Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke: St. Germain

20070725stgermain.jpgThe beautiful thing about New Orleans is that, if you stand in one place long enough, someone will eventually hand you a drink.

At least, that was my experience this past week at Tales of the Cocktail, the grand convention of spirits and cocktail enthusiasts that takes place in New Orleans each year. One afternoon I was standing in the ornate lobby of the Hotel Monteleone, minding my own business, when out of nowhere a smiling man appeared bearing a tray of condensation-cloaked glasses and asked me if I'd like something to quench my thirst. A beautiful thing, as I said.

What made the experience even more memorable was the drink that was in those glasses. Composed of an icy mix of Mo√ęt & Chandon White Star Champagne, club soda, and an intriguing liqueur known as St. Germain, the drink was light yet fortifying, and was the perfect foil to the steamy weather outside.

Since its debut earlier this year, St. Germain has been collecting plenty of accolades: The delicate elderflower liqueur took a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and on Sunday it was selected as Best New Product during the Tales of the Cocktail Spirit Awards.

St. Germain's marketing materials weave a too-good-to-be-true story about French bohemienspicking elderflower blossoms in the foothills of the Alps and delivering them to market via bicycle, and the liqueur's elegant, Belle Epoque bottle is sure to shake up the appearance of even the dreariest fluorescent-lighted liquor store. But what makes this spirit even more inviting is that it actually lives up to its hype.

Delicate and fragrant, with a flavor that touches notes of peaches, grapefruits, and pears, St. Germain is a rare maverick in an industry that prefers to market garishly colored and flavored spirits and liqueurs to club-goers seeking the taste of the week. While not without its detractors--many of whom find its sweetness somewhat excessive--St. Germain demonstrates that delicate and complex flavors do have a place in contemporary mixology. And as I learned last week, they also have their place in beating back the summer heat.

I can't promise that if you stand still long enough, a man bearing a tray of drinks will appear at your side as he did at mine. But in an era dominated by pours of the latest flash in the pan, I can say that St. Germain seems poised to become a staple of countless back bars and liquor cabinets.

Have you tried St. Germain? What are your thoughts?