An Alpine treat for visitors or consumers

A fleet of bicycles and bunches of sambucas nigra, a dainty white flower that blossoms for only a few days in early spring, seem an unlikely combination to bring something truly new to the adult beverage universe.

The blossom, more commonly known as the elderflower, has long been a European staple of herbal remedies as well as a component of a non-alcoholic syrup that in recent years has become a hip ingredient in creating cocktails at trendy bars.

The difference with the new product from Maison St. Germain of France is that its Delice de Sureau (sureau is French for elderflower, delice for delight) is a 40-proof artisanal liqueur, the first such use of elderflowers that anyone is aware of.

St. Germain, the shorthand market name for the liqueur, is produced from elderflowers harvested from the foothills of the French Alps by pickers known as bohemiens who then trundle them by bicycle down to local depots from where they are quickly shipped to the distillery. There, the flowers are put through a maceration process then married with grape spirits, known as eau de vie, plus a bit of citrus and cane sugar to create the pale golden finished product.

As the St. Germain copywriters say, "To put this in context, we can safely say that no men, bohemien or otherwise, will be wandering the hillsides of Poland this spring gathering wild potatoes for your vodka."

The major difference between the non-alcoholic elderflower syrup and the alcoholic elderflower liqueur -- other than the obvious of alcohol -- is in the level of sweetness. The former, usually made with frozen or freeze-dried blossoms, is quite sweet because it usually is one of a number of ingredients in a concoction. The latter is toned down in sweetness to allow it to be enjoyed straight without any cloying properties. In addition, its creators say the liqueur has a shelf life of one to two years compared to the stability of the syrups which runs more like a week or two.

In a sampling of St. Germain we were struck by the comparatively full-bodied flavor despite the very gentle nose. The notes of citrus and stone fruit, mostly peach, were apparent but we also caught a teasing flavor that took a moment to identify.

Aha, lilac.

I might have been unable to put my finger on it had I not experienced the same persistent, pleasant nuance in a Martell Cordon Bleu sampled at a recent cognac tasting dinner in Las Vegas.

Since, like part of the St. Germain recipe, cognac is a French eau de vie, that may account for the lilac presence that one can coax out along with the gentle elderflower.

William M. Dowd photo

As with so many new products, design is important. St. Germain certainly will attract attention on store shelves with its elegant octagonal bottle, each side gently indented and narrowing toward the bottom, the bottle topped with an antiqued brass-effect cap.

The liqueur's creators suggest, in addition to drinking it straight or over ice, coupling the new liqueur with the likes of champagne or a sauvignon blanc or even a green apple vodka in cocktails.

St. Germain, which initially has been made in a limited volume, will go on sale nationally March 1 in 50, 375 and 750ml sized bottles, with a suggested retail price of $32.99 for the largest bottle.
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