Blooming Cocktails: the Power of Flowers

Blooms have been rooted in cocktail culture for centuries. Since Biblical times, humans have turned to flowers for medicinal remedies, aromatherapy and as a means of flavoring – and preserving – food and drink. Beyond the tantalizing aroma and unique flavor, there’s a certain mystique that stems from floral accents. Yet, their ubiquitous nature and versatility make edible petals a practical addition to any bar.

Orange blossom water, for example, adds a hint of mystique to a Ramos Gin Fizz, setting it apart from the standard gin and tonic, while a splash of violet liqueur gives the gin-based Aviation cocktail its distinctive blue hue. Similarly, jasmine, hibiscus and lavender often form the floral foundation of bitters, known as the salt of the cocktail world.

Today, these fragrant elixirs are gaining new momentum as inventive bartenders blend everything from rose water and lavender to Spanish moss and pine needles into their signature cocktails. It’s a mixologist’s version of the farm-to-table movement with delectable petals taking center stage.

Floral ingredients made their debut in softer, sweeter drinks with demure names like Maiden’s Kiss and Eve’s Garden, as well as sugary frappés featuring combinations of rose and violet liqueurs, crèmes de menthe and cacao. Over time, bartenders began lacing stronger, more masculine cocktails with floral notes.

Elderflower made a big splash on the San Francisco cocktail scene with the 2007 release of St. Germain elderflower liqueur. Other spirits producers began developing flower-inspired starters, such as Hendrick’s Gin, which includes rose petals in its mix of botanicals. Another, Dimmi Liquore di Milano, an Italian herbal liqueur, has a honeyed aroma of apricot and peach blossoms. At the same time, crafty mixologists began experimenting with their own house-made bitters and syrups infused with edible flowers.

Branching out beyond the basics is the way to go. When using flowers in cocktails, experts recommend focusing more on aroma than flavor. Floral ingredients aren’t really flavors, they’re scents, so the challenge is to capture an essence that’s different from shampoo, perfume or soap. In addition to their unique aromatic profiles, florals naturally lend themselves to colorful, playful presentation. The goal: to provide guests with an experience, not just a drink.

Want to dabble in flowers behind the bar? We asked Natalie Bouvis, author of Edible Cocktails: Garden to Glass for flavor profiles of her favorites:

  • Rose water: While rose water is one of the more “perfume-y” floral ingredients, it adds a dry, floral note to cocktails. Its hallmark feminine scent makes it ideal for bridal cocktails, but it’s also a welcome addition to a very classic gin martini or more “manly” drinks.
  • Crème de violette: With a subtle flavor and beautiful color, crème de violette is best used sparingly. Otherwise, your drink might wind up smelling like soap. Using violette liqueur? Be equally wary of quantity as less is more when it comes to sweetness in cocktails.
  • Orange water: Orange blossom water gives a burst of soft citrus to libations. Unlike orange juice, it is usually clear so it doesn’t change the color of the drink or make it too sweet.
  • Hibiscus: The deep red color of hibiscus lends a festive touch to cocktails. Its earthy and floral notes make it quite versatile, and it blends beautifully with agave spirits.
  • Lavender: Used for both its floral and herbal qualities in food and drink, lavender has a soft flavor that mixes wonderfully with white spirits, particularly gin, as it is sometimes one of the botanicals used in gin distillation.

Cocktail Recipes

Lavender Gin Sour

(Created by Natalie Bovis, The Liquid Muse)

In a rocks glass:

3/4 oz lavender syrup
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
1-3/4 oz gin

Garnish: lavender sugar rim (lavender and sugar ground finely in coffee grinder).

Flor de Maria 

(Created by Natalie Bovis, The Liquid Muse)

In a martini glass:

3/4 oz homemade hibiscus-cabernet syrup
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz maraschino liqueur
1-1/2 oz Reposado tequila
Dash orange bitters

Garnish: spritz orange flower water.

Lavender Gin Fizz

(Provided by Kerri LaTorre, TAPS

1-1/2 oz lavender gin
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/5 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz simple syrup
2 oz heavy cream
1 egg white
3 drops of orange blossom water

Shake with ice, pour into highball glass.

Top off with soda water.

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