What is St-Germain liqueur?

By Timo Torner / Last updated on July 27, 2022

St-Germain is a sweet and floral liqueur made of fresh, hand-picked elderflowers. Every bottle contains the natural taste of up to 1,000 elderflower blossoms.
St Germain liqueur made of elderflowers

The taste of elderflower is hard to describe. In Europe, it's often used to make syrups, liqueur, and even juice. And the elderflower liqueur from St-Germain is one of the best you can get.

This liqueur is the secret weapon in many cocktail recipes. Read here what it is, how it tastes, and how you can use it in cocktails.

What is St Germain?

St Germain liqueur is from France, and it is the world's first commercially produced elderflower. It got its name from the fashionable quarter of St-Germain-des-Près located in Paris.

Rob Cooper invented the liqueur in 2007 after tasting a cocktail infused with elderflower blossoms. Intrigued by the unusual, sweet, and floral taste of elderflowers, he tried to create an alcoholic product to capture this flavor.

You can read the full story below in the section about the history of St. Germain liqueur.

St Germain is made only of fresh and fragrant elderflowers. The flowers are hand-harvested in late springs from local farmers in Haute Savoie. There, elder trees grow almost everywhere.

The taste of St Germain liqueur

The taste of elderflower is pretty unique. It's hard to describe and even harder to compare. The taste of St Germain elderflower liqueur is light, sweet, citrusy, and floral. You can also find fruity notes in it like pear and passion fruit.

Elderflower blossoms

The consistency of the liqueur is thick and almost syrupy. It's too viscid for drinking neat. But used in mixed drinks, it creates a wonderfully rich mouthfeel. -Similar to adding rich or gum syrup to a cocktail.

How to substitute St Germain

As the taste of the liqueur is so unique, there aren't many options to substitute it in a mixed drink.

Your best bet is another elderflower liqueur. My preferred alternatives are the elderflower liqueurs from Edinburgh and De Kuyper. These liqueurs are more common in Europe. Yet, you can sometimes find them on store shelves elsewhere, too.

Italicus - Rosolio di Bergamotto

Italicus is another option to replace St Germain in a cocktail. However, note that there's no elderflower in the list of ingredients. Therefore, it doesn't have the same flavor profile.

Still, Italicus is also intensely floral and often used in similar drinks. For me, it is an underrated alternative to elderflower liqueur.

History of the St Germain liqueur

St Germain was released in 2007, but the story of the liqueur started already six years before. One evening in 2001, New York-born Rob Cooper went into a bar in London after a long day at work.

Little did he know that the bartender was about to serve him a drink that would eventually change his life.

Dreaming up St. Germain

The cocktail he had in front of him was infused with elderflower blossoms, and it blew Cooper away. He had tried elderflower syrups before, but he found the fresh and fragrant infusion was different.

Inspired by the drink in front of him, he started thinking about how he could bring this fresh, fragrant, and floral taste into a liqueur.

To be able to focus on his elderflower liqueur, Rob Cooper had to leave the family business, which produced and sold Chambord. -At least he was staying within the industry.

The invention of St. Germain

First, he had to find the right place where Sambucus nigra - black elder- grows. He identified the French Savoy region to be perfect for harvesting the precious flowers.

The problem was convincing friends and family that there was a big enough market for these flowers to operate profitably.

Not even his father, a liqueur magnate himself, believed in the idea. Allegedly, he offered to hire him back once he had failed. And that wasn't the only issue…

Processing the flowers turned out to be a nightmare. Pressing the pedals too hard created a bitter taste. Dehydrating or freezing them killed their aroma and flavor. The only way was to use freshly harvested blossoms and let them infuse in alcohol.

It took almost six years until Cooper was able to launch his product. But as they say, good things take time. St Germain quickly became a staple in bars around the world.

In 2012, Cooper sold St. Germain to the Bacardi Group. Sadly, four years later, at the age of only 39, he did in his Santa Barbara home.

St Germain in cocktails

The sweet and floral taste of St Germain makes it a great ingredient in summery cocktails. But only in combination with citric acid, the liqueur unfolds its full potential.

This magical combination is sometimes jokingly referred to as "bartenders ketchup".

It's a fantastic ingredient for classic cocktails like a Gimlet or a French 75. But also, cocktails like the Glasgow Mule, Hugo, and a St Germain Spritz work perfectly with the fragrant elderflower liqueur.

Elderflower Gin Cocktail made with St Germain

Other liqueurs important for mixology

Liqueurs are wonderful cocktail ingredients, and there are so many different ones to discover. Some of my favorites are:

  • Safari liqueur - A fresh and tropical liqueur produced in the Netherlands
  • Ancho Reyes - A spicy chile liqueur from Mexico available in two different styles.
  • Maraschino liqueur - A beautiful cherry-flavored liqueur made of Marasca cherries.
  • Blue Curacao - The famous blue liqueur coming from the Caribbean.
  • Green Chartreuse - A traditional French herbal liqueur produced by the monks of the Chartreuse order.
  • Or try Licorice liqueur. This liqueur has an almost syrupy consistent and a distinct licorice flavor.

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