WINE & SPIRITS
A NEW ELDERFLOWER LIQUEUR SWEETENS THE SUMMER
This spring at the international launch of St. Germain, a new-to-the-market elderflower liqueur, I was handed a tall Collins glass. Though my taste in aperitifs runs toward dry wines, I was completely beguiled by this surprisingly refreshing, subtly sweet quencher. The bartenders at the Manhattan speakeasy Little Branch had created a gorgeous spritzer, combining equal parts Sauvignon Blanc and St. Germain with a seltzer topper. Just slightly effervescent, the cocktail's notes of citrus, peach and pear were marvelously offset by the wine's minerality.
That night I met the man who invented the liqueur, third-generation distiller Robert J. Cooper. The back story is nearly as inspiring as the finished product. St. Germain's raw materials—its white- and yellow-budded elderflower blossoms—are hand-picked by gypsies, and time is of the essence. The flowers bloom only one week each spring in the Alps—no one can be certain exactly when—and must all be picked within a few days. The big sacks of blossoms are gently pressed at the distillery using a proprietary method that took years to perfect and are then combined with eau de vie to create St. Germain.
Cooper, who gives his new liqueur's corporate address as St.-Germain-des-Pres in Paris, is from an old Philadelphia family. His grandfather was a bootlegger during the Prohibition and supposedly sold non-alcoholic Near Beer to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. From the beer profits he bought the company Charles Jacquin et Cie, known for its French-style cordials. He later invented Crème Yvette, a classic liqueur popular in the '30s and '40s. His son—Cooper's dad—got in on the act, purchasing an existing recipe for a sweet black-raspberry potion. In 1979 he put it in an ornate bottle with a crown on top and dubbed it Chambord. (They sold it for a bundle to Brown-Foreman last year.)