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[Photograph: Jessica Leibowitz]

Relatively unknown in North America until about five years ago, elderflower liqueur has come a long way from its humble origins as a medicinal cordial. Since its debut on this side of the pond, the alcoholic interpretation of the flower of the Sambucus nigra is now a ubiquitous component of the well-stocked cocktail bar. Today we're tasting two different brands: St-Germain and Pür Likör Blossom.

St-Germain

Picture baskets of freshly hand-picked alpine flowers brought to collection depots by locals on specially rigged bicycles. They're probably also whistling songs to marmots and punching their timecards on a cuckoo clock as they live an idyllic country life and produce the finest new liqueur in the western world. Or (more likely) they are a brilliant—yet fictitious—marketing device to sell booze.

So how does the fruit all of that picking and cycling taste?

This light golden liqueur has a nose full of grapey sweetness (think muscat) plus vague floral aromas, along with wafts of pear and citrus rinds. On the palate, the floral character grows, and the sweetness is all honey. (Some folks will find it just too sweet.) I'm most impressed by the finish, which is dry and almost carries the sweetness away, leaving a surprising earthy taste, like the brambles under the berry bushes.

Pür Likör Blossom

20110317purbottle.jpgThe people behind Pür Spirits recount a familiar tale of hand-picked wild elderblossoms, this time from forest clearings surrounding tri-national Lake Constance.

This spirit pours deep amber, significantly darker than St-Germain. The nose is also very clear and focused, with intense honeyed grape fragrances.

Tasting reveals a prominent maple character between the floral notes. The elderflower bramble comes on later, and it is a much lighter spirit in both viscosity and sweetness. The finish is dry and spicy, with a sticky-rice-like smoky sweetness that lingers. It's about twice as expensive as the St-Germain.

The Bottom Line

These liqueurs are both pretty wonderful at what they do. While I slightly prefer the drier and more complex Pür version, St-Germain definitely takes the prize for stylish packaging and superior value.

Elderflower liqueur is most often deployed with a bubbly mixer—the eponymous St-Germain cocktail is a mixture of sparkling white wine, elderflower liqueur, and sparkling water with a lemon twist, but elderflower liquor can also be used in a play on a margarita, in the musky herbal Yellowjacket, or set off with gin, Aperol, and fresh lemon in a Dunniette. It's a bit sweet neat, but would be superb served chilled in place of dessert wines or as a simple digestif.

Disclosure: Both bottles were provided as samples for review.

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