Almost a decade ago, I bought this bracelet at a market in Guatemala. It's five thin bands of metal that are attached at the ends: two copper, two brass, and one silver in the center. I wear it with everything—dresses, t-shirts, cardigans. It goes with pretty much any outfit, making it look more polished with minimal effort. In short, it's a workhorse. A pretty one.
There are ingredients that work the same way. Salt is the most obvious one; just a pinch of it will make the flavors in almost any dish or drink pop. Try adding a few grains to a cocktail and see how different it tastes.
Somewhat improbably, elderflower liqueur or cordial is another one of these ingredients for cocktails. It has a very distinct taste: floral and sweet, but balanced out with bright, lemony tones. It can often be used in the place of simple syrup or sugar in drinks, giving them an extra layer of complexity. I've seen elderflower used with pretty much any base spirit you can imagine, from tequila to bourbon to wine.
The most popular brand with bartenders, St. Germain, has a great story: the elderflowers are hand-picked by old French men on bicycles. The bottles are gorgeous. The whole thing is an amazing bit of marketing. But also, St. Germain is annoyingly expensive. And, since it's a liqueur, it has a fairly limited shelf life once it's been opened. I've ruined more than one bottle by letting it sit too long on my bar.
And so, because I'm my mother's daughter, I thought, "That can't be that hard to make." And I was right. I haven't done a side-by-side test with St. Germain (because, again, it's expensive), but the drinks I've made using it have tasted just as delicious to me. Plus, a bag of dried elderflowers will make you literally gallons of cordial.
I followed the recipe from Serious Eats pretty closely, but at some point I'd like to do some experimenting with different herbs and botanicals. If anyone has any suggestions, let me know!
From Serious Eats
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup dried elderflowers (I got mine from Mountain Rose Herbs.)
- 1 Meyer lemon (You can also substitute half a regular lemon and half of an orange.)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid powder (A food preservative often found in the kosher section. Sometimes called "sour salt.")
Bring sugar and water to a boil until the sugar dissolves. (You just made simple syrup!) Set aside and allow to cool.
Wash and slice your citrus into thin rounds and place in a sealable glass jar along with the elderflowers and citric acid powder. Add your cooled simple syrup, seal, and shake. Place in the fridge for 24-72 hours. (I think the flavor is plenty strong after 24-30, but it's your call.)
Strain through a cheese cloth into a sealable container. Cordial will keep for three months in the refrigerator.