Distillerie de Monaco's prized liqueur is Carruba, which is handmade from local carob.

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When you think of Monaco, a tiny nation roughly half the size of New York City's Central Park, you may imagine The Grand Prix de Monte Carlo, exclusive hotels, grand yachts, and people gambling in their Sunday best. But the country is also extremely lush — green spaces make up 20 percent of the two square kilometers. One such green space is the Heritage Tree Trail, created by The Prince Albert II Foundation in 2013 to support Monaco's commitment against deforestation.

Monaco is also celebrated for unique liqueur's from the country's first — and only — distillery, Distillerie de Monaco. The distillery opened in 2016 and is located in the heart of La Condamine behind the iconic Port Hercules. It's known for its tree-to-bottle liqueurs, including Carruba, a handmade, vegan, and organic liqueur made from locally sourced raw fruits from carob trees. 

Carruba Liqueur by La Distillerie de Monaco
Credit: Courtesy of Distillerie de Monaco

The liqueur, which debuted in late 2019, is made from roasted carob pods that are macerated to create rich, complex flavors, offering notes of fine chocolate, freshly made coffee, and caramel. "By toasting the fruit, in a similar fashion to coffee, we're able to bring out the best qualities," said Philip Culazzo, the owner Distillerie de Monaco. He notes that there are also more complex notes including prunes, dates, candied fruits, gingerbread, licorice, and white chocolate.

In Monaco's parks, including the Heritage Tree Trail, you're likely to come across the national tree, the carob tree. Known for medicinal properties, carob is lovingly called "the tree of life" by locals. The caffeine-, sodium-, and theobromine-free pods have a similar taste to cacao. Carob pods are fibrous, high in antioxidants, and full of vitamins and minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A and D.

The carob tree, which is indigenous to the Mediterranean Basin and the Middle East, has given society more than plant-based nutrition; it's also responsible for the way we measure gold and precious stones. "The beans from the carob pods were used in Greek and Roman times to weigh precious gemstones and metals, and give their name to the unit of measure we know today as 'carat'," said Culazzo. A carob seed weighs 0.2 grams—just like a carat of diamond.

Carruba Liqueur by La Distillerie de Monaco
Credit: Courtesy of Distillerie de Monaco

Culazzo moved to Monaco over a decade ago and realized there were very few specialties that came from Monaco. "I researched the history of Monaco to see if there could be some old recipes that could be resurrected, and instead discovered that the history of Monaco is rooted in the agricultural sector, producing olives and citrus fruits that were sold near and far for their excellent quality," he said.

He decided to make liqueurs from local plants. His distillery is known for making high-quality artisanal liqueurs from fruits grown in Monaco to offer alcohol enriched with authentic Monegasque aromas and flavors — such as carob pods.

"The carob tree was introduced to me by a Monegasque friend," Culazzo said. "I have to admit having walked over carob beans many times without knowing what they were. Although the fruit can at first be seen as undesirable, it only needs a bit of coaxing to unveil its true potential. It has a very complex, deep, and impressive profile."

The rich liqueur has an alcohol volume of 24 percent — a nod to 24 carats of gold. "The pure gold Roman coin 'Soldatus' weighed 24 carob beans, thus 24 carats," Culazzo said. "It's also the ideal balance for the level of alcohol in the liqueur — not too strong nor too weak." Carruba can be enjoyed alone as a digestif after-dinner drink, in chilled or warmed cocktails, or as an ingredient in tiramisu.

The Distillerie de Monaco also creates the classic L'Orangerie de Monaco, crafted from hand-picked local Monegasque oranges. L'Orangerie de Monaco was the first premium orange liqueur made from the fragrant orange trees — there are around 600 orange trees throughout the Principality's ten neighborhoods. The citrus liqueur is traditionally used in the Monaco Spritz, which calls for Prosecco with a splash of the orange liqueur, ice, and orange zest. Naturally, Monaco is one of the largest consumers of champagne in the world.

Some of Monaco's luxurious liqueurs are making their way to the United States. Carruba liqueur, from the world's second-smallest country tucked between the French and Italian Rivieras, will soon be available on Drizly.