What to drink this week: St-Germain

Ever since I really started paying attention to the topic, there have only been two liquors that have become the Girls Who Got Away.  The first was Get 31, a drink that we saw just about everywhere that we went in France, that was available on every shelf, and was the most prominent option on every menu.

And naturally, because we saw it as so common, we made absolutely no effort to bring any home with us.  Home, that is, where nobody has even the foggiest idea what we’re talking about when we describe Get, and where it seems impossible now that we will ever again enjoy the gigantic-dinner-erasing powers that it wielded.

Get 31, oh how I  miss you!

For the purposes of this article, the part of Get 31 will be played by French Weirdo and Pretty Lady Eva Green

There is another French liqueur that had similarly broken my heart for ages, one that has enjoyed a brief flare of trendiness last year, and has popped up again this summer.  Just like Get 31, it’s extremely difficult to find (particular here in the People’s Republic of Ontario), and it is very good at what it goes.  By all reports, there is very little like it anywhere, and the more I heard that from every direction, the more it absolutely killed me that I could not have it.   I mean, take a look at this:

Neither passionfruit nor pear, grapefruit nor lemon, the sublime taste of
St-Germain hints at each of these and yet none of them exactly. It is a flavor
as subtle and delicate as it is captivating. A little like asking a hummingbird
to describe the flavor of its favorite nectar. Très curieux indeed, n’est-ce pas?

Do distillers often use prose poetry to describe the attributes of their product?  Maybe — who knows, if I turned around a bottle of Bushmills, maybe I’d find a sonnet praising its virtues, but somehow I suspect not. No, the quirkiness on display here is just one more reason that I have been hunting for a bottle of St-Germain literally for years.

For the purposes of this article, St-Germain will be played by French Weirdo and Pretty Lady Audrey Tautou

St-Germain describes itself as an Elderflower liqueur, shining a golden yellow as it comes out of the bottle and carrying with it a nose like a very sweet wine.  This in itself is a pleasant surprise, since most other herbal liqueurs you’re going to find on the shelf — and I’m looking at my bottle of Campari, most specifically — carry with them a bitter, even medicinal flavor.

Not that a bitter liqueur doesn’t have its place, particularly when it’s wedded with a darker rye or even a bit of soda.  But this first impression, the one that comes wafting out of the bottle when you open it, is the best indication of what a unique drink St-Germain really is.


Whether or not you’re given to believe the advertising copy about geriatric French men prowling the mountains for fresh Elderflowers, there is definitely no doubt that such a unique ingredient has an effect on the final product.  To say that the liqueur’s aroma is floral cannot adequately capture it, not when there’re also airs of fruit and citrus floating around there too.  Underlying it all is the promise of a smooth, bright flavor that makes it difficult not to start pouring it into everything, just to see what it tastes like.

Taking it straight, I can’t think of anything it compares more to than an icewine.  The balanced but not overwhelming sweetness, the sticky texture that clings to the side of the glass and tenaciously coats ice cubes, the natural flavors that hang around just a little bit on your breath… they all point to the same sensation of drinking a really good icewine for the first time, without the backbreaking cost or the sense that you’ll be diabetic by the time you’ve finished your glass.

So as a warming, sipping cocktail, St-Germain works perfectly.  But when it’s mixed in simple cocktails, it can shine in a totally different way.

The St-Germain Cocktail

The St-Germain Cocktail feels to us like a bit of a twist on the traditional Kir, where a flavorful sweet liqueur is mixed with  a sparkling wine to delightful effect.  The addition of sparkling wine adds the chilly, fizzy brightness to the denser sweetness of the St-Germain, balanced out by a bit of soda to make this the sort of beverage that is well-suited to an afternoon in the late-summer sun.

  1. To a tall glass, add a whole bunch of ice cubes
  2. Over the ice, pour in 2 oz. of St-Germain (ounce and a half?  Pfft)
  3. To the St-Germain, add 2 additional ounces of sparkling wine (perferably dry; if you don’t have sparkling wine, a dry white — NOT CHARDONNAY — will work well.  And you’re about to see why, because…)
  4. You need to stir this, vigorously.  The St-Germain and wine will absolutely layer otherwise, and you’ll lose the effect.  Don’t worry about the fizz, though because now you can…
  5. Top with 2 additional ounces of soda or sparkling water; if you’re feeling devious, a lemon-flavored Perrier would make things more complicated
  6. Mmmmmmm!

St-Germain has turned out to be everything I’d heard it was, and the hardest part now will be spacing out my enjoyment of it as much as possible through its six-month shelf life.  There’s a reason that people are experimenting with it in everything from sauces to popcicles, but there’s no reason you need to be so exotic — this is a liqueur that will brighten up cocktails while you enjoy the last of the summer, and will warm your cockles as we settle into the depths of the fall.

