Monin’s new single botanic cordial series, Paragon, seeks to document rare botanical varieties from remote areas around the world in liquid form. We chatted with bartending luminary and co-creator Alex Kratena to discover more about the project, which is billed as ‘an encyclopedic collection of ingredients for bartenders’… 

Bottling the best of nature’s library is no small undertaking. Kratena, who has led projects across the entire industry spectrum – co-owner of London bar Tayer + Elementary, co-creator of liqueur range Muyu, and co-founder of bartender collective, P(our) Symposium, to name but three – joined team Paragon in exploring each continent, where they collaborated with remote communities that have been cultivating their native species for generations.

Their overarching mission? To protect and preserve these indigenous flavours in a series of “botanical chapters”; capturing never-before-seen aromatic essences and bringing them, for the first time, to the palates of the world’s most creative bar stars. The first chapter is formed of a three-strong Pepper Collection spanning White Penja Pepper from Cameroon, Ru Berry from Ethiopia and Timur Berry from Nepal. 

Alex Kratena in action

Alex Kratena in action

“There are more than 2,750 varieties of pepper out there,” says Kratena. “I focused on those that, in my eyes, had a very unique taste profile and were radically different from each other. Pepper functions very much like wine – its variety, terroir and preparation affects the final product. While the aim was to create a balanced collection with representation of different styles, ultimately all was left to blind tasting – in my world, flavour is the king.”

The gastronomes among you might recognise Penja white pepper, which in 2014 became the first product of Africa to obtain Protected Geographical Indication status (PGI) thanks to burgeoning popularity among Michelin-starred chefs the world over. Hailing from Cameroon in the province of Moungo, the pepper is harvested from volcanic soils when ripe, before being dried in the sun. Each and every stage of production, from harvesting to washing to sorting, is carried out by hand. 

The rue berry, meanwhile, comes from the ruta chalepensis plant, commonly used as an herb as well as a medicinal plant in Ethiopia. Sweet and aromatic, freshly-cut ruta chalepensis leaves are commonly used to flavour a coffee leaf infusion called kuti, or added to local cheeses during production, while the plant’s strong, spicy berries form part of the traditional Ethiopian berbere chilli and spice blend.

Paragon syrups

Nepal, Cameroon and Ethiopia came to London for the launch of this special cordials

The final cordial celebrates the timur berry, a Nepalese pepper picked from the zanthoxylum armatum tree species that grow in the wild in the Mahabharat Range. Often referred to as the ‘grapefruit pepper’ for its fresh citrus notes, the berry is a favourite in native dishes from the Teraï lowlands of southern Nepal. 

To extract the complex flavours from each pepper, Kratena and the Monin team used a mix of fancy tech, including the rather space age-sounding “supercritical CO2” – a technique commonly used by the perfume industry that captures an aroma by manipulating carbon dioxide – as well as infusion and distillation. The base of the cordials is made from gluconic acid found in Cameroonian Oku honey, which enhances the flavours without bringing additional tasting notes.

“Each extraction technique captures only a certain part of the overall aromatic profile,” explains Kratena. “Our job was to identify those and see how they work and why. Using different intermediate elaborations we’ve reconstructed the individual profiles to capture the ingredient in its full beauty as truthfully as possible.”

The raw materials, from left, white Penja pepper, rue berry and timur berry

Given tasting notes for Paragon White Penja Pepper include horsehair, menthol and camphor; Paragon Timur Berry bears passion, jasmine and hay; while Paragon Timur Berry holds grapefruit, herbal, woody characteristics – certainly a unique and diverse mix, and pretty remarkable when you consider all three are varieties of pepper. How does Kratena envisage bartenders using these botanical cordials, I ask, and what kinds of flavours are they suited to?

“Paragon Cordials bring a new source of acidity for modern bartender,” he says. “They work amazingly well in Gimlets and Highballs, and function incredibly well with ferments, fortified wines and Champagne. They’re formulated to cut through big bold flavours, but also work really well with aged spirits. I love simple highballs with the following formula: 40ml spirit of your choice, 20ml Paragon Timur Berry, 100ml soda. Build over good quality ice in a highball glass, stir and enjoy.”