Why you should care
Because cream liqueur isn’t just for kids.
Sophie Andriamalala had been saving the bottle for over a year. It was a gift for her 30th birthday from a friend on a trip to South Africa — you couldn’t find it in Madagascar, where Andriamalala had been living for five years. The plan was to finally crack it open one Saturday with me and our friend Kate. A long-awaited treat! We gathered at her house in anticipation, tired of drinking the cheap rum Madagascar is famous for. But when we opened the brown bottle of Amarula, with its gold label printed with a big, bull elephant, and poured the first glass, it came out in curdled clumps. The cream liqueur had spoiled, despite the lack of an expiration date.
So, like most rational adults, we drank it anyway. That’s what strainers are for.
Yes, Amarula is that good. It’s marketed as the taste of Africa because it is indeed made from the fruit of a tree found only on the continent. The slightly fruity, caramel take on Baileys Irish Cream was first created in 1989 in South Africa from the fruit of the marula tree, indigenous to Southern Africa, some parts of West Africa and, ironically, in Madagascar. Though it may have been hard to come by in our tiny town, you’ll likely have better luck. Today, it’s so popular that it’s sold in more than 100 countries and was once named the best liqueur in the world by the International Wine & Spirit Competition. “There are so few alcoholic beverages you can have over ice that don’t taste like gasoline or sugar. It’s a perfect aperitif as far as I’m concerned,” says Andy Howard, a 32-year-old American who lived in South Africa on and off from 2008 to 2010.
Elephants love it too. They feast on the fruit and get a bit tipsy.
Amarula’s creation is what makes it truly unique. It’s made from plum-size yellow fruit with thick, smooth rinds. The stone fruits are handpicked and fermented, then double distilled and aged in French oak barrels for two years before they’re mixed with cream and bottled. Unlike many other liqueurs, says Howard, the sweetness in Amarula is fruity instead of sugary. But perhaps the most wonderful thing about marula is that elephants love it too. They feast on the fruit and, allegedly, get a bit tipsy. It’s not until the elephants come calling, say some, that Amarula makers know the fruit is ripe for the pickin’. And the trees, also known as elephant trees, are stubborn, making Amarula unintentionally “organic.” They only grow in the wild, and attempts at cultivating the tree have consistently failed.
Marula fruit has more vitamin C than an orange, which makes for a good excuse to try out Amarula in a variety of delicious combos. Today, I prefer Amarula on ice, but was first introduced to it in a more, ahem, juvenile way. Enter Springbok shots — named after the South African rugby team — that are made up of clover green peppermint liqueur layered with Amarula on top. Alternatively, you can mix it with hot chocolate or coffee.
If you’re really up for a twist, take a tip a cashier at the alcohol chain BevMo once gave me when I recently purchased some: double down with a splash of whiskey and call it a Rusty Elephant. But if you want to do it up South African–style, sip a glass while watching the sunset, otherwise known as a sundowner. And don’t forget a slice of the most delicious (and Amarula-soaked) bread pudding on earth: malva pudding.