The spirits/mixology/bartending business, as I have come to know it, is a small world with a big heart. Which makes the death of Robert Cooper, the creator of St-Germain liqueurs, hit home that much more. Yesterday I was shocked and saddened to learn of his passing on Monday at the very young age of 39.
I didn’t start out writing about spirits and cocktails. I like to say that I didn’t choose the work, the work chose me. It started with an invitation to meet a friend for drinks at a new bar that was having their soft opening. I liked bars. I liked a drink or two. This place turned out to be easy to get to and more or less on my route home. I was in and that evening at Employees Only was the moment I fell down the cocktail rabbit hole.
Fastforward about a year. I was newly unemployed after a round of layoffs at my magazine, and attempting to launch a freelance writing career. An offer came through from Wine Enthusiast: Would I be interested in interviewing a guy about this new spirit he had launched a few months prior? “Sure,” I replied. This was to be my very first cocktail/spirits writing assignment. Arrangements were made and a few days later I was sitting across from Robert Cooper, a third-generation distiller whose family had been producing liqueurs since just after Prohibition. His latest product was St-Germain, an artisinal liqueur made from elderflower. St-Germain was sold in gorgeous Art Deco bottles, the elderflower was hand-picked by local farmers in the French Alps and delivered by bicycle to the distillery. The backstory was too, too precious. The St-Germain was delicious, and Robert Cooper was warm and affable, enthusiastic about his product and about the spirits business. He was generous with his time and with his recipe for a new drink, the St-Germain cocktail. He was also a terrific. interview. St-Germain quickly became a huge success, favored by bartenders and customers. The St-Germain cocktail remains one of the tastiest drinks to mix up for a crowd—and one that tastes like you did a lot,when it really requires very little. Impressive but easy. Although Cooper sold St-Germain to Bacardi (he went on to produce Hochstadter’s Rock & Rye and Lock Stock & Barrel rye) I will always associate him with the elegant spirit that started it all for me.