“Drink Flowers”: FAIL

Gird yourself, people.  We are about to embark on another post about wedding woes; this here is the “Signature Cocktail” chapter in my dark tome of event planning despair.

I thought that choosing a signature cocktail would be easy enough to do. After all, if there is one thing that Mike and I enjoy more than anything, it is creating and sampling cocktails.  When it comes to creating a signature cocktail for the wedding, I had a few considerations.  For example, it had to be:

1. Delicious and not to challenging for the less adventurous palates

2. Light on the alcohol, because we want people awake at least until the end of dinner

3. “Theme appropriate” for our venue, which is 1930’s Hollywood

2. Coordinated with the wedding color palette, which is primarily eggplant and ivory with accents of crimson, pewter and black

3. Affordable…which means no martini bar or top shelf liqueur

We tossed around a few ideas for old fashioned cocktails with a modern twist (too boozy), champagne and brandy cocktails (too pricey), herbal elixirs (too challenging) and at one point even the horrifying option of Grape Crush made it into the discussion (too…no, never mind; I have too much dignity to respond to this suggestion).  At this point, I  just want a drink.  Any drink.  My considerations were rapidly getting pared down to:

1. Must be wet

2. Must be hooch

Then I remembered a white wine cocktail I had years before, which was simplicity itself:  a well chilled white wine spritzer poured over a dried hibiscus flower.  The hibiscus flower blooms in the bottom of the glass, waving it’s petals seductively out from the sunset blush of the drink.  Moreover, dried hibiscus flowers are cheap, cheerful, and readily available.

Right?

Yeah…maybe not so much.

Text from Mike: “Where are you? You were home, now you’re not…again.”
Text from Tina: “Busy! Buying drink flowers!”
Text from Mike: “Did you say…drink flowers?”
Text from Tina: “YES, DRINK FLOWERS.  For the drinks.”

Oh yes, of course.  The drink flowers.

After scouring our local grocery and health food stores without success, we reached out to the handful of unquestionably fine people who follow our Facebook fan page (yes, that was a barely concealed plug) and halted mid-stride, changing the direction of this fruitless, ehrm, “flowerless”, search towards Jamaican and Persian markets.  I went to Rexdale, Lawrence Heights and even Jane and Finch. I took my engagement ring off and considered swallowing it before that last little journey into hell and high-tops.  Then I went down Bayview, up Yonge Street, across and north on Bathurst before eventually coming to terms with the fact that dried hibiscus just wasn’t in the cards for me.

However, I’ve never been one to abandon hope that quickly, despite every evidence suggesting that I should.  At the last Persian market I picked up a variety of dried herbs and petals that I thought could make an adequate substitute.  Oh, and I bought two magnums of white wine in the interest of experimentation, and all that.

First up was the marsh mallow.  I actually really enjoy the soft, subtly sweet flavor of the marsh mallow herb, and aren’t those delicate heliotrope colored blossoms just divine?

Well, let me tell you, they don’t stay purple for long. Within minutes I had a wan weed in the glass. It looked for all the world like Poison Ivy sneezed a bit too close to the bar.  As for the flavor, it tasted… like white wine.

Onwards and upwards, we moved to the borage.  I’ve never actually consumed borage, at least to my knowledge, so I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting.  What we got, however, was a whole lot of nothing.

The borage had the right color at least, quickly settling on top of the wine in a smattering of vibrant eggplant hued petals.  However, other than that, they added absolutely nothing to the drink other than a vague sense of foreboding that our guests would think we ransacked an abandoned florist before inviting them to drink.

Ah, the rose.  What’s the old saying, again?  “A rose by any other name is just as bourgeois.” I really, really struggled with the rose.  I’m just not a roses and romance kind of a gal.  It was pretty, albeit in a sort of dessicated way, but…still a bit too cliché for my taste.

I tried hopping it up with a few drops of rosewater and Mike instantly gagged and ran for a toothbrush. Perhaps I overdid it.

I also tried sweetening the mix with pale blush of cassis to mimic one of my favorite cocktails, the classic French kir.  This was pretty and palatable, but still…..ROSES.

For the final ‘drink flowers’ experiment, I actually had high hopes.  I don’t know why.  At this point, I should have been used to the bitter taste of disappointment and dried petals, but the last bag was intriguingly labeled as ‘Sour Tea’.

So…it looked a bit like hibiscus.  I asked the gruff gentleman stocking shelves if perhaps this was dried hibiscus, just by a different name, because it looked an awful lot like hibiscus and I’ve been looking just everywhere and —

He grunted and walked away.  I took this to be agreement.

Note:  Sour tea might be a euphemism for hibiscus, but this was most definitely NOT what I was expecting, or what I had previously experienced.  The jagged hunks of flower floated forlornly on top of the wine.  The flowers refused to rehydrate, even after a half hour soak.  The color changed nary a bit.  The flavor, as always, tasted….like wine.

The verdict?  “Drink Flowers” were all, without exception, an unequivocal FAIL.

Maybe vodka with diet grape crush isn’t looking so bad after all.

  • http://www.journeykitchen.com Kulsum at JourneyKitchen

    Sour Tea does look very much like hibiscus. I really wish I could send you dry hibiscus, its in abundance! But got a question, not that I know anything about wine or alcohol in general but what exactly are you expecting from the dry hibiscus flower in the white wine ? Does the sourness from Hibiscus when its hydrates makes it taste something special ? may be floral ? And will you wine change color when the hibiscus hydrates giving it a maroon color?

    I’m sorry for ignorance. But who else to ask super woman ?

