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!
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.
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 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.
- To a tall glass, add a whole bunch of ice cubes
- Over the ice, pour in 2 oz. of St-Germain (ounce and a half? Pfft)
- 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…)
- 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…
- Top with 2 additional ounces of soda or sparkling water; if you’re feeling devious, a lemon-flavored Perrier would make things more complicated
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.