Build-A-Bar: St. Germain

St. Germain is the alcoholic embodiment of romance. It's a carefully crafted image, starting with the story of the liqueur's provenance, through its packaging, and right on to its taste and applications. If we are to believe the ad-copy, St. Germain's elderflowers are hand-gathered from the feet of the Alps, gently placed into cotton sacks by charming Frenchmen, and bicycle-delivered to market. It's all very picturesque, pointing to another place and time, where the romance of a briefly blooming flower is captured lovingly and carefully for your pleasure.

This romantic notion follows the flowers into the bottle, whose carefully sculpted form recalls La Belle Époque, with fluted curves and stylized, gilt-edged labeling. It's like pouring a drink out of the Eiffel Tower ringed with Moulin Rouge girls.

Of course, all of that verbal and visual romance would be for nothing if the contents didn't taste good, or clashed horrendously with the heady signifiers so carefully crafted by the liqueur's marketers. Imagine pouring a light gold elixir from this gorgeous bottle, thinking of French gentlemen in caps, carefully peddling their harvest of alpine flowers to market. You raise the glass to your lips, take an expectant sip, and are met with the stridently medicinal taste of Underberg. The illusion would be instantly shattered by the incongruity.

Fortunately, St. Germain follows through on its promise of a seductive nectar. The liqueur is heady and sweet, with a slightly pheromonal musk. Tropical fruits loll into the arms of pear and honeysuckle; orange blossoms flirt with exotic lychee. It is elegant and ephemeral, teasing one flavor across your palate before wistfully replacing it with another, equally beguiling taste. It's like bottled courtesan, looking and tasting the part in equal measure.

To use this seductive liqueur, think of it like a fruity and flowery simple syrup. It has enough sugar to play the part in any recipe, adding a unique twist to classic cocktails like the Daisy (slip some St. Germain in with tequila and citrus juice for an Alpine Margarita), Julep (I've become enamored of a St. Germain Julep combining purple basil and Hierba Buena in place of the more standard mint), or the Daiquiri.

Of course, St. Germain is fairly powerfully flavored, so it's best to use it somewhat sparingly. I wouldn't go replacing rye for an Elderflower Manhattan anytime soon. The makers recommend using it in a simple champagne cocktail (lowercase for a reason), and it makes for a refreshing and delightful drink.

St. Germain Cocktail:

  • 2 oz. dry sparkling wine
  • 1.5 oz. St. Germain
  • 2 oz. sparkling water

Pour sparkling wine into a Collins glass over ice. Add St. Germain, top off with sparkling water. Stir gently to combine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

It's important to use very dry sparkling wine, here, as the St. Germain already packs quite a bit of sweetness. The lemon twist is key, as the citrus helps brighten and cut through the syrupy St. Germain. I might even go so far as to recommend the addition of a quarter ounce or so of actual lemon juice. One thing to note: don't stir too briskly, or you'll wind up with St. Germain all over yourself. This is a great drink to make in bulk, for sipping with friends on a hot summer day.

When thinking through my own approach to a new cocktail ingredient, I like to divorce the elements from the application. Rather than thinking of them as "cocktail ingredients," I think of them as basic flavors. Once you approach a cocktail from the standpoint of stand-alone flavors, it becomes easier to decide what additions will work well, and in what basic ratios. For brainstorming on flavor combinations, I recommend Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg's The Flavor Bible as a handy reference.

I know that elderflower goes well with cucumber, and that cucumber holds up well with a wide range of floral and herbal flavors. Caraway also pairs with elderflower, and the slightly minty aroma works nicely with cukes. From there, it was simply a matter of figuring out ratios, and how to get the caraway in there.

Sequitur Tonic:

  • 2oz gin
  • 3/4 oz St. Germain
  • 3/4 oz caraway simple syrup
  • 1/4 oz lime
  • Tonic Water

Combine all ingredients but tonic water in a mixing glass. Shake, strain into an ice-filled Collins glass, and top with a splash of tonic water. Garnish with a slice of cucumber topped with toasted caraway seeds.

The drink is sweet yet bright, with the earthy undercurrent of caraway anchoring everything. The cucumber and St. Germain make a refreshing combo, and the tonic adds just enough fizz to keep it light on the palate, and just enough bitterness to cut keep it from coming across as cloying.

The caraway simple syrup is quite easy to make, and I've already envisioned a multitude of uses:

Toast three teaspoons of caraway seeds until fragrant, then combine with equal parts water and sugar. I used a cup of each. Bring to a bare simmer in a pot, then allow the syrup to steep for 30 minutes over low heat. Strain through a fine filter and keep in the refrigerator when cooled.

I'm really pleased with the way this one came out. Play around with it, mix up your own St. Germain cocktails, and tell us about them in the comments.

Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall