Roses are red, violets blue

With St Valentine’s day coming up, I’ve been getting all romantic this week.

Actually, I haven’t. the Beloved’s away trying to be a latter-day Billie-Jean King, and I’m at home with bins to empty and laundry to do. My nieces have always insisted St Valentine’s day is a celebration for everyone you love, not just for romantic feelings, so I took the opportunity for a night out with a friend on Friday and we frolicked gleefully in the local cocktail bar. Wanting to write about cocktails based on flower liqueurs, that’s what we drank.

Flower flavours are not to everyone’s taste, I get that. I’ve only to mention violets to hear people screaming “Zoflora!” and “old ladies’ knickers!” I’ve never drunk either of those things, but, if your experience is broader than mine, feel free to denounce me. Personally, I love Turkish delight, elderflower G&T and orange-flower water in sweet coffee. Here are some ideas for flower-flavoured cocktails you might want to serve as a prelude to a romantic dinner or a celebration of friendship.

Hélène de Troie (pictured above)
Pour a measure of Crème de Rose liqueur into the bottom of a Champagne glass and top up with pink champagne. Garnish with a rose petal.
I created this in a Greek restaurant in France as a student. The name means Helen of Troy. Crème de Rose is a deep pink liqueur with full-on damask rose scent. If you like roses, this is the ultimate romantic drink.

Rose-Hyp Cocktail
Pour into a mixing glass a double measure of Dutch dry gin, a measure of St-Germain elderflower liqueur, half a measure of dry vermouth and a splash of Crème de Rose. Stir briskly and strain into a Windsor Martini glass.
Created by Simon Difford (he of the online cocktail bible), this is off-dry and very aromatic. It would suit someone for whom a classic Martini is a bit too much, but was also much appreciated by my louche friend over the table!

Rose-Hyp Cocktail to the rear

Italy has its own rose liqueur, the more delicately flavoured and coloured Rosolio. This ancient style of liqueur, once favoured by royalty, had all but died out in the last century, but it was revived by Giuseppe Gallo a few years ago, giving it a modern twist by the addition of bergamot. He called his liqueur Italicus, and it makes an excellent white Negroni. It is the centrepiece of this cocktail, created at the Ned Hotel, London.
In a shaker of ice, place
50ml of Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto
15ml of orange bitter (I used Amara, or try Luxardo Bitter if you can get it.)
10ml of lemon juice
10ml of orange juice
20ml of egg white
Shake hard and serve in a coupe class, garnished with a sage leaf.

The Sanguinello is lovely and fresh, with the taste of orange to the fore, but with the fragrance of bergamot, rose and lavender. It was my friend’s favourite drink of the evening.

(L) Sanguinello; (R) Aviation

I find the taste of violets very strong and much more challenging than roses, but it seems to be very popular at the moment. I’m seeing various violet gins on the shelves, and the classic Aviation cocktail seems to be making quite a come-back!
Shake a large gin, a measure of Maraschino liqueur, a splash of Crème de Violette and a heavy squirt of lemon juice. Serve in a coupe glass with a maraschino cherry.
To my taste the Aviation is a little sweet, and I’m never sure what the cherry flavoured Maraschino brings to the party. I much prefer it’s simpler sister, the Blue Moon.
Blue Moon
Shake together a double gin, 15ml of Crème de Violette and a squirt of lemon juice.
The original Blue Moon recipe used egg white, too, but 1940s rationing put paid to that, and now it’s more often served without the egg. This is one of those unusual cocktails that can cope with a sweeter or a more complex gin than I’d normally use for mixing. Try it with an Old Tom gin or Bombay Sapphire.

To round the night off, we challenged the barman to create something special featuring a traditional Rosolio, the only limit being that I wanted to taste the roses. This is what he came up with:

Belle Harbour
1 measure of traditional Rosolio
1½ measures of Irish Whiskey
A splash of lemon juice
Stir over ice and strain into a Martini glass
This tastes like a very posh Old Fashioned. The vanilla notes of the whiskey really compliment the Rosolio and the small amount of lemon juice just lifts and freshens it, with a little sharpness to balance all that sweetness.

Belle Harbour

Many thanks to the extremely talented Matthew at Porco Rosso bar in Harrogate.

Next time: We need to talk about gin.


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