At the Hartford Flavor Company, Lelaneia Dubay is putting remarkable flavor in her Wild Moon liqueurs. Made and bottled in Hartford, these low-alcohol liqueurs are pure, clean expressions of their ingredients. The flavors — both commonplace and exotic — include cranberry, cucumber, rose, lime, lavender, chai spice, and birch.
Made as mixers to enhance cocktails, the liqueurs can also be sipped straight as a cordial (think Hercule Poirot), used in cooking, or added to wine for a 21st century kir. They’re also, as Dubay is happy to tell you, good for you, although it probably won’t be the health benefits that bring you back for more.
Dubay got into the beverage business quite by accident. Landscape designer during the day, she made cranberry cordial in her spare time to enjoy and give as holiday gifts. Industry insiders, wowed after getting a taste, encouraged her to go commercial.
In mid-life, Dubay suddenly became gluten averse and allergic to food additives. After a half-year detox (missing the pleasure of an evening cocktail) she took the plunge. The result was the Wild Moon healthy, naturally flavored, non-GMO liqueurs without additives using organic ingredients whenever possible. They’ve been a hit, making Hartford Flavor one of the biggest producers of distilled spirits in Connecticut.
Wild Moon Cranberry liqueur was the first to come to market and is still the best seller. Cranberries are sourced through the fall from small family bogs in Massachusetts — about 400 pounds for each batch of about 1000 bottles. The true flavor pairs well with white wine (still or sparkling) for a kir. It’s hard to imagine the holiday season without its crisp, tart flavor in drinks, tea, or in cooking.
The ingredients are key to the true-to-life flavor of Dubay’s liqueurs. For cucumber, 250 pounds are needed to produce 700 bottles of the garden-fresh flavor that mixes well with any white spirit and kicks a bloody mary up a couple notches. After scouring the state, Dubay settled on a farm in Glastonbury to grow her cukes. “There’s something about the soil there that gives the best flavor,” she told me. These are vegetables with terroir.
Other Wild Moon flavors include Lime, a winner for gimlets or any other limey drink. Lavender, made from plants in Dubay’s garden, pairs with either bourbon or lemonade with equal success.
Birch (yes it’s made from the tree) has full-bodied root beer and sassafras flavors that assertively compliment any well-aged whiskey. I’d like to see what it does for an old fashioned.
Although she won’t confess to it, I think Chai Spice is Dubay’s favorite. The mix of ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, clove, and black pepper just screams December festivities. Put it in coffee, tea, or hot cider but keep it handy for cooking too. She recommends using it to flavor brownies, muffins, glaze a ham or to perk up pancakes and waffles. It’s definitely an alternative to the ubiquitous pumpkin pie spice.
There’s also a limited production barrel-aged series for even more complex flavor: Rose aged in tequila barrels; Birch in bourbon wood; Cranberry in scotch whiskey casks and more flavors to come.
Any of the Wild Moon liqueurs can be used for cooking. They’re low in alcohol, 15 or 20 percent, and a little bit goes a long way. Try a few drops of a complementary or contrasting flavor in cupcake icing. Flavor a vinaigrette with Cucumber, add Rose to a roasting bird, and splash a little Chai Spice into an apple crisp. The possibilities of these strong, true flavors are endless for a creative cook.
For dinner parties at home, Dubay puts out slices of pound cake and ice cream plus several Wild Moon liqueurs for dessert. Creating original flavor combinations is always a hit.
Cocktails, though, are the real drivers of Dubay’s efforts. “Life is better with a cocktail,” she told me. Delicious sounding cocktail recipes are available on the Hartford Flavor pinterest page. Some of the more intriguing ideas include the Rosebud gin martini, the Marilyn MonRose with reposado tequila, the West End — Chai Spice with rum, and the Birch Sap sour. I’d like to try them all.
The flavors are available locally at Total Wine on Main Avenue, Stew Leonard’s Wines, and throughout Connecticut, as well as across New England and Florida too. Prices are roughly $30 to $35 for a 750ml bottle. A sampler set of six flavors ($30 Total Wine) makes a great gift for a creative cocktailer or inventive cook.
The industrial chic tasting room in Hartford is the best introduction to the Wild Moon liqueurs. Sample all the flavors, get the story first hand, and take home your favorites. It’s worth a trip.
Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.