So, elderflower and gin is fast becoming the taste of summer. For many years, it was a staple ingredient of North Western Europe, but now elderflower cordials, gins and liqueurs are available around the world. But while this pretty flower’s culinary roots go as far back as the Romans, Europeans have been using the flowers of the European Elder to make cordial recipes to refresh thirsty Europeans for many centuries now. These days, it has become a common summer flavour and many people still make it in the traditional way, generally as a cordial, squash or syrup that is mixed with still or sparkling water – and it’s refreshing, healthy and easy to make at home.
What exactly is an elderflower?
Elderflowers generally grow between May and June, making them the perfect solution to summer heat and they can generally be found across Europe, North Africa and S.W. Asia.
Making the cordial is actually a very simple process which involves steeping the flower heads in a solution of concentrated sugar which infuses the flavour directly into the syrup. Some people add a little lemon juice to help add a little sharpness before covering it and allowing the infusion process to begin. Once the flavours have really blended, it’s then a relatively simple process of straining the resulting product to extract as much juice as possible before mixing it with water, sparkling water and even gin.
Keeping things cordial
Or, if you prefer, simply buy some commercial elderflower cordial and mix it up to your taste. For centuries, this light, refreshingly delicious summer drink has been served up at summer events and picnics. And then, when the craft gin revolution began and distillers and craft gin producers started looking for ways to improve and enhance their gin, elderflower became the perfect match. It’s light, citrus sweetness made it an ideal partner for gin and a fabulous alternative to the standard choice of Indian tonic water to provide a refreshing, easy to drink mixer. Many brands are available these days, from Belvoir to supermarket own brands. But we like the very French St. Germain which uses hand picked flowers that are taken back to the village by bicycle.
Just the tonic…
Most of the premium tonic brands now offer an elderflower alternative. From the ubiquitous Fever Tree with their plain elderflower tonic to old standards such as Schweppes, it seems everybody now recognises this new flavour as a legitimate alternative to standard tonic. One of our favourite tonic brands, Franklin and Sons, now offers elderflower and cucumber tonic water which is cooling and light and a perfect way to enhance your summer gin of choice. Versions are available at all levels and prices.
But, you could dispense with the commercial versions altogether if you choose an elderflower gin. My personal favourite is from JJ. Whitley – a refreshing, fragrant gin with a distinctive honey, orange and elderflower taste and at a great price. It’s not overly strong at around 38.6% ABV, but that may not be such a bad thing since it’s so easy to drink. Other brands to look out for include the Warner Edwards Elderflower gin which clocks in at a slightly stronger 40% ABV, but is almost twice the price. Gordon’s even does an elderflower version of their gin.
Gin liqueurs – keeping things sweet
Then there are the elderflower gin liqueurs which are sweeter and more concentrated but can be a lovey aperitif or add a blast of summer to your cocktails. There are tasty versions of these over at Edinburgh Gin with a blend of elderflower, lavender. Orange peel and lemongrass (other brands are available).
Perfect for summer cocktails
And then, there is the elderflower as a gin cocktail ingredient, increasingly appearing in summer gin coolers, martinis and long cocktails topped up with soda or sparkling wine. But we could talk about the theory all summer long, but what you really want is an easy recipe to get your summer rolling. So, we’ve found a really easy to make (and easy to drink) recipe for a Gin and Elderflower cooler that will impress your friends and give you an extra reason to get your shorts on, slip into the garden or terrace and elevate yourself smugly above those gin and tonic drinkers.
Welcome to the Gin and Elderflower Cooler.
Gin and Elderflower cooler recipe
- 100ml elderflower cordial
- 150 ml gin (use JJ. Whitley to pump up the flavour)
- 400 ml of soda (or sparkling water)
- Ice cubes
- 8 cucumber circles (thinly sliced)
- 2 apple circles (thinly sliced)
- 3 sprigs of fresh mint
- 1 litre jug or pitcher
- Pour the elderflower cordial and gin directly into the jug
- Top up with the soda or sparkling water
- Scrunch up the mint leaves in your hands (bruising them lightly to release the flavour)
- Add it to the pitcher along with the cucumber and apple
- Add ice last and then give it all a good stir
- Leave it for a few minutes to infuse and when you’re ready, pour and sip smugly!
Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)
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