“Hm-hmm! Damn that liquor smells good!”
I stood in Charlene Absalon’s high-rise Long Island City apartment, watching the IT professional pour a bowl of dark rum into a bigger ceramic bowl, already full of sweet-smelling ingredients. Charlene was making Cremas, a Haitian cream liqueur that I grew up sneaking sips of at family parties.
“Haitians historically use 95 proof,” Charlene said. “I find that dark rum works better, then by the time I add everything, Cremas Absalon comes out at 15 percent alcohol.”
By comparison, Kahlúa is 20% ABV and Bailey’s is 17%. Whether the 15% alcohol found in cremas is enough for you is really a matter of taste.
“Some people are like, ‘Well this isn’t enough! We need more! It isn’t strong!'” Charlene told me. “And some people are like, ‘Whooo! It’s hot!'”
I was drawn to Charlene’s story for the same reason she was drawn to starting her brand: We both grew up knowing that a Haitian household just isn’t complete without a bottle of Cremas. Similar to Puerto Rico’s Coquito, minus the eggs, the cream liqueur is traditionally made with boiled milk, coconut milk, and enough dark liquor to make any lush blush. Now the Haitian staple is ready to make a craft culture debut thanks to Absalon. But delivering a new liqueur to the mainstream isn’t the end game here. It’s really about pushing Haitian culture in America to new heights, and getting the country’s culinary tradition the attention it deserves.
Charlene had no idea that concocting Cremas in her kitchen would make for a great side hustle when her aunt showed her how to make the sweet, boozy beverage a decade ago. But Haitians, rocked by earthquakes and hurricanes, have a way of embracing life’s surprises. A longtime food passionista, Charlene tinkered with her aunt’s recipe for years before mixing the perfect blend of ingredients and making a bottle of Cremas she wanted to share.
The feedback from family and friends was so positive that in 2015, Charlene’s sister insisted she’d make Cremas as wedding party favors.