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Elderflower liqueur is a magical potion—a little bit will revive and brighten Champagne that's heading south or enhance the botanicals in a good gin. It perks up a drink by adding a little sweetness and a light floral touch. Though it was once hard to find in the states, elderflower liqueur is now such a common and essential mixing ingredient that it's called "bartender's ketchup" in cocktail circles.
I wasn't even aware of consuming elderflowers in any form until I tried St. Germain liqueur in 2007. But that's probably because I'm American. Had I grown up in Europe, I would have been picking blossoms from elderberry shrubs since childhood to make elderflower syrup. So I have decades of elderflower consumption to make up for. (It's very American of me to call it a syrup. Across the pond it's known as elderflower cordial, which I think sounds much more lovely.) No matter where you are, this elixir will bring the lightness and fun of springtime into your glass.
What's Available to Buy
St. Germain is the most well-known and easiest to find elderflower-flavored anything. It tastes a bit like lychee with a floral twist. I went a little nutso stockpiling bottles of St. Germain and haven't depleted my supply, so I've yet to try the other elderflower liqueurs out there, such as Chase, Bramley and Gage, Pür, and Thatcher's. (Spirits columnist Andrew Strenio reviews Pür on Serious Eats here.) The ridiculously well-stocked liquor stores I frequent don't seem to carry those other brands, but they aren't hard to buy online. The liqueurs all go for about $25-$30 a bottle. Ikea and Monin also make tasty and affordable elderflower syrups that will go a long way, since they're quite concentrated.
I spotted dried elderflowers in the Latin market for 79 cents an ounce, so I bought a half-pound and went crazy with it. I suppose a trip to Lolita's Market in my Honda Fit isn't as enchanting of a tale as bohemian farmers plucking blossoms in the Alps and then bicycling them to the St. German production facility. But, as obsessed as I am with St. Germain, I still use it rather judiciously because it isn't exactly cheap. Now, for less than a dollar, I can make a delicious elderflower mixer that pairs just as well with Champagne and gin as it does with sparkling water or pancakes.
I always put a little lemon in my elderflower cocktails, so I added Meyer lemon to the cordial to give it an extra burst of freshness. The result is like a lemon bar mixed with a light, floral tea. I can't get enough of it. You could use oranges or grapefruit instead of lemons, or substitute honey or agave nectar for the sugar. Lots of other fruits taste great with elderflower, so if you find yourself with extra strawberries or raspberries, you could add that to the mix. Elderflower also pairs well with cucumber and herbs like rosemary and basil. I decided on making a cordial instead of a liqueur because it seemed more flexible. However, you could make a delicious impromptu liqueur by combining your cordial with vodka or pear eau de vie.
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Homemade elderflower cordial is surprisingly useful—I am actually not sure how I lived without it. I use it to sweeten and flavor iced tea and sparkling water, or in place of simple syrup or sugar in cocktails like the Daiquiri, Tom Collins, or Cucumber Gimlet.
With a little tasting and tweaking, it'll work in place of elderflower liqueur in concoctions as diverse as the Yellow Jacket, Watermelon Crawl, and Herbaliser. Elderflower cordial is a natural companion for sparkling wine—add a little cordial to your bubbly along with some gin and a lemon slice for a twist on the French 75.
About the Author: Marcia Simmons is the co-author of DIY Cocktails: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Signature Drinks. She also shares cocktail recipes and tips on the DIY Cocktails blog and on Twitter @DIYCocktails.