Femme Fatale (H. Theoria Perfedie liqueur, red bitter liqueur, red sweet vermouth and sparkling rosé) at La Zanzara in Rome
It goes without saying that the French take their perfume seriously. So it’s no surprise that one upstart French liquor brand is looking to the fragrance industry for inspiration. H. Theoria is the dreamchild of Camille Hedin and Marlène Staiger, two friends who’ve tempered quaffable notions of scent and emotion into a compelling trilogy of new French liqueurs.
Staiger attended a French postgraduate school to study perfume, cosmetics and culinary flavors while Hedin graduated from EDHEC, one of France’s leading business schools, and worked as a manager at the gourmet store Lenôtre in Paris. The two were introduced in 2011 by a mutual friend while picnicking on the banks of the Seine. Instant chemistry struck, and Staiger spoke to Hedin about her idea to create spirits inspired by fragrances.
The name H. Theoria derives from the Greek “H,” which represents the bond between matter and spirit, and “theoria,” which translates to observation. The brand’s small-batch spirits are created with spices, herbs, flowers and roots from around the world. Those ingredients are individually macerated in alcohol and water for eight to 10 weeks, then distilled in a decades-old alembic still. The resulting liquid is then steeped for four weeks before final bottling.
“I’ve been lucky to work with Gabriel Boudier, the micro-distiller in Burgundy,” says Staiger. “From my time as a research and development intern there, I reconnected with the company to ask for some ingredient macerations. Not only did they agree to send them, they later bought shares in H. Theoria. Their support, despite our crazy desires, just got stronger over the years.”
Each varietal of H. Theoria derives its sweetness from the natural sucrose found in sugar beets. All three expressions—Procrastination, Hystérie and Perfidie—were inspired by senses, memories and emotions. When approached with a Proustian flair, it can make for an elegant way to drink your feelings. At least that’s the idea.
Olympe (H. Theoria Procrastination liqueur, calvados, honey mix, lemon juice and grapefruit bitters) at La Zanzara in Rome
Procrastination, which begins with dark woody notes of American oak, black tea and azuki bean, finishes with hints of orange jasmine and rosemary. It’s a worthy complement to mezcal and smoky scotch.
In French, the word “Hystérie” means “to be irreverent in the face of the ordinary.” The floral-forward blend of cranberries, cardamom, violets, passion fruit, chile and tarragon are an ideal companion for gin and tequila.
On the savory side, Perfidie comes in with notes of tomato water, ginger, pepper and cinnamon, tempered by blood oranges, blueberries and sage. This is one to let rule the coupe, allowing it to flaunt its plumage with clear spirits like vodka or gin.
Colonial Rhapsody (H. Theoria Hystérie liqueur, blanc rhum agricole, passion fruit syrup, lime juice and cardamom bitters) at La Zanzara in Rome
In Rome, all three expressions are served at La Zanzara. “H. Theoria works with all the classic drinks but is perfect to create new jams,” says bartender Ilaria Migliorini.
While Europe’s bartenders were early adopters of H. Theoria (found at such standout London bars as American Bar, at The Savoy, and Nightjar), chefs have incorporated the spirits into dishes from Wellfleet oysters to wagyu beef. The bottles themselves are a sight to behold, with labels inspired by apothecary vessels and finished with art-deco-like perfume stoppers.
Though not yet available stateside, H. Theoria bottles make for lovely souvenirs, with labels inspired by apothecary vessels and finished with art-deco-like perfume stoppers. They’ll find themselves equally at home on a bar cart, in bell jars on the bar, or on a vanity, neighboring a few gilded perfume bottles.