Why It Works
- DIY elderflower cordial (syrup) is versatile and significantly less expensive than prepared elderflower liqueur (like St. Germain).
- Cordial can be customized with dried or fresh elderflowers, different fruit juices, or liquor.
- Citric acid boosts acidity and extends shelf-life.
Elderflower liqueur is a magical potion—a little bit will revive and brighten Champagne that's heading south or enhance the botanicals in a good gin. It perks up a drink by adding a little sweetness and a light floral touch. Though it was once hard to find in the States, elderflower liqueur is now such a common and essential mixing ingredient that it's called "bartender's ketchup" in cocktail circles.
I wasn't even aware of consuming elderflowers in any form until I tried St. Germain liqueur in 2007. But that's probably because I'm American. Had I grown up in Europe, I would have been picking blossoms from elderberry shrubs since childhood to make elderflower syrup. So I have decades of elderflower consumption to make up for. (It's very American of me to call it a syrup. Across the pond it's known as elderflower cordial, which I think sounds much more lovely.) No matter where you are, this elixir will bring the lightness and fun of springtime into your glass.
What's Available to Buy
St. Germain is the most well-known and easiest to find elderflower-flavored anything. It tastes a bit like lychee with a floral twist. I went a little nutso stockpiling bottles of St. Germain and haven't depleted my supply, so I've yet to try the other elderflower liqueurs out there, such as Chase, Bramley and Gage, Pür, and Thatcher's. The ridiculously well-stocked liquor stores I frequent don't seem to carry those other brands, but they aren't hard to buy online. The liqueurs all go for about $25-$30 a bottle. Ikea and Monin also make tasty and affordable elderflower syrups that will go a long way, since they're quite concentrated.
I spotted dried elderflowers in the Latin market for seventy-nine cents an ounce, so I bought a half-pound and went crazy with it. I suppose a trip to Lolita's Market in my Honda Fit isn't as enchanting of a tale as bohemian farmers plucking blossoms in the Alps and then bicycling them to the St. Germain production facility. But, as obsessed as I am with St. Germain, I still use it rather judiciously because it isn't exactly cheap. Now, for less than a dollar, I can make a delicious elderflower mixer that pairs just as well with Champagne and gin as it does with sparkling water or pancakes.
I always put a little lemon in my elderflower cocktails, so I added Meyer lemon to the cordial to give it an extra burst of freshness. The result is like a lemon bar mixed with a light, floral tea. I can't get enough of it. You could use oranges or grapefruit instead of lemons, or substitute honey or agave nectar for the sugar. Lots of other fruits taste great with elderflower, so if you find yourself with extra strawberries or raspberries, you could add that to the mix. Elderflower also pairs well with cucumber and herbs like rosemary and basil. I decided on making a cordial instead of a liqueur because it seemed more flexible. However, you could make a delicious impromptu liqueur by combining your cordial with vodka or pear eau de vie.
Homemade elderflower cordial is surprisingly useful—I am actually not sure how I lived without it. I use it to sweeten and flavor iced tea and sparkling water, or in place of simple syrup or sugar in cocktails like the Daiquiri, Tom Collins, or Cucumber Gimlet.
With a little tasting and tweaking, it'll work in place of elderflower liqueur in concoctions as diverse as the Yellow Jacket or Watermelon Crawl. Elderflower cordial is a natural companion for sparkling wine—add a little cordial to your bubbly along with some gin and a lemon slice for a twist on the French 75.
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup dried elderflowers (see note)
1 Meyer lemon (see note)
1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid (see note)
Bring water and sugar to a boil over medium heat until sugar dissolves, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and let simple syrup cool.
Wash and slice Meyer lemon and place in a sealable glass jar along with elderflower and citric acid powder. Pour in cooled simple syrup, seal, and shake. Store in refrigerator for a minimum of 24 hours (and up to 72 hours, if stronger flavor is desired).
Strain cordial through cheesecloth into desired container, pressing down to extract all the liquid. Store in a sealed glass container in refrigerator for up to 3 months. (If you omit citric acid, store for no more than 3 weeks or until cordial appears cloudy. If you use vodka as a preservative in place of citric acid, store for no more than 6 weeks or until cordial appears cloudy.)
Dried elderflowers can be found in many Latin grocery stores. Some homebrew and winemaking shops carry them as well. If you have access to fresh elderflower blossoms, do not dry them, as they will produce a more fragrant and delicate cordial when used fresh. You will, however, have to use at least twice as much by volume. Be sure to pick them when they smell fresh rather than when they start to yellow on the plant.
Meyer lemons can be found in high-end grocery stores during the winter citrus season. If not available, half a regular lemon and half an orange can be used in the place of one Meyer lemon.
Citric acid powder, also known as sour salt, is easy to find at many markets, but you can order it online from Amazon, too. It not only boosts the acidity of the cordial, but it also acts as a preservative.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0g||0%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrate 25g||9%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||0%|
|Total Sugars 25g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||2%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|