Distillerie de Monaco, authentic taste from the Principality


of 1 marzo 2024

A report exploring the first and only distillery in the Principality of Monaco, founded in 2017 in the heart of the posh Condamine district with the aim of bringing out the authentic flavors and aromas of a specific terroir, with top-quality ingredients combined with strictly traditional production methods

Even people who don't care for luxury tourism, yachts and the Grand Prix now have a good reason to come to the Principality of Monaco - an edible interest called Distillerie de Monaco.

You will be welcomed by Philip Culazzo, founder of the distillery, an energetic entrepreneur whose Irish mother and Italian father gave him ample opportunities for travel by moving and living in different parts of the world, following his father's diplomatic career. With a law degree in his pocket, at a very young age he started a business brokering fish products from different countries like Yemen and Uganda. It was only with the new millennium that his adventure in the Principality of Monaco began.

“I settled in Monaco in the early 2000s. Walking through the streets of Monte Carlo I noticed the treasure trove of bitter orange trees thriving throughout the city. This small iconic nation sits on what was once rich agricultural land. Long before the advent of tourism, yachts and the Grand Prix, citrus production was a mainstay of the local economy, famous for the wealth ensured by these distinctively Mediterranean fruits. In 2017 I opened the doors of the first and only Distillerie de Monaco with the aim of producing liqueurs and spirits encapsulating the authentic flavors of the Principality and reflecting its unique terroir, fruits and plants,” proudly says Philip.

Where there's a will there's a way, and that's how it happened. Soon he had formed a clear idea about the path he planned to follow to achieve his goal. An area of exactly two square kilometers — the size of Monaco — was and still is home to 600 bitter orange trees owned by the crown, which manages and cares for them with a reference number assigned to each. The fruits are quite unattractive but very fragrant and, most importantly, healthy as well as free from any kind of chemical treatment.

The trees have always been there, gracing the city avenues. Out of the 10 to 15 thousand kg of fruit picked between January and February, almost 90% was discarded for being too acidic (a pH of 2.4), with only a handful of families using them to make marmalade. 

“I decided to contact the prince and find out if it would be possible to use them for the experiments I had in mind. I hired an oenologist to understand how to process them for best results. The first idea that came up was to make a liqueur, a product that would be truly representative of Monaco.”

It was no sooner said than done. Enthusiastic about the idea, the government gave Philip the green light and by a stroke of luck he soon found the perfect place right in the city center – an old hunting and fishing shop on two levels. Entering on the first level you're greeted by the sight of a small shining still, while the basement houses the orange processing area with the vats where fermentation takes place. Great ideas will often bring the different pieces together as if by magic, and in the basement Philip also found a well and a water spring, which he would soon put to good use.

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Distillerie de Monaco opened its doors in 2017 with the still inaugurated in 2018, an event attended by Prince Albert II himself. Production started in 2019.

It all starts with the royal oranges, also known as bigaradiers, which Philip makes into an intense liqueur with a twofold value - it perfectly represents what is perhaps the truest, most authentic part of the Principality, and provides an extremely satisfactory sensory experience. The oranges are timely delivered in wooden boxes at the door of the distillery, where they are unloaded and washed. The peels are left to infuse, completing a slow and gentle maceration process that extracts the essential oils and fragrances. The final result is a natural concentration of flavors that gives rise to a liqueur called L’Orangerie. In the future, the distillery will also make a very delicate orange spirit. 

Everything is done the traditional way. Some of Philip's young workers take care of the different production stages; after the skins have been macerating slowly for at least three weeks, the result is a polished, elegant liqueur with just the right sugar content and, even more importantly, no colorings, flavorings or stabilizers, ensuring an extremely balanced intensity between sweetness and pleasantly tempered bitterness.

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The second product, equally remarkable and representative of Monte Carlo, is Carruba, a liqueur obtained from the fruits of Monaco's 116 caroubiers - the national tree of the Principality as it played an important role during a famine in the early nineteenth century. The population survived by eating carob, which is why in 1987 Prince Ranieri named it the national tree, as it has been endemic to Nice and Monte Carlo since over two thousand years ago. 

In addition, "In antiquity, the carob seed was used as a measurement unit for gold and precious stones. The name is at the root of the word carat, borrowed from the Arabic quirât. This is because each seed weighs 0.2 g, just like one diamond carat," says Philip. Once again making the most of something no one else would even consider, he obtained a liqueur with distinctive notes of chocolate, coffee and caramel - the natural flavor and olfactory spectrum produced by macerating roasted carob fruits. 

He also produces Gin Aux Agrumes, citrusy and packed with the scents of the Côte d'Azur - an alcohol base made with organic wheat from Tuscany and local ingredients macerating together for 24 hours at 50 ABV including lemon, fresh ginger, bitter and sweet Monaco orange, coriander, citrus thyme, grapefruit, lime, citron, bergamot and Sichuan pepper. 

The goal was to make a gin in keeping with the London Dry Gin tradition but with a strong citrus element to it. The result is excellent as it's vertical and dry in keeping with the original style, but with a sizeable presence of essential oils resulting in an intoxicating, extremely fresh mouth.

It all happens inside a 400-liter "Kothe" pot still, custom-made in Germany in 2017 - a three-plate column still Philip handles with a firm hand. 

“I wanted a still that would gently concentrate aromas, as in the case of our delicate bitter orange spirit. It's all about using quality basic products that don't need much 'polishing' during distillation, so the raw ingredients preserve their original flavor.”

But this is only the beginning and as we know everything is still a work in progress, so "stay tuned", as Philip Culazzo would say.

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