Hi, Friends of Cocktails. Today I’ll show you how you can swap St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, for… a homemade Elderflower Liqueur, packed with flavor for a fraction of the cost of the original - what’s not to love? We’ll also make the most famous of all Elderflower spritz cocktails, the Hugo, but let’s begin with an easy question: So what is Saint Germain and what is all the fuss about?
St‑Germain is a French elderflower liqueur, created in 2007. To make it, fresh elderflowers are handpicked in full bloom every spring in the foothills of the French Alps. According to their website, up to one thousand carefully selected flowers fill every bottle! So it’s no surprise limited batches of St-Germain are produced every year and every bottle is numbered. Luckily, it’s not the monks who make it.
It even has a QR code, which takes you to a website with the ingredients, nutritional information and other information about the bottle. There you can see that it's made with sugar syrup, natural elderflower extract, neutral alcohol, water, brandy, sodium citrate and flavorings. We can also see it contains just over 34 grams of sugar per 100 ml. We’ll keep all of that in mind for when we make our liquor.
One reason why St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur has become so popular for its unique and delicate flavor profile. Being one of the most popular liqueurs in the modern cocktail renaissance, it gained an infamous nickname, the “Bartender’s Ketchup”, as it was said bartenders would use it in any cocktail they wanted to taste better. The coloring apparently doesn’t come from any artificial additives, but as a result of the pollen from each bud blending with the liqueur’s liquid components.
There’s plenty of sweet floral aromas of elderflower and citrus on the nose. It’s rich with fresh elderflower on the palate, with initial sweetness quickly balanced with tangy citrus notes. It really has that something that the French call ‘Je-ne-sais-quoi’, that can make your cocktail bloom. It’s popular for a reason - but it’s also quite expensive, with prices hovering around the $40 mark. So let’s try to make something that can go toe to toe with the flavor and smash it with the final price.
First thing we’ll need is some fresh elderflowers, which we’ll forage. Elderflowers come from the elder tree that generally grows as a shrub or a small tree. From late May you’ll see masses of tiny white flowers hanging in sprays, which develop into purple elderberries later in the summer. The flowers and berries are the only edible parts of the plant. When raw they are mildly toxic and have an unpleasant taste. Cooking destroys the toxic chemicals.
For St. Germain farmers spend roughly three to four weeks in late May and Early June gathering the blooms that will be used to produce the liqueur. The flowers are all picked in the mornings, when the elderflower blossoms are only just beginning to open, meaning the aromas and flavors of the buds will be at their most prominent. If you want to forage yours too, look for eldertrees away from any traffic and pick completely white flowers - the ones that are starting to turn brown are past their peak.
Once you have enough it’s important to use them as soon as possible for the freshest flavor, but with that we have all the ingredients for our liqueur. Alongside elderflower I’ll be using 40% vodka, sugar, water, lemon peel, ascorbic and citric acids, and sodium citrate. For sodium citrate I asked my go-to chemist among bartenders, Darcy O’neil, who you’ll know from the Color Changing Cocktails episode. He explained that sodium citrate is typically used to adjust the pH and also enhance the flavors, with a slightly salty taste - check out Darcy on the Art of Drink channel.
Lemon peel will provide the essential oils for the flavor, and the citric acid will bring the acidity. You could use lemon juice, but we’ll be heating up the liqueur so I opted for pure acid. Ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C, will help with the color and slow the oxidation of elderflower, which happens pretty quickly, making it lose the fresh flavor. And I’ve tested making this recipe with maceration, but the results weren’t as good as I hoped, so I turned to sous vide, which will also give you complete control over temperature and time, but let’s begin, it’s Cocktail Time!
Homemade Elderflower Liqueur
● 45g Elderflower Flowers
● 500mL 40% ABV Vodka
● 342g Sugar
● 270g Water
● 1,8g Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C)
● 2,2g Lemon Peel
● 5,5g Sodium Citrate
● 10g Citric Acid
To start we need to separate the buds from the stalks. I’ll be using small scissors, but you can pick them by hand as well. So into a sous vide bag add all the ingredients, double seal the bag and place it in the sous vide bath set to 85°C or 185°F, for 2 and half hours - you can also try making the liqueur using brandy, but this will give us a better control over the flavor. Sous vide provides an even temperature throughout the process, resulting in consistent results every time.
While you wait, are you part of the Cocktail Times? It’s our weekly newsletter and you can join by filling out your email at the bottom of this page. You’ll get weely cocktail tips, BTS pics, unique promos and more into your mailbox every Saturday, so you won’t want to miss it! While that’s going I also like to give the bag a little turn and shake, to mix all the ingredients. Once the time is up take the bag and transfer it to an ice bath, to chill the contents completely.
All we have to do now is to filter out our homemade elderflower liqueur. First I’ll use a cloth filter, but I’ll make sure to get all the liquid through by using a potato ricer to gently squeeze what was left on the filter. You can filter this again through a rinsed coffee filter to get an even clearer result, and after a few days the flavors will develop even more and any small sediments will fall to the bottom of the bottle. Once bottled and labeled it’s ready to make your summer of cocktails even better. This ended up around 5 times cheaper per bottle, but let’s see, and taste, how it compares to the original, cheers!
The light gold color is there, but it’s not quite as clear as the original. On the aroma you get wonderfully fresh elderflower and lemon, and the taste is packed with sweet elderflower, balanced by the sourness. It’s super floral, with elderflower lingering on the aftertaste. Fresh, summer liqueur that has, in my opinion, even more elderflower freshness than St. Germain, but I may be biased. I think this is more than ready for a test in the best known elderflower summer drink, the Hugo Spritz. Let’s make it!
● 100mL (3.33oz) Prosecco
● 30mL (1oz) Elderflower Liqueur
● 30mL (1oz) Soda Water
This floral alternative to the bitter Italian spritz cocktails starts off the same way - with a chilled wine glass full of ice. Then comes the Italian classic, Prosseco. You can use another sparkling wine if you want, just don’t tell that to the Italians. Next, our Homemade Elderflower Liqueur, and lastly some soda water. I usually don’t measure effervescent ingredients with a jigger, to keep as much of the bubbles as possible for the drink.
Now gently mix the ingredients and add the garnish: a mint bouquet. Spank it to release its essential oils and place it in the glass, together with a lime wedge - bellisimo. A straw makes it easier to enjoy the cocktail through the garnish, but you’ll still get a wonderful mix of herbal, citrus, and floral notes hitting your nose before each sip. Then you get a crisp and sparkling taste of Prosecco, complemented by the floral sweetness of the elderflower liqueur, but keeping it nice and balanced.
It's a light and invigorating drink, perfect for a summer evening, so you won’t want to miss it. I love experimenting with ingredients like this and bringing you ways to make cheaper alternatives for your home or professional bars. That wouldn’t be possible without the support we get from you guys, through Patreon and Super Thanks on YouTube, so thank you for that. And a huge shout out to the newest member of the Cocktail Time Wall of Fame, Oleg. Thank you for the support and welcome to the Cocktail Time set.
With that you’ve made it to the bottom of the glass, but before we leave, I have a little history on the Hugo. This refreshing spritz cocktail was invented in 2005 by bartender Roland Gruber, in a small South Tyrol town in the Italian Dolomites, where it is now known as a regional signature. In the original recipe, Gruber used lemon balm syrup but soon switched it out for a homemade elderflower cordial instead. Nowadays St. Germain is often used around the world, but I think using a homemade version brings the Hugo a little closer to the authentic recipe.
For another fun DIY ingredient check out how to make a Yogurt Liqueur. I’ll see you next week, cheers!