First Sip: Elderflower Liqueur
I'm a sucker for pretty bottles. My latest back bar beauty is an Art Nouveau vessel filled with St-Germain, an elderflower liqueur launched last week. I got my first taste at a party hosted at Little Branch, Sasha Petraske's subterranean speakeasy in the West Village. Some of New York's finest mixologists were in attendance to meet the men behind the brand: Robert Cooper, the liqueur's creator, and British mixologist Simon Difford, who consulted on the project and created the St-Germain-based cocktails passed around at the gathering.
Elderflower-as-mixer is nothing new to cocktails; most top mixologists have a few elderflower-based drinks in their repertoire. But until St-Germain came along, the only way to get the elderflower flavor into a glass was by using a nonalcoholic syrup made from freeze-dried flowers (I recommended my favorite brand last December). But the syrup is so sweet that mixologists are limited in its application. St-Germain, which smells like spring and tastes like summer, is delicate and dry enough to use in all kinds of drinks, especially ones based on clear spirits (such as vodka, gin, white rum and pisco) . The liqueur's namesake cocktail is its most refreshing: equal parts St-Germain, Sauvignon Blanc and club soda, served in a pint glass over ice.
I'm also a sucker for a good story, and the one behind St-Germaine makes for good press-release fodder: In the foothills of the French Alps, a jaunty old Frenchman hand-picks the star-shaped elderflowers, then wheels them on his vintage bicycle to the distillery, where the flowers are quickly and delicately converted into ambrosia by more beret-wearing bohemians, so as to not loose their fresh flavor. "It took years of experimenting to figure out how to distill elderflowers," Cooper said. Macerating the elderflowers didn't extract enough flavor. Pressing them yielded a bitter product. So how's it done? "That's a secret," he says.
I brought home a bottle and did some mixing over the weekend. Try this when you get your own:
Makes 1 drink
1 1/2 ounces gin
1 ounce St-Germain
1/2 ounce ginger syrup
1 lemon twist
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the gin, St-Germain and ginger syrup and stir for 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the lemon twist.