You've probably never heard of French folksinger Yvette Guilbert, whom Ezra Pound called the "heiress of the ages" in 1912. And you're even less likely to know her booze namesake: Crème Yvette.
"If blackberries and violets had a baby, it would be Crème Yvette," says Allie Contreras, a bartender at Embury, the Strip District's cocktail mecca.
Contreras isn't just waxing poetic. The liquor is made from macerated blackcurrants, blackberries, wild strawberries, raspberries, a hint of vanilla and, yes, dried violet petals. The petals make Crème Yvette a "floral" liqueur, used to draw out herbal flavors in classic gin cocktails.
At one time, the cordial was extremely popular. In turn-of-the-century magazine advertisements, Crème Yvette was billed as the "the queen of cordials." Its producers even marketed the liqueur as a syrup for desserts, one of which it dubbed "The Woodland Sundae" (drizzle a little Crème Yvette over vanilla ice cream, mixed nuts and a maraschino cherry).
But Crème Yvette disappeared from stores and bars in 1969, when the maker discontinued the product. For the next four decades, nobody could find a drop until last summer, when Robert Cooper, the creator of St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur and owner of the Crème Yvette recipe, began producing it again.
It remains a rarity today, especially in Pittsburgh. Other than Salt of the Earth, in Garfield, Embury is the only place I've found it.
About once a week, Embury features the classic "Aviation" as a $10 cocktail (¾ oz. lemon juice; ¾ oz. Marschino liquor; 2 oz. gin (ask for the delicious "Tub"); and ¼ oz. Crème Yvette. The drink is served in antique glasses, garnished with lemon peel.
Crème Yvette is available in five specialty LCB stores in the Pittsburgh area (visit lcb.org), though it costs a hefty $45 for a 750-ml bottle. But the bottle lasts awhile, notes Embury owner Spencer Warren, because the liqueur is so potent.
"It's a great product," Warren says. "[But] if you use too much, it can completely overpower any product and everything."