  • Marion

    Dried hibiscus flowers: http://www.earthy.com/Dried_Hibiscus_Flowers__per_lb_P1404.cfm

    I also found a link claiming that Trader Joe’s sells them.

    Good luck with the wedding planning!

  • Hellcat13

    From the Ottawa foodies forum: “You can get the dried hibiscus flowers (cheap) at most West Indian markets–they are labeled “sorrel” for some reason.”

  • elsewise

    Suggesting alternatives… Signature sangria (fruit floats prettier than dried dead things), a Pimm’s raspberry-bubbly sort of drink (popular with people who fear over-booziness and classy in a Brit sort of way), or, if you’re REALLY stuck and love the flower idea, every table could have a glass pitcher of some sort of cocktail involving those fancypants flowering teas (THOSE, you can buy at tea shops).

  • Jason

    Sorry to pile on, but I get dried hibiscus flowers at Mexican markets (literally any Mex market), who use them in the Aqua Fresca drink Jamaica, although a Cuban friend commented they’re just not the same thing as using fresh… I think there’s a cooking principal in that : ) Like when preparing Jamaica, you might hydrate them briefly in hot water to open them up first and take the kick out of the color, so you’re wine/champagne doesn’t look like dye water.

    While it might not strictly fit into your theme, you’re certainly into Pomegranate Molasses, which a teaspoon in the bottom of the champagne flute makes a beautiful and flavorful cocktail.

  • erica

    How about St. Germain liquor? Delicious, lightly floral-y flavor, mixes brilliantly with white wine or champagne into a lovely cocktail (The Parisienne). Or, add a splash to a vodka tonic. Or use in Sangria instead of brandy, etc etc.
    Also, you only need a half-shot for each glass to get decent flavor, so it’s pretty good to mask cheap booze.

  • KK

    I came across this article in the NY Times last year. I’d never really thought of combining flowers and alcohol before, but loved the idea! Maybe this article will inspire you with a workable alternative.

    “How to Sip A Flower Garden”
    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C04E0DD1231F93AA2575BC0A96F9C8B63&scp=2&sq=flowers%20and%20drink&st=cse&pagewanted=1&emc=eta1

  • Amie

    I’ve seen a jar of hibiscus flowers in the booze aisle of my local grocery store. presumably, they are for dropping in champagne… but it looked like they were preserved in some sort of syrup, not dried. maybe the key is to have the blossom pre-rehydrated before it goes in the drink???
    they look something like this:
    http://www.kegworks.com/product.php?productid=173593&source=nextopia
    ($12.95 for 11 flowers, yikes)

  • http://www.quinoaandcornchips.blogspot.com Alyssa

    I saw the same thing as Amie. They were hibiscus flowers in a jar in a red/pink syrup. I bought them at Whole Foods one time on a whim because I was having some girls over to watch The Bachelor Finale (yes, I’m a loser) and thought it would be fun to have a pretty cocktail. I stuck them in the bottom of the champagne glass and just poured champagne over top. It was pretty, but it wasn’t anything earth-shatteringingly amazing. I remember them being pretty expensive too.

  • Tanya

    Dried hibiscus can be ordered through wholespice.com right here:

    http://www.wholespice.com/frame/default.asp?keyword=hibiscus&Go.x=0&Go.y=0

    Hope that helps!

  • http://www.foodskulk.com Fig

    Maybe if you tried brewing the flowers first? I don’t know how well that would pair with alcohol, not being a drinker myself, but when done right at all the taquerias I love so very much, jamaica (hibiscus tea) is a deliciously tangy and refreshing drink, and much more flavorful than one flower dropped in a glass is likely to be.

    And not that it helps you any, but at either of the two grocery stores by where my dad lives in Mexico, you can get hibiscus flowers in bulk. I keep meaning to get some when I go visit him.

  • badmash

    I just signed up to your blogs rss feed. Will you post more on this subject?

  • Amanda Lawrence

    http://www.bushtuckershop.com/prod2.htm

    I believe this is what some of the previous comments are referring to. It is much cheaper to make your own if you have access to the fruit – they are not actually flowers but the fleshy sepals protecting the ‘fruit’ and seeds. They are what are known as Rosellas in Australia. Separate the ‘flower’ from the seed pod, and simmer in light sugar syrup until they are tender – it won’t take long. They could well be served with a champagne spritzer to reduce the impact of the alcohol and while they are not earth shatteringly tasty, they are very pleasant and very pretty to boot. I know that here in Australia we can buy 1kg bags of them frozen, however I think that would compromise their appearance.

    love your blog – an enjoyable read.

  • Cat

    Oh do I have a suggestion for you! I got married this past summer, and we had a 1930s-ish inspiration too, plus my husband and I love old cocktails. I really wanted prohibition-era cocktails for our signature drinks, but since I don’t like gin, I had to get creative. After a lot of research, I finally found out about this amazing stuff called Creme de Violette, which is a liquor made of violets! So you get the flower flavor without the mess of actual flowers. It apparently was really popular in that time, but slowly died out (in the US at least) and has only recently come back into production. It’s the most lovely dark purple color, and has a really great earthy, flowery taste that’s completely unexpected. We used it to make Violette Royales, which is just Creme de Violette with sparkling wine. The proportions are flexible, so you can tweak it to get the flavor and color you like. We found it to be around $25 per 750ml bottle, so it didn’t bust our budget either. I realize at this point I probably sound like a shill for the liquor company, but figuring out a signature drink drove me batty, and when I read this and realized you were looking for so many of the same things I’d been looking for, I figured I’d pass the info along. Best of luck!