July 12, 2020

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!