The blossoms in question are elderflowers, the man un bohemian, and the cocktail a stylishly simple creation made with St-Germain, the first liqueur in the world created in the artisanal French manner from freshly handpicked elderflower blossoms.
There are no more than 40 or 50 men such as he, and in a matter of days they will have gathered and bicycled to us the entirety of what will become St-Germain for that year. You could not write a better story if you were François Truffaut
TO PUT THIS IN CONTEXT, we can safely say that no men, bohemien or otherwise, will be wandering the hillsides of Poland this spring gathering wild potatoes for your vodka. Likewise, we know of no Bavarians planning to scour the German countryside in search of exotic native hops and barley for your beer.
Yes, in this day and age St-Germain is exceedingly special and rare. Consequently, we are able to hand make only very limited quantities.
AND WHAT OF THE TASTE of St-Germain?
It has been said that Paris is a mélange curieux, a curious mixture of flavors, styles and influences.
So it is with St-Germain
Neither peach nor pear, lychee nor citrus, 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?
HOW IS IT, one might ask, that in the countless decades during which fine European spirits have been crafted, never before has a liqueur such as St-Germain debuted?
The answer, like St-Germain itself, is artfully complex.
First, let us consider the dainty elderflower blossoms themselves. While by no means rare, these fragile flowers are, in contrast, maddeningly ephemeral once picked. In a matter of days they begin to lose their delicate fragrance and flavor.
It is in the foothills of the Alps for only a few days in late spring, where we are able to gather the delicate blossoms to make our liqueur. In order to acquire enough of the flowers during the short 2-3 week window of blossoming, French farmers are organized to deliver sacks of the elderflower blossoms to local depots using specially rigged bicycles and their two-wheeled delivery system, speed is of the essence. This helps to explain why elderflower in the bar trade has traditionally been available only as a non-alcoholic syrup – what some Europeans refer to as a cordial – extracted from freeze-dried or frozen flowers.
This sort of concoction tends to be cloyingly sweet and frustratingly inconsistent – traits a bar-tender must occasionally endure amongst his clientele, but never, we hope, amongst his ingredients.
As we were saying, speed is crucial to preserving the freshness and flavor of these fragile blossoms. To that end, they arrive at our distillery post-haste and are immediately macerated to capture the freshest flavor.
Here again is another reason nothing like St-Germain has ever been created before. Traditional maceration processes yield little flavor from these tiny blossoms. Unfortunately, the other customary option, pressing the flowers, causes a regrettable bitterness.
TO CREATE ST-GERMAIN, it was necessary, then, to invent and perfect an entirely new method of persuading the elderflower to give up its prized essence while retaining one-of-a-kind flavor. Needless to say, this new process is our proud family secret.
Returning to our old-world techniques, the next step is to marry the elderflower maceration with eau-de-vie or grape spirit, just as artisanal distillers have done for ages. Here we call upon three generations of experience creating fine French liqueurs dating back to 1884.
From there, we blend the resulting spirit with a hint of citrus and just enough cane sugar to enhance the natural flavor of the blossoms. The result, after painstaking refinements to every subtlety of the recipe, is a clean floral nose with hints of pear, peach and grapefruit zest. Most importantly, one will note the wonderfully fresh flavor of the elderflowers, available for the first time in a finely balanced artisanal liqueur.