Ever consider mixing Cognac and ginger? Neither had we before the creation of Canton, the ginger-infused liqueur from Maurice Cooper & Cie. The new 56-proof blend of Cognac, ginger, ginseng, vanilla and honey was inspired by the trend in Asian fusion food as well as the use of fresh ginger as a flavoring ingredient by cutting-edge bartenders. The product also has roots from the nineteenth century in French colonial Indochina.
Canton is the brainchild of John Cooper, son of N. J. "Sky" Cooper, who bought Chambord liqueur in the 1980s and sold it to Brown-Forman for $250 million last year. Sky Cooper had introduced a ginger liqueur from Asia called Canton in the 1980s. The name is now revived with a new formula and packaging. John Cooper's brother Rob is also the creator of the elderflower liqueur, Saint Germain.
We have been so pleased with the mixing possibilities of Saint Germain and Chambord that we were inclined to give Canton a try. While its name may seem Chinese, according to the company it comes from a colonial Indochina (now Vietnam) ginger estate called Domaine de Canton, where the first ginger-infused white Cognac was created. The bottle is designed to look like a bamboo shoot.
The ginger component is striking on the nose, much like the ginger roots that sushi restaurants use as palate cleansers between courses. However, on tasting Canton we found that its intrinsic spiciness was overwhelmed by the sweet honey in the liqueur, peaking out mainly on the finish.
In the interest of trying to release the beguiling ginger notes to the palate, we sampled one of the suggested cocktails, a Ginger Martini (2 oz. Canton, 2 oz. vodka, shaken with ice and garnished with fresh ginger). The vodka cut the cloying honey somewhat, but we were determined to get to that ginger place.
We tried substituting Bombay Sapphire gin for the vodka and found its aromatics did bring out some of that ginger and also sparkled a bit more themselves in the presence of the Canton. But it was still a pretty sweet drink.
Then came inspiration. We thought of a Dark 'n Stormy, a cocktail made with Gosling's rum and ginger beer, and wondered if this liqueur would have similar effects with rum. In place of Gosling's we used Rhum Clement XO, a pot-stilled rum from Martinique, and this time changed the proportions to two parts rum, one part Canton.
The effect was startling. No longer as honey sweet, the drink gave up its ginger charms readily. Other spices also arose and turned the experience into a rewardingly complex affair. The ginger finish went on for minutes. The success suggests that many other cocktail possibilities await us from mixing Canton.
Canton will retail for $29 and be introduced in the New York and Los Angeles markets starting this month. National distribution is expected in 2008.