And if you can tell me where to find more of it, hey, I wouldn’t object.

  • Beth C.

    Is it really that hard to find St. Germain in Canada? I can find it at the local BevMo here in California. Hopefully the same will be true for you soon as well.

    Anyway, this is my number one favorite liqueur hands down, and I’ve turned several others over to it’s camp as well. My recommendation is an Elderflower Gimlet, my favorite of favorite cocktail. Basically make a gin gimlet and add an ounce or so of St. Germain. Is really blends so very well with gin, I like it better even than champagne.

    Also, a friend of mine started mixing it with pear vodka and that is also delicious.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Beth – I am unduly excited to go home tonight and direct my husband to make me one of these. “The Elderflower Gimlet, of course” I’ll say with a sniff and an imperious hand gesture. I CAN’T WAIT. I have a feeling that it will be my new cocktail fixation for the immediate future.

  • http://twitter.com/lupusgirl M

    Oh dear lord, yes. St. Germain is divine. Especially in a martini.

  • http://hampiesandwiches.blogspot.com Eileen

    Hmmm, very interesting. I know I’ve seen St. Germain around in ridiculous California (of course, CA’s liquor laws are obviously quite a bit different due to the wine industry), but I’ve never bothered to try it. I clearly have a good reason to try it now, though!

  • Hebby

    You can get in a supermarket that has a reasonably decent booze section here– definitely the middle-class/upper-middle class type supermarkets stock it, and any proper liqueur shops do. But I’d guess that maybe elderflower is just a lot more common in the UK. Elderflowers grow so well, even in the city (it’s one of the signs of summer when you can smell them on the breeze), and I think there’s an association with elder and graves so they’re often planted around cemeteries and so on. Plus, elderflower cordial is such a classic summer drink.

    I always make a couple batches of myself when it’s in season, just getting a couple dozen heads of flowers from a park or the local cemetery). It’s so easy to make -20 heads of flower, some citric acid powder, a lemon and lot of sugar, and then you’re good til next year.

    Next year, though, I’m planning on doing elderflower fritters (dip the head in batter and fry) as well as the cordial.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

      Ah Hebby, what it must be like to live in a place that sells alcohol in supermarkets. But here in the Dominion of Ontario, one may only purchase spiritous liquors from an ordained government shoppe, who selects the assortment of drink you may wish to purchase on your behalf, and crushes any hopes of alternatives through ruinous import levies.

      The making of our own cordial is intriguing, though! We may have to investigate that.

  • erica

    Hm, I wonder how illegal it would be for me to mail you a bottle from the states?

    I’ve been completely obsessed with St. Germaine since last summer, when it became our go-to vacation drink. It’s divine, to say the least. I’m especially fond of the Germaine Vodka Tonic, which is exactly what it sounds like: your standard vodka tonic (with lime, of course) and a shot of St. Germaine blended in with the vodka before the tonic is added.

    I’ve also had a few incredible cocktails made with it, one of which actually made me want to explore gin drinking, it was that good. (I was an avowed anti-gin drinker until that point)

    This year I’ve been trying to find a reason to get a bottle of Hendrick’s Gin, and also Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur. I’ve had outrageously excellent cocktails made with both (not at the same time) and I want to try them again, but the bottles are pricey and I’m nervous that I won’t actually like them when I don’t have a hot bartender making a terribly overpriced and exceedingly complicated mix with them.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

      I care not for legalities! Ship! SHIP!

      And Hendrick’s is well worth the purchase, if you like your gins complicated and flavorful. Plus the bottle is totally boss and decorates a shelf beautifully even when empty.

  • http://www.diaryofamadhausfrau.com/ Lora

    I love St. Germain and you picked the perfect actress to play her!

  • Jessica

    I already have St. Germaine on my list! I had a WONDERFUL cocktail with it a few weekends ago, and I kinda can’t stop thinking about it. I suppose it’s much like the Elderflower Gimlet? It was a technically a “Collins”, though. So gin + St. Germaine + lemonade + club. Can’t wait to have it again!

  • Johnny

    I once was poured an amazing martini with St Germain… Been making them at home ever since.

    A Kiss of St Germain. Not a full on french kiss, just a peck! (we’re not teenagers anymore)
    twist of orange
    and if you’re really good, one dash of orange bitters.

  • Ryan

    This is the St-Germain you’re looking for, right? It appears to be fairly available in the Toronto area, including the LCBO’s Summerhill store.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

      Ah Ryan, you’ve shamed me. In fact, just the other day I was walking through the Path underneath the bank towers, and was stopped cold by a shelf full of St-Germain peeking at me through an LCBO window. It was whispering, “The LCBO always wins, Mike. You think you’re smart, complaining about how you can’t get any St-Germain? Have all the St-Germain in the world!

      So, all’s well that ends well, and I am seriously making St-Germain sno-cones for Christmas.

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