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A Bouquet You Want to Catch
Written by Henri Hollis | Photo: Henri Hollis | February 25, 2019
Atlanta’s cocktail scene welcomes spring blossoms in a very literal way.
Flowers have a funny way of playing tricks on us. Their bright colors and sweet scents communicate a strong message to the less evolved parts of the human brain; they shout, “I’m delicious—eat me!”
Of course, flowers aren’t tasty—at all. Even edible flowers that appear on restaurant plates add more visual appeal than flavor. Perhaps, then, it’s time for flowers to move from the plate into the glass, where the bouquet is an important part of the drinking experience. Atlanta’s bartenders are already on board, as many are adding the bewitching scents of popular blossoms into delicious cocktails.
On bar menus around the city, ingredients like rosewater, butterfly pea blossom and orange flower water are more common than ever. But that doesn’t mean incorporating truly floral flavors into cocktails is easy. Jeff Banks, beverage manager at Southbound (@southboundatlanta) in Chamblee, uses Fee Brothers orange flower water in his excellent spring sipper called the Alternatif.
“Rosewater and orange flower water are actually hydrosols,” he explains. “They’re made from a process that’s similar to distillation. You basically boil a ton of flower petals in water and capture the vapor that comes off the top. When you condense it, you have a hydrosol. That’s what rosewater is in its most basic form.”
The Alternatif, Banks’ cocktail, is an example of what you wish flowers tasted like. Its scent fills your nose and mouth in a pleasant way that doesn’t detract from its drinkability. Structure comes from Nobushi Japanese whiskey, but the Alternatif has a thirst-quenching character, almost like a sports drink.
At Minero (@mineroatl) in Ponce City Market, the Estrellita is similarly likable. It’s made with a Caribbean syrup that includes hibiscus tea, honey and spices. On unseasonably warm spring days, the hibiscus is more than just a pretty flower.
“Hibiscus actually has a bit of sodium content, so it helps replenish electrolytes,” says Bar Manager Patrick Schultz. “It physically cools you down.”
If you’d like to cool down sans the Estrellita’s two shots of vodka, try Minero’s Jamaica Tea. The unsweetened hibiscus tea really doesn’t need any sugar, and it’s a gorgeous crystalline red color. Just looking at it makes you feel cooler.
Another cooling drink is the Malabar cocktail at Decatur’s Chai Pani (@chaipanidecatur). A unique combination of rose-cardamom syrup serves a one-two punch of flavor; it begins with a floral aroma and ends with a cooling sensation, similar to what you’d taste from mint.
At 5Church (@5churchatlanta), a new cocktail called The Eden highlights the sweetness of St-Germain, a popular liqueur made with elderflower. The liqueur is balanced with the earthier flavor of pear nectar, and the cocktail is served with an edible orchid for a matching visual.
Other bartenders have moved flowers into prime time, making boozy dinner drinks with floral accents rather than drinkable porch-sippers. Japanese cocktail lounge Himitsu (@himitsuatl) in Buckhead has created a modern-day classic with the Raichi, a complex cocktail that combines lychee with rosewater. And at The Lawrence (@thelawrenceatl) in Midtown, bartender Kevin O’Kelley has created the Tremble Like a Flower, a cocktail that’s somehow both accessible and challenging—just like David Bowie, the late musician who inspired the drink.
“The theme of our current menu is musical acts that have passed on,” explains Bar Manager Taylor Blackgrave, O’Kelley’s boss. “I challenged Kevin to make a drink based on a 20th-century icon with gin and creme de cacao.”
Tremble Like a Flower is built with rye whiskey and creme de yvette, a creme liqueur made from violet petals. The drink’s floral nose gives way to a deep, richly flavored cocktail. It’s served with a single flower floating on top, which is likely as unique as the drinker.
“We get a variety of flowers mixed together,” says Blackgrave. “I like to pick a flower that fits the person ordering the drink.”