We noted last week in this regularly scheduled diatribe that New Orleans, thanks to young energetic mixologists and to the annual, recently staged Tales of the Cocktail Festival, had taken her place in the forefront of the renaissance of the American cocktail.
That sort of reputation is important as we are dependent on our hospitality talents to show our guests a good time and to provide them with experiences that they just can’t duplicate in other locales. We have justifiably built a reputation with our cuisine, which is absolutely not replicated anywhere else.
I don’t’ care what your best friend from Denver says about a New Orleans-style restaurant in that picturesque community that is just like ———-(fill in the blank with any local restaurant’s name). It isn’t. It is probably good, but it is not New Orleans.
So, too, the cocktail scene is vibrant, creative and alive here in the Crescent City. We are the better for it because it is our version of what is going on in other places.
What has happened on the national and international scene is that a plethora of new processes and ingredients has made the end result, i.e. an appealing beverage in that glass right in front of you, that much more satisfying. Infusions of all manner of herbs and fruits into liquor have changed the complexion of many drinks, and opened up new worlds of bouquets and flavors, which has encouraged experimentation.
We have a number of local mixologists, like Alan Walter at Iris, who are actually mad scientists disguised as friendly bartenders. Alan gathers his own ingredients and pounds them or cooks them or allows them to steep, and then he adds small quantities of the end result into cocktails which he creates. Do you know of anyone else out there doing anything with the pine needles from Lakeview, other than raking them off the driveway and putting them in a garbage bag out by the curb twice a week? Alan built a drink around them.
Along those lines, but then again not really, may I bring to your attention a liqueur known as St. Germain? I’ll bet you’ve seen it. Maybe even had a drop or two in a cocktail.
St. Germain is packaged in a tall, striking, fluted bottle, which just by itself looks pretty darn good at the back of any bar. Looks like the person in charge of this bar has it all going on.
St. Germain is made from elderflowers, but not just any old elderflowers. These elderflowers are gathered only once each year, in the spring. And these elderflowers are from the foothill regions of the Alps.
After they are gathered, they are placed in sacks and then the elderflower-picker rides these starry-white flowers on his bike to the distillery. How many folks are there to do this? About 40 or 50, no more. There are not that many elderflowers so more pickers does not translate into more crop.
The resulting liqueur is a curious blend of honey, fruit, and cleanliness, reminiscent of a clear spring day in the Alps. Okay, so I’ve never been there at that time, but I imagine this is what it is. Give me a break here.
The logical drink to make with St. Germain is the St. Germain Cocktail (clever people, those French). This drink is 2 shots each of dry white wine, like sauvignon blanc, or you can use sparkling wine or Prosecco, and soda, to which you add 1 ½ shots of St. Germain. Garnish with lemon twist.
That’s how St. Germain is used in a number of recipes. Not much, but just enough so it’s presence is felt. The cocktail becomes something softer, more elegant, even more refreshing.
It is quite a versatile addition to a drink. You can use it in a Mojito, a cosmopolitan, with champagne in a variation on the French 75, and as an added flavor to drinks that are built around gin, tequila or pisco.
The really great thing about St. Germain is that it begs for experimentation. And that is exactly where the whole cocktail culture is heading.
There are a lot of young bartenders here, working in cutting-edge bars, who are proudly working with St. Germain and other cocktail small-dose adjuncts to tradition.
Remember that old advertising phrase, “Try it. You’ll like it.” It should not have been used to hype some ersatz fast-preparation food product. It actually could be about the many opportunities now available to improve upon old-style cocktails, making them seem fresh and new.