Bottle #64: Café Noir

May 22, 2024

Bottle #64 is Café Noir, a coffee liqueur. Clearly created before the internet era, because let me tell you, “Café Noir” is a completely useless name to type into a search engine.

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Which is say, it was pretty tricky to find out much about this one! I only found one picture that matched my bottle, so I put my research energy into learning more about the maker, McGuinness Distillers Limited of Toronto, Canada.

The name McGuinness is still around today. It’s a brand name for a line of liqueurs in Canada that’s owned by Corby Spirit and Wine Limited. I’d never even heard of that company, so I was surprised to learn that it has been around in one way or another since 1859, through various mergers and acquisitions and partnerships with other companies. And speaking of coffee liqueurs, this included a period when it owned a 45% stake in Bottle #40: Tia Maria, from 1954 to 2006.

Corby purchased the McGuinness company in 1988. At that time McGuinness was 50 years old, having been founded in 1938 by Larry McGuinness. Larry had a similar trajectory to our old friends the Bronfmans of Seagram’s fame. He started a liquor business in the early 1900s, then made bank in the 1920s selling alcohol to the US, most likely through semi-legal means. I found a really fun blog entry from someone whose grandfather lived next door to Larry in the 1910s and 20s. The two became friends, and her grandfather, a boxer, would take Larry with him whenever he visited the US for a boxing match. Larry would be listed as a member of the boxing entourage, which eased his way into the country, but once in the US, he could conduct his liquor related business.

In the 1920s Larry partnered with Harry Hatch to purchase and eventually merge two important Canadian distilling companies: Gooderham & Worts and Hiram Walker & Sons. In 1933, Larry sold his shares and started his own distillery under his own name outside Toronto.

It seems to have been a pretty successful business, which included whiskey and vodka, and also a variety of liqueurs. According to one news article in 1974, four of their liqueurs won medals at the Monde Selection in Brussels. The gold winners were a blackberry brandy and a coffee liqueur. But not yet MY coffee liqueur. The award winning one was called Café de Paris, and it showed up again in another newspaper article from 1980. It doesn’t make sense to me that the same company would have two coffee liqueurs on the market at the same time, so I have to think that Café Noir came after that.

But not too long after that. In 1988 Corby purchased McGuinness, and within a few months all of their distilling operations were closed. I’m setting that as the end point for my bottle of Café Noir. While they did presumably buy the company for their products, the McGuinness name seems to disappear until the late 1990s. Plus Corby already owned that stake in Tia Maria, so it doesn’t seem likely they would have been motivated to keep Café Noir around as well.

But I have a good feeling that 1980s coffee liqueurs will still be tasty, so I’m game to try this one. I’m assuming it has a brandy base, since the only thing I could find out about the Maison D’Eaubonne Cie mentioned on the label is that they are a Canadian brandy maker. So that seems promising!

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Bottle #64: Café Noir

May 22, 2024 |

Bottle #64 is Café Noir, a coffee liqueur. Clearly created before the internet era, because let me tell you, “Café Noir” is a completely useless name to type into a search engine.

Which is say, it was pretty tricky to find out much about this one! I only found one picture that matched my bottle, so I put my research energy into learning more about the maker, McGuinness Distillers Limited of Toronto, Canada.

The name McGuinness is still around today. It’s a brand name for a line of liqueurs in Canada that’s owned by Corby Spirit and Wine Limited. I’d never even heard of that company, so I was surprised to learn that it has been around in one way or another since 1859, through various mergers and acquisitions and partnerships with other companies. And speaking of coffee liqueurs, this included a period when it owned a 45% stake in Bottle #40: Tia Maria, from 1954 to 2006.

Corby purchased the McGuinness company in 1988. At that time McGuinness was 50 years old, having been founded in 1938 by Larry McGuinness. Larry had a similar trajectory to our old friends the Bronfmans of Seagram’s fame. He started a liquor business in the early 1900s, then made bank in the 1920s selling alcohol to the US, most likely through semi-legal means. I found a really fun blog entry from someone whose grandfather lived next door to Larry in the 1910s and 20s. The two became friends, and her grandfather, a boxer, would take Larry with him whenever he visited the US for a boxing match. Larry would be listed as a member of the boxing entourage, which eased his way into the country, but once in the US, he could conduct his liquor related business.

In the 1920s Larry partnered with Harry Hatch to purchase and eventually merge two important Canadian distilling companies: Gooderham & Worts and Hiram Walker & Sons. In 1933, Larry sold his shares and started his own distillery under his own name outside Toronto.

It seems to have been a pretty successful business, which included whiskey and vodka, and also a variety of liqueurs. According to one news article in 1974, four of their liqueurs won medals at the Monde Selection in Brussels. The gold winners were a blackberry brandy and a coffee liqueur. But not yet MY coffee liqueur. The award winning one was called Café de Paris, and it showed up again in another newspaper article from 1980. It doesn’t make sense to me that the same company would have two coffee liqueurs on the market at the same time, so I have to think that Café Noir came after that.

But not too long after that. In 1988 Corby purchased McGuinness, and within a few months all of their distilling operations were closed. I’m setting that as the end point for my bottle of Café Noir. While they did presumably buy the company for their products, the McGuinness name seems to disappear until the late 1990s. Plus Corby already owned that stake in Tia Maria, so it doesn’t seem likely they would have been motivated to keep Café Noir around as well.

But I have a good feeling that 1980s coffee liqueurs will still be tasty, so I’m game to try this one. I’m assuming it has a brandy base, since the only thing I could find out about the Maison D’Eaubonne Cie mentioned on the label is that they are a Canadian brandy maker. So that seems promising!

 

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