Friday, September 12, 2008

Death & Elderflower

September 11

The brothers Trummer helped popularize elderflower in cocktails here in New York, but I thought they were using St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur, to do it.
Not so. They were using elderflower syrups and cordials, according to Rob Cooper, who invented St. Germain and doesn’t even know the Trummers.
Rob, whose grandfather makes cordials, spent six years developing St. Germain — three years finding a source for the flowers, which he finally did in France’s Haute-Savoie region — and three years making it taste good.
The flowers bloom in late May and early June. Rob’s people harvest them and he macerates them in alcohol, adding sugar about mid-way through the process.
Rob says his first batch tasted terrible, and so he had to wait until next year to harvest new flowers and try again, which he did.
It tasted terrible.
But he was happy with his third try, and that is what is sweeping those New York bars that take cocktails seriously.
Rob and I met in Death & Company, which is just such a bar. It’s an intense place with intense bartenders (call them mixologists or cocktailians if you must; I’ll call them bartenders).
Shaking last night were Brian Miller and Alex Day, who grimly — shirt sleeves rolled up to their biceps — made half a dozen drinks for us to try.
Rob and I drank them with gusto while exchanging tales of derring do and discussing the downfall of Lehman Brothers.
Into the middle of all this stepped an institutional investor for AIG, who lived in the neighborhood and decided it was time to check the place out.
As Rob stepped outside to make a phone call or have a cigarette or something, the investor told the bartenders he liked vodka, which he drank neat.
I said something to the effect of: “Dude,” explaining that this was a macho bar of serious, grown-up cocktails.
Brian, being a good host, objected strenuously. He wouldn’t call the place macho, and he said that people should drink what they like.
Although, Alex chimed in, they only had one kind of vodka. He pulled it from under the bar. It was an unlabeled bottle, about two-thirds full, presumably used for making various infusions that would benefit from a neutral-tasting spirit.
The two bartenders consulted and one of them went off to start mixing. I thought the need for consultation was funny, since if I’d said I wanted something that was a riff on a Margarita but more bitter and maybe with some interesting aromatics I’m sure either one of them would have tossed something delicious together for me, no sweat.
Actually, come to think of it, one of the elderflower drinks Alex made for me was just that.
Rob came back at some point and Mr. Institutional Investor told him he liked vodka because it was a pure spirit.
Rob kind of let him have it, and lectured him about different spirits in detail that you don’t need to hear.
I wondered about the desirability of consuming pure things. If your beverage of choice is odorless, flavorless vodka, would that mean that for dessert you’d have a spoonful of sugar? Would dinner be undifferentiated albumin (like egg whites) sprinkled with three parts potassium-chloride to two parts sodium-chloride and topped off with a little ascorbic acid? It seemed to me that the impurities were what made it all so much fun.
The bartenders brought him a classic Martini from the olden days, when it was equal parts gin and vermouth.
He said he loved it, and he did seem to be enjoying it, but what else was he going to say?

1 comment:

Shane Curcuru said...

Dude, like what are food writer's tales of derring do? That sounds interesting, whether it's eating something wild that tries to eat you back, or escaping from some crazy tasting chef's private party when you've had enough of the scene. Someday you should start a side column of past derring dones along with your regular daily notes.

And someone who only drinks "pure spirits" doesn't care what's for dessert, since either 1) they're all smoke & mirrors and as long as the backstory's good, they don't care about the actual dish, or 2) they just want to get drunk efficiently.

Anyway, I'm glad they made him a real martini. It's too bad the drink has lent it's name to the glass, which has now been "Kleenexed" (i.e. become a generic word).