michelinCabanel is a cathedral of alcoholic beverages. This Carcassonne institution not only sells everything imaginable from around the world, but also makes its own spirits. Founded in 1868 by Joseph Cabanel, it’s been in the same Belle Epoque building since 1905, making it not just a shop but practically a museum, or a step back in time.

herbs
The herbs, spices and plant extracts that go into micheline.

Its signature product is micheline, which supposedly dates to the fourth century as a potion for eternal youth. Like other spirits, it originally was for medicinal purposes, and contains lemon balm, nutmeg, cardamon and many other spices. A framed box shows the different ingredients.

byrrh
Byrrh (wine plus plants like cinchona bark); Bonal (a chartreuse with gentian and cinchona); Ambassadeur (a wine-based apéritif flavored with orange); Cap Corse (similar to cartagène) and DuBonnet (an aromatised wine-based apéritif).

Other specialities of the house include Kina, an apéritif made of plants, including the cinchona bark, which is the source of quinine, and spices. Cabanel also makes Or-Kina (gold Kina), crème de noix (walnut liqueur) and Carcasso (walnut wine) among others. Today, they’re distilled on the premises by Jean-Marc Gazel. Another regional specialty is cartagène, a vin de liqueur, or wine of liqueur, drunk as as an apéritif. (Below, hover over the pictures for the explanation.)

This is a boutique to spend time in. The counter stands in the middle of the shop, as was the custom at the turn of the last century. A glass window separating the shop from the office has an opening marked “Caisse/Reseignements“–cashier and information.

The owners are more than happy to explain the different alcohols and liqueurs, from the ingredients to the history. It was fascinating. Did you know that alcohol comes from the Arabic word “al kohl,” or the metallic powder used to darken eyelids and provide relief from the sun?

The shop is full of cool old stuff, like the first phone they had–still with the same phone number, and many old photos.

caisseI apologize for the rotten quality of the photos. I went in on a dark, rainy day and didn’t use a flash. Plus I can’t see a darn thing with or without glasses, much less in the gloom, much less on a little screen. My bad. I took the outside shots on a better day.

frontCabanel is located at 72 allée d’Iéna, just south (uphill) of the Bastide. Don’t miss it!

horse
In the courtyard.
cour
More cool stuff in the courtyard.
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16 thoughts on “Spirits of Carcassonne

  1. The range of herb and fruit flavoured aperitifs is apparently endless! The quinine (cinchona) based ones were super popular in the 19th century (especially around here in the Touraine and Berry where malaria was still a risk). We discovered that there was one on a Vouvray wine base, but can’t find out anything more about it (even our friendly Vouvray winemakers have never heard of it, but it appears to have been widely advertised with some very stylish and/or louche posters).

    I make my own liqueur de noix and liqueur de guignes (sour cherry) every year. It’s very drinkable (as evidenced by the fact that friends I’ve given it to do actually drink it and ask if I’ve made any more…) I’ve had home made liqueur de cassis here as well as different eaux de vie (grape, plum, pear, occasionally cherry) made in the little roadside stills. I’ve never been allowed to take photos of a still in action though. It’s not that the distiller is bothered, but his customers are for some reason. I did once get to climb up a ladder and taste the spirit as it emerged from the still pipe.

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    1. If you saw the inside of our liquor cabinet–it’s full of strange bottles with hand-written labels. Lots of different liqueur de noix, cartagène and others. It comes to us, so I never needed to learn to do it myself. Hats off to you for making your own!

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  2. I’ve not come across that shop yet – will look it up on my next trip to Carcassonne!! I found a similar shop in Gerona not all that long ago, but as luck had it I passed by at the wrong time and it was closed 😉

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