I first became familiar with Kir during my year studying in France. Kir is commonly drunk as an apéritif or apéro there. The French drink an apéritif to stimulate the appetite before a meal. Kir is made with a combination of crème de cassis (a blackcurrant liqueur) and dry white wine. Kir royale is a celebratory drink for special occasions like Christmas that combines the blackcurrant liqueur with Champagne.
The exact origins of this alcoholic drink are unknown. There is speculation that it came about as the result of a happy accident. What is known is that it originated in Dijon, Burgundy, towards the end of the 19th century. It did not take long for the rest of France to cotton on to this pleasing apéritif.
The drink bears the name of a politically-minded French priest, Félix Kir (1876-1968). He was quite a colourful character who led an interesting life. The drink was used at official receptions in Dijon town hall before Kir became its mayor. Once in charge, it flowed more freely than ever before. The name Kir gave the drink greater marketable appeal than the previous, more bland blanc-cassis name. So, it was that the drink acquired the name of a Catholic priest and gained recognition in the French dictionary.
A true Kir should contain one third crème de cassis to two thirds bourgogne aligoté. Aligoté is a white wine grape. It is the second most popular grape variety in Burgundy after Chardonnay.
Genuine crème de cassis should be made from blackcurrants from the Dijon area. Good quality fruit is selected. The blackcurrants are then macerated (softened) in alcohol and water for 2 months. Next, the juice is pressed and filtered to remove any impurities. Now, sugar is added. Finally, the liqueur is quickly bottled for sale. If the bottle is marked ‘de Dijon‘, it will have been made from blackcurrants from the Dijon area. If it is marked as coming de Bourgogne, then a minimum blackcurrant content is guaranteed as well as an authentic source.
Authentic or Substitute?
Many French magazines contain recipes to make your own crème de cassis. The same applies to your choice of Champagne for Kir royale. You can choose the genuine article or substitute a sparkling dry white wine. You can also substitute other fruit liqueurs.
A toast with glass held high: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Cheers! Joyeux Noël et bonne année. Santé !
References and Further Reading
- Montard, Nicholas (2019): Qui était Félix Kir, l’homme qui a rendu populaire le fameux apéritif. Édition du soir Ouest-France. 12 April 2019
- Nice, Miriam (2021): Kir royale recipe. BBC Good Food.
Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.