. I go with my passion for cocktails.’
One non-city included is the Greek island of Naxos. Cointreau begins his Naxos memory like this: ‘Some bakers go on holiday with their sourdough starter. I go with my passion for cocktails.’ He goes on to describe being on Naxos for his honeymoon: ‘Once we had exchanged rings, it was off to the distillery!’ No ordinary distillery, though. It’s one that dates back to 1896, turning citrus fruit into liqueurs and is currently in the 5th generation of the same family. No wonder Cointreau wanted to visit.
The book is full of little vignettes like this, and while it’s only a slim 88-page paperback it will set you back £32. What? Well, it does also come with a 70cl bottle of Cointreau! To get it you’ll have to go to a Harvey Nichols store, or buy online: https://www.harveynichols.com/brand/cointreau/2567401-cointreau-with-night-time-walks-book/p3003891/
It would make a terrific present for the right person. And for me, I also loved the bookmark that came with it. Simple, classy, solid and with two Cointreau cocktail recipes on it, that I am definitely going to make. I also have to admit to a bias towards Cointreau (the drink not the man). It was the first liqueur I ever tasted.
As a teenager I went on my first solo foreign holiday, to Menton on the French Riviera. I felt super-sophisticated. On the first night the waiter at the hotel I was staying in asked if I would like an after-dinner drink. I had no idea what an after-dinner drink was. Coming from St Helens, an after-dinner drink would be another pint of Greenall’s. I asked the waiter what he would suggest, and he suggested Cointreau. It was a revelation, discovering that a drink as rich and complex – and as boozy – as this actually existed. It remained my go-to liqueur choice for years, and would probably still be my desert island liqueur, for the memories it brings back, just as Night-Time Walks captures Alfred Cointreau’s memories.