I must confess, I'm a big fan of St. Germain, from the liqueur itself, to the bottle, to how it's made. (The image of those rustic men gathering the elderflower blossoms from the Alpine cliffsides, then descending with them stuffed in sacks slung over their shoulders, then mounting their bicycles and speeding off to the collection depots. It can't get much better than that.) Also, I'm a diehard New York Jets fan, so this upstart elderflower liqueur called St. Elder, made a couple hundred yards and a tight spiral away from Boston, Massachusetts... Well, you KNOW they're all Patriots fans at the St. Elder factory! Tom Brady... Pretty boy! But I decided to put all that aside and give this an honest appraisal, that being St. Elder versus St. Germain. So the other night I sat down with a bottle of each and two glasses, a pen and a piece of paper at hand.
The first thing to account for is the BOTTLE itself. The St. Germain bottle, regardless of what's inside, is a work of art, a latter-day Art Nouveau masterpiece. Just by looking at it, you conjure up images of Paris in the Belle Époque. The bottle for St. Elder, well, it's plain and without character and could as easily contain grocery store Margarita mix. Although the St. Elder label is a not too subtle attempt at replicating the label for St. Germain, so give them ten points for recognizing its timeless artistry, but take away ten for shamelessly trying to capture it.
Next is the COLOR. St. Elder and St. Germain are nearly identical in this regard, both a luminous yellow-gold (although St. Germain is perhaps a little deeper).
Now we crack open the bottles and the next thing to discern is the SMELL. With eyes closed, it's not hard to distinguish between the two. St. Elder has two dominant smells, one of grapefruit, the other of alcohol, almost like vodka. St. Germain, on the other hand, has a more harmonious, balanced bouquet of scents, like lychee, pear, and grapefruit (but not exactly). You can say it's more than the sum of its parts, as nothing smells quite like it, quite captivating.
Next is the TASTE. Upon the first sip of St. Elder, you immediately taste the sweetness; certainly much sweeter than St. Germain. And there is more citrus. The first sip of St. Germain, you can discern the way the different flavors dance on the palate with a finish that's almost savory. To employ an analogy from music: St. Elder's flavor is the octave to St. Germain's full scale. And by itself as an apéritif, St. Germain is quite satisfying, complete unto itself, whereas on its own, St. Elder lacks a sustaining complexity, and cries out to be mixed with something else.
And speaking of MIXING, I substituted St. Elder for St. Germain in several of my cocktails, most notably "The 21st Century" (see the March 7, 2016 Blog entry: The 21st Century: A New Gin & Vodka Classic Cocktail) and "The Assassination of Trotsky" (see the KEVIN'S COCKTAIL MINUTE video). In the first, St. Elder pales to St. Germain, probably because an entire ounce is required, and its limited range of flavors becomes apparent. However, the second drink, "The Assassination of Trotsky", is hot, spicy, and sour, so the half ounce of St. Elder succeeds here with its sweetness, and might even be better than St. Germain. More experimentation is required, as I can envision St. Elder working quite well in drinks that would benefit from a less complex taste but more assertive sweetness.
Finally, there's the PRICE. At nearly half the cost of St. Germain, St. Elder is an economical addition to any bar. But then, there's the name: St. Elder. Is it not beyond obvious this blatant attempt at clutching onto the coattails of St. Germain? Was Saint Elder even a saint? But hey, it's a tough world out there, and this name definitely gets your attention. And believe it or not, St. Germain the liqueur, despite its timeless, Art Nouveau bottle, has only been around since 2007.
Why does this look like it's from the 19th Century?
But take off your shoes!
Thanks, Robert Cooper. 1976-2016 RIP