June 2, 2020

The Elderflower Face-Off: Round II

Guess what? It turns out that there are several different elderflower liqueurs in the marketplace, some of which are showing up on bar shelves and challenging the dominance of local favorite St-Germain. You might remember that back in December I did a taste test of St-Germain against one of the competitors – Thatcher’s – and the upstart came out the winner in that particular competition. Shortly after, I heard from the U.S. distributor that in fact St-Germain, as an artisanal liqueur, has a determinate shelf life and thus loses some of its luster when sitting on a bar shelf for some amount of time. After comparing the look of a new bottle with the old I saw that he was quite right, and that they are two very distinct colors. Given the fact that I now had two different bottles of St-Germain, had done one test with the Thatcher’s, and also been given another bottle in the elderflower family, Pür Likör, it seemed only fitting to convene another taste test.

The details: four bottles, two rounds, eight ready and willing testers. The first round consisted of a blind tasting of each of the four liqueurs, all on their own: old St-Germain, new St-Germain, Thatcher’s, and Pür Likör. For the second round we took the top two vote-getters from round one, then tasted those head-to-head.

And who could taste all of this liqueur without a little sustenance to go with? Kalamata olive and goat cheese on fingerling potato rounds, and Chicken Marbella for all, with homemade Kit Kat Bars to finish.

So who the heck won, right?? Turns out that the St-Germain was a bit sweeter than the Pur Likor, though the two were fairly similar. Neither tasted at all like the Thatcher’s, which some thought had a bit of a soapy taste and all agreed had a unique smell (rose water?) before you even got to the taste. The two winners from round 1 were the old and new St-Germain, and the overall winner after round 2 was the new St-Germain, so it would seem that this group was on board with the most popular of the elderflower liqueurs around town.

But given that Thatcher’s had won in December’s tasting, it seemed only fair to whip up the same cocktail used in Face-Off #1 to see if indeed St-Germain was the winner in cocktail form and not just sipped on its own. So back we went to the Gypsy, complete with gin, green chartreuse, and lime juice. And guess what? St-Germain did it again, winning 7 of 8 votes.

Though if you’re a real fanatic – and I only count myself as one on certain occasions – you might say that the Thatcher’s paired well with the Miller’s gin used in Face-Off #1 and the St-Germain paired well in the Cascade Mountain Gin used in Face-Off #2, because in each case the tastes were quite complementary. But if you’re not a fanatic and just want to have a single good bottle of good elderflower liqueur in your bar, St-Germain is the way to go. But make sure to drink it with some expediency… 

[Photos courtesy of David Franzen]

The Elderflower Face-Off

It’s holiday time and everywhere you look there are parties. (More this year than last — I’ll take this as a good sign!) Often what sets apart the stellar bash from the ho hum function, the thing that people talk about long after the fact, is fantastic food and drink. If you’re the host of one of these parties and searching for the hip cocktail of the hour, look no further than the recent popularity of St-Germain, a liqueur made from the elderflower. Whether it’s the Dover Calais at Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor, the Parisian Sake at Joule, or the Empress at Spur, I’ve been seeing this particular liqueur in fantastic cocktails all around town.

There’s a bit of drama going on at the moment, though, which may only increase its popularity: My bottle at home was running low so I tried first one liquor store and then another and then another, and was eventually told of an apparent scarcity in the marketplace, not even a dusty bottle way in the back of a liquor store shelf to be found. Even the warehouse was completely out. Mon Dieu! I started asking around and it seemed to be true. One theory was that a strike in France had delayed shipment, and another was that the producer hadn’t properly anticipated demand. At one point I heard through the grapevine (or the elderberry shrub?) that the folks at Ocho even tried making their own version. Maybe we’ll see that on the menu soon!

My inability to purchase St-Germain led me to consider other options, and on a recent foray to yet another liquor store I was finally presented with one that looked quite viable, Thatcher’s Elderflower, from a distillery in Temperance, Michigan. Though the Thatcher’s bottle couldn’t hold a candle to the over-the-top ornateness of the St-Germain bottle, the former looked to be a good contender for my new favorite elderflower liqueur. So, what’s a person to do except conduct a (very non-scientific) taste test?

The cocktail of choice for the big face-off was the Gypsy, courtesy of the St-Germain website:

1 1/2 parts gin

3/4 part St-Germain

1/2 part Green Chartreuse

1/2 part freshly squeezed lime juice

The long and the short of it is that this is our new favorite cocktail — and currently the drink of the house — but despite this being a St-Germain-provided cocktail their elderflower liqueur wasn’t our pick. The four taste testers all agreed: The Thatcher’s version was much more subtle, and let the flavor of the gin (Plymouth, in this case) shine through. I’m pleased to report that the bottle of Thatcher’s, along with my stamp of approval, has gone to the friend who was kind enough to lend us his bottle of St-Germain for the experiment. Thank you to Andrew and his well-stocked bar!

The good news for all of you party-throwers out there is that you should have no problem meeting your elderflower liqueur needs, even if you want to stick with the ever-popular St-Germain. Sunday night the bartender at The Blue Glass assured us that the shortage is over, and once again liquor store shelves will be groaning under the weight of that beautiful bottle. Happy cocktailing, and cheers to one and all!