Floral components have been rooted in cocktail culture for years. The violet in crème de violette, for example, was the floral addition that gave the aviation cocktail its blue hue.
Today, these fragrant elixirs are gaining new momentum as inventive bartenders blend everything from rose water and lavender to hibiscus and elderflower into their signature drinks, often using gin as a base.
The new floral push arguably began in 2007, when St-Germain made a big splash on the San Francisco cocktail scene. By the end of 2009, the tasty elderflower liqueur appeared on drink lists across the country. Crafty mixologists began to experiment, creating their own simple syrups and bitters from a variety of edible flowers.
“There’s a note of the exotic and forbidden in consuming flowers,” says Scott Holliday, mixologist at Rendezvous in Boston. “We are talking about enhancing our drinks with the sex organs of plants. They’re ingredients that seduce in small doses, but become vulgar if used heavy-handedly.”
Bars across the country are using floral additions to create drinks that tantalize customers with subtle scents and tastes that may be hard to place, but entice nonetheless.
The gin-based Apéritif of Puyam cocktail at Canlis in Seattle, for example, features a touch of Squamish elixir, made inhouse by mixing elderflower heads, the herb polypody and Navarro Vineyard’s Gewürztraminer Grape Juice. The pretty cocktail comes garnished with edible flowers.
At Rendezvous, Holliday makes an Orient Express with gulab sharbat, a rose-flavored syrup. “The name ‘Orient Express’ comes from the passenger train service of the same name, which originally ended in Istanbul, also known as the City of Roses,” says Holliday. The rose acts as a dusky, spicy background to the brighter flavors of gin, citrus and cardamom—perhaps better to receive than a bouquet of flowers.
Apéritif of Puyam
Courtesy Canlis in Seattle, Washington
2 ounces Ebb +Flow Gin
½ ounce Chartreuse Yellow
1 ounce Squamish Elixir (see below)
Dash of lemon juice
Edible flower petal, for garnish
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine the gin, Chartreuse, Squamish Elixir and lemon juice and shake. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a petal.
For Squamish Elixir
2 cups Navarro Gewürztraminer juice
3 Heads of European Elder flowers (sambucus nigra)
14 ounces Polypody rhizomes (polydodium glycyrrhiza)
Combine all three ingredients together and stir.
Courtesy Robert (Bobby) Magee, mixologist at CUCINA urbana in San Diego, California
This martini combines the strength of an unfinished whiskey, generally considered to be rough around the edges, with the more refined and smooth flavors of elderflower and lavender.
2 ounces white whiskey
¼ ounce elderflower liqueur
¼ ounce lavender liqueur
Lavender petals, for garnish
In a cocktail shaker, combine the whiskey, elderflower and lavender liqueur and shake. Strain into a cocktail glass filled with ice and garnish with lavender petals.
This cocktail combines the strong juniper flavor of the gin with crisp, refreshing notes of cucumber. The addition of the hibiscus liqueur adds a vibrant crimson color and delicious raspberry and rhubarb flavors.
2 ounces gin
½ ounce hibiscus liqueur
Splash of club soda
Slice of cucumber, muddled
Slice of cucumber, for garnish
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine the gin, hibiscus liqueur, club soda and muddled cucumber, stir, then pour into martini glass and garnish with cucumber slice.
Courtesy of Scott Holliday, mixologist at Rendezvous in Boston, Massachusetts
This cocktail was named after the passenger train service of the same name that originally ended in Istanbul, the city of roses. So it's no surprise that this unique gin drink starts by pouring dried roses into a bowl with sugar, cardamom and lemon zest (for the gulab sharbat syrup). The rose acts as a dusky, spicy background to the brighter flavors of gin, citrus, cardamom and pomegranate.
For the Orient Express:
1 ounce gulab sharbat syrup (see recipe below)
2½ ounces gin
Dried rose bud, for garnish
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine the syrup and the gin, shake vigorously, then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a dried rose bud.
For the gulab sharbat syrup:
2 cups sugar
8 ounces dried roses
3 tablespoons green cardamom pods, crushed
7 lemons, for zest and juice
2 cups boiling water
1 cup pomegranate reduction
In a large bowl, combine the sugar, roses and cardamom. Using a microplane, add the zest of the lemons. Pour the boiling water into the bowl and stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes, stirring several times as it cools. After 20 minutes, strain the mixture into a clean container with a lid. Add the pomegranate reduction and the juice of the lemons (no seeds). Shake well. Keep refrigerated for up to two weeks. Yields about 4 cups.