This week we sat down with Marc de Kuyper, an 11th generation distiller in the DeKuyper Distillery. de Kuyper spoke to us about his company’s launch of Mandarine Napoleon XO, a limited-edition of their Mandarine Napoleon line made with rare, aged cognac. We covered a number of topics including my love of lychee and DeKuyper’s Kwai Feh liqueur that is currently unavailable in the United States.
Drink of the Week (DOTW): How does it feel to be an 11th generation distiller?
Marc de Kuyper (MD): That is a common question but a complicated answer. The heritage is passed along to the next generation. However, when working for the company, it is harder for family members to get jobs there because of the spotlight. There is a formal structure – I had nine interviews with the advisory members who are all non-family members. It’s outside the family’s power or influence to hire people. I made the choice to work for the company when I was a teenager and I was really interested in the industry – how to make products, what is used to make products and the flavors. I was particularly intrigued with the flavors. I have a sense of pride and energy that comes from contributing to the heritage of the company.
DOTW: How did you end up in the United States?
MD: You need to have the best talent running the company. DeKuyper was starting a new venture in the United States and it was a personal goal to have a position outside the Europe. We are starting a new venture to promote our high-end spirits and liqueurs. We have a hand-crafted Genever that DeKuyper purchased a year ago. The Genever ranges from one year to 15 year in age and everything is done by hand from the distilling to the bottling to the labeling. We feel that this would be a good fit for the rising gin trend in the United States. Would like to launch in the United States this year and want to have own identity.
DOTW: Tell us about Mandarine Napoleon and how DeKuyper came to purchase the brand.
MD: Mandarine Napoleon was an overnight decision. It was created by a chemist and the family kept the brand for 5 generations. DeKuyper had worked with them in a number of markets over the years. There was no successor to the company in the family and they offered it to DeKuyper. It was a brilliant opportunity. It’s a wonderful product.
DOTW: Did you make any changes to Mandarine Napoleon?
MD: We weren’t happy with the label. We wanted the label to reflect the heritage of the product. The spirit started with a chemist and Napoleon. The chemist had developed a spirit with mandarin orange peels which reminded Napoleon of his home of Corsica where mandarins grew. Napoloen had a special cognac with him and the chemist added the mandarin spirit and other herbs like cardamon. For the redesign, we changed the yellow ribbon to green and most importantly, just like Napoleon, we turned the fleur de lys upside down. The upside down fleur de lys was Napoleon’s symbol. Instead of creating his own symbol, he took the King of France’s symbol, which had been the fleur de lys, and turned it upside down. Instead of replacing the country’s flags, he had them turn them upside down. The family kept the recipe and founded the company in 1892.
DOTW: How is the Mandarine Napoleon XO different than the Mandarine Napoleon?
MD: We are introducing the XO in the United States market. It’s an exceptional product and we make very limited quantities because there is a limited source of cognac. We have a secret source of cognac which is from the same cognac house that was used to make the original recipe. The Mandarine Napoleon is made in small batches, aged for 18 months and bottled in a special hand blown bottle that is specially treated to achieve the crackle on the bottle. Each bottle is numbered. Only 900 bottles will be available in the US and will retail around $299 a bottle.
DOTW: It’s off topic but are we going to see Kwai Feh, your lychee liqueur that I adore, In the United States?
MD:We are working on a lychee-infused vodka to bring to the United States that will be similar to Kwai Feh. Lychees break down easily and you have to use a special technique to preserve the lychee flavor.
DOTW: What is your favorite cocktail?
MD: The Les Invalids which is named after Napoleon’s burial grounds. The drink is 1/3 Oban Scotch, 1/3 Mandarine Napoleon and 1/3 Sweet Vermouth with dash of angostura, stirred and served over ice like an Old Fashioned.