In Bloom

Pollinate your taste buds with elderflower syrup

By Tony Cross

The first time I sipped from a cocktail with elderflower liqueur in it, I think I said something to the tune of, “What the hell is that?” It was every bit as delicious as it was foreign to my taste buds. I was dining at a fantastic restaurant in Chapel Hill (it closed soon after, sadly) about a year before I got behind the bar, where I was bitten by the cocktail bug. That liqueur, St. Germaine, was all the rage at the time. Until recently, I haven’t come across anything comparable that’s available here. That changed when I received an email from a buddy of mine who reps for a wine company in Raleigh.

A year ago, I received the exact same email from my wine rep friend: “The Elderflower Syrup Is Returning,” it read. I didn’t respond right away or write myself a reminder. By the time I remembered, all of their cases had been sold. Not the case this year — no pun intended. I drove to Durham just to grab a bottle from another restaurant (a big thank you to Patrick over at Guglhupf Bakery, Café & Restaurant). Then I placed an order for 24 bottles of my own. I’ll explain why shortly.

Nikolaihof Elder Syrup is a pure, aromatic, non-alcoholic syrup that should be a new staple in your refrigerator. Nikolaihof is located in the Wachau region in Austria. It also happens to be the oldest wine estate in the country, dating back to 470 A.D. The elderflowers grow all over the estate’s property, run by the Saahs family. They blossom once a year in late spring. This gives the family only a couple of days to pick them, when they are “perfect.” Getting the flowers to this point includes a serious commitment to biodynamic farming. According to their tech sheet, “The Saahs plant and harvest according to the moon calendar and use homeopathic treatments for the grapevines and other plants.” After they are plucked, the elderflowers are steeped in a simple syrup, allowing the aromatics and rich flavor to extract into the sugar water. I love the results. Yes, the syrup is sweet, but there are little nuances that give it character. The info sheet I received about the syrup notes that flavors of “lychee, grapefruit, and pear” are present. I get a little pear and lychee, but I also taste a floral funkiness. Don’t get it twisted; this is not a bad thing. The floral funk is slight, and there’s just enough of it to say “hello.” That’s what does it for me.

When trying the syrup for the first time, I recommend adding 1/2 to 3/4 ounce to sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon. That alone is one of the most refreshing drinks I’ve had in a while, especially in the heat. It’s great for someone not imbibing alcohol but wanting to take part in the festivities. If you’re graduating to alcohol, add 1/4 ounce to your next glass of dry sparkling wine. Put the syrup in your flute first, then top off with sparkling wine. Take a swath of lemon peel (a grapefruit peel works nicely here too), express oils over the champagne flute, and add the peel.

If you’re going to try this in a cocktail, there are myriad spirits and styles awaiting you. Start with sparkling water and add vodka or gin; a blanco tequila or mezcal; or whatever you have in mind or on your shelf. Some of my favorite creations were mistakes or created in one try. Give it a go. The only place you can grab a bottle will be Nature’s Own. I got a couple of cases because only 3,500 bottles are produced each year (bottles, not cases).

Below is something I created the day I picked the bottle up in Durham. Actually, it’s a remake of a remake. When I finally got around to bartending a year after trying my first elderflower liqueur cocktail in Chapel Hill, I wanted to recreate it at my bar. What I’m sharing is my version of that cocktail, but using the Nikolaihof syrup. Different specs, different drink.

The Mysterious Vanishing of Holunderblüten

2 ounces Plymouth Gin

3/4 ounce lemon juice

Scant 1/2 ounce Nikolaihof Holunderblüten syrup

1/4 ounce rosemary-infused simple syrup*

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, and shake until tin is ice cold. Double-strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

*Rosemary-infused simple syrup: Add 1/2 cup sugar to 1/2 cup water in a pot and stir over medium heat. Once sugar has dissolved, add three 4-inch stalks of rosemary. Once cooled, transfer to a container. Seal, and refrigerate overnight. Remove rosemary the next day.

Tony Cross is a bartender who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

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