April showers; May flowers. Blah, blah, blah.
We refuse to wait another month: We have one type of flower on our minds—now.
Over the last few years, elderflower, whether flavoring liqueurs, syrups or mixers, has gone from a niche bartender obsession to a near-indispensable cocktail fixture. And, as you would expect, there has been a corresponding boom in new elderflower liqueurs and flavored waters, each with its own distinctive attributes. Get acquainted with these tiny but powerful white flowers from western Europe, because they’re in full bloom and they’re here to stay.
On the market only since 2007, this elderflower liqueur rose to ubiquity in a flash—so much so that it’s been dubbed “bartender’s ketchup.” That means, like the common tomato condiment, St-Germain has its ardent fans and its committed detractors. The aromatic and flowery liqueur can complement just about every spirit, mixing well in cocktails based on everything from gin and tequila to rye whiskey. To really show off its depth without distractions, add a splash to a glass of crisp white wine or Champagne.
A slightly boozier cousin to St-Germain, this 44-proof liqueur was released in 2012 and has many of the same characteristics: It has a rigid enough backbone to stand up to strong spirits and flavorful ingredients when mixed in cocktails. But with layers of floral and fruity flavors, including quince and white grape, it’s also smooth enough to sip on its own.
Thatcher’s is a small-batch organic liqueur made in Michigan. It’s a lower 15-percent alcohol, but don’t scoff: What it lacks in firepower, it makes up for with its light, floral aroma. No other flavorings are used, so Thatcher’s is about as close as you can get to pure bottled elderflower blossoms. And while it would likely drown in a very spirit-heavy cocktail, Thatcher’s is a lively addition to a Gin and Tonic or Tom Collins.
St. Elder’s aroma is faintly reminiscent of elderflower blossoms and honey, and the gentle liqueur doesn’t have a noticeable boozy kick. But its big flavor makes it a standout choice for mixing in cocktails. Try it in place of the sugar in a bourbon-based Old Fashioned to add floral sweetness and complexity to this variation on the classic Old Fashioned.
The most affordable of the liqueurs we tasted, the newly released Bols Elderflower is one of more than 30 flavored offerings from the Dutch liqueur specialists (and makers of excellent genever). It’s the sweetest of the bunch and isn’t quite as layered. But if you have a sweet tooth and need something primarily for mixed drinks, it’s a handy alternative to the pricier bottlings.
There aren’t many cocktails that call for tonic water, though after trying this delightful variation, you may want to start playing with more than the standard Gin and Tonic. The flowers used in this mixer from Fever-Tree, which was just released in October, are hand-picked in the English countryside and then crafted into a refreshingly effervescent tonic that’s sweetened a touch with cane sugar. The delicate tonic blends seamlessly with the botanicals in gin and gives blank-slate vodka a refreshing edge. Bonus: Fever-Tree’s elderflower tonic even works with tequila.
Perhaps nothing evokes a lazy afternoon picnicking in the English countryside more than this mix of elderflower, lemon and fizzy spring water. The gently fruity and ever-so-slightly tart concoction is magnificent on ice for a non-alcoholic treat, or use it instead of club soda in a thirst-quenching cocktail like a Tom Collins or even a Scotch & Soda.