Visit to Cointreau

Patricia Curd and Susan Morgan

On the 18th November 2017 thirty eight members and friends met in the foyer of the Cointreau distillery at St. Barthélemy, a welcoming area glowing with orange lighting reflecting on the famous square bottles. In this warm atmosphere we learned that oranges were brought to Europe via Sicily in the 11th century by the crusaders. They were a luxury fruit accessible only to the nobility. In the 17th century Louis XIV had orangeries built at Versailles. And in 1849, two brothers discovered a method of distilling oranges that would spread the name of Cointreau throughout the world.

Entering into the distillery itself, we couldn't fail to be struck by two things. Firstly the superbly overwhelming smell of orange peel and secondly the clinical cleanliness. The rich aroma combined with the glow of the copper stills to pervade and warm the spotless surroundings.

Our guide, Thomas, whilst not revealing any secrets, explained to us the method of production that was perfected by Edouard Cointreau in 1870 and is still in use today. Bitter and sweet oranges are sourced generally from Brazil, Ghana, Senegal and Spain by master distillers who select fruit with maximum essential oils in the skins. The peel is removed and dried. On weekday evenings, each of the 96 stills is filled with peel from bitter and from sweet oranges, and with peel that has been macerated in neutral alcohol, pure water and sugar. The following morning at 7am, the distillation begins.

The basic process takes only hours to complete. Then, it is the turn of the experts. In order to ensure constant flavour, quality, and alcohol content, all Cointreau is produced here in Angers. Two master distillers are responsible for guaranteeing that Cointreau sipped anywhere in the world is identical. This is no mean task when every year oranges are subject to variations in flavour.

Our tour continued with a visit to the museum where we learned that the Cointreau brothers, Adolphe and Edouard were bakers who turned their attention increasingly to producing patisserie using liqueurs as flavourings. As the popularity of their products grew Edouard experimented with distillation in 1849, producing Guignolet from cherries, Curacao from citrus and then Triple Sec, a liqueur distilled three times. Unable to find a name for his product, Edouard used the family name. He designed and patented the famous bottle and in 1870 Cointreau was born. Today around 15 million bottles a year are produced; a total of 12 million litres is sold throughout the world.

The museum is on a mezzanine floor overlooking yet more stills and the bottling plant. It houses a fascinating collection of fake bottles and traces the history of advertising through to the present day. Pierre Cointreau now runs the company, the 6th generation of the family to do so. Family members ran the business until 1990, when it merged with Rémy Martin to form a publicly traded company, Rémy Cointreau.

To ensure the aura of warmth stayed with us, our visit ended in the bar where we able to sample Cointreau Noir: Cointreau blended with Cognac, and Cointreau Rouge: made from blood oranges from Corsica. After a glass of Cointreau Fizz we took our leave somewhat later than planned to join other members for lunch. Our thanks to Thomas and the whole team at Cointreau for the enthusiastic welcome and detailed explanations extended to our group on this memorable visit.

After the fascinating visit to Cointreau's distillery, we made our way to the Brithotel near Parc du Bons Puits, where forty-two members and guests, including some potential new members, sat down to an enjoyable lunch, which was well-served and organised.

Patricia Curd our President, outlined some difficulties that the committee have been experiencing with regard to sterling's fall against the dollar and the euro. This means that events cost more for most British members. Although meeting for a meal is cheaper on a week day, this would prevent younger members who are working, from attending. The committee suggests that more informal events might take place during the week, possibly organised by individual members following their own interests and contacts. This would also lift pressure from the committee, who often find themselves overstretched. A card for Jérôme de Boissard, who has broken a vertebra in a car accident, was circulated for signatures. Also a collection for Children in Need, on behalf of Maureen and Mike Sargeant, raised the grand sum of ninety euros, bringing their overall total this year to one thousand five hundred and three euros.

We took our leave, after what was generally agreed to have been a most enjoyable visit, followed by a sociable lunch.