Here’s another thing to add to the rapidly-growing list of things the French do better: cocktails. In a country where evening aperitifs and effortless joie de vivre are celebrated daily, it’s no surprise that summer entertaining takes on a whole new meaning in France.
Camille Ralph Vidal—also known as Madame St-Germain in her capacity as the global ambassador for French elderflower liqueur St-Germain—knows a thing or two about making a perfect cocktail à la française. With a global career that spans several positions at high-end bars around the world and a book she wrote for St-Germain entitled How to Drink French Fluently, Vidal seeks to share her knowledge of and passion for mixology with everyone.
Most recently, her passion brought her to New York City where she created four unique cocktails for the Maison St-Germain summer event at the High Line hosted by model-turned-landscape artist Lily Kwong who turned part of the elevated park into a French-inspire labyrinth made from tens of thousands of plants.
We spoke to the southern France native to learn a bit more about how we can infuse a French sensibility into cocktail hour and to get the recipe for each of the new drinks she created. Summer entertaining the French way is about to get a whole lot easier.
How can people mimic the ‘joie de vivre’ you celebrate in How to Drink French Fluently at home through their cocktails?
In this book, we talk about the aperitif culture and how to enjoy it the European way. It’s a journey from sunrise to sunset—sharing elegant ways to elevate and appreciate every moment and make it a memorable experience from a brunch, to an afternoon cocktail, to an aperitif, to a cocktail beautifully paired with your dinner, and finally a nightcap to punctuate the end of the evening.
Is there a current trend in the mixology world we should know about?
I’m all about the low abv (alcohol by volume) cocktail trend. Sherry, vermouth, and bubbles pair so well with St-Germain in a light, refreshing, and low-in-alcohol cocktail that will allow you to explore flavor in a great way. This is a trend that’s picking up more and more in the mixology scene.
What are the cocktail-making essentials you always have on hand?
I always have the ingredients to create an aperitif cocktail, and the aperitif hour is my favorite time of the day. That is the moment when you can unwind, relax and enjoy. Not celebrating anything in particular; just making the time to appreciate good things in life and to make the most of everyday!
"Bees are essential in the ecosystem," says Vidal, "and I wanted to create a cocktail to celebrate that. The Abeille is a modern twist on the classic old fashioned recipe, with notes from whisky, St-Germain, and beeswax blending together to create something both rich with flavor and so delicious."
- 2 oz. Beeswax DEWARS 12 Blended Scotch Whiskey
- ½ oz. St-Germain
- 2 dashes angostura bitters
Serve in a rock glass and garnish with an orange twist and nasturtium flowers.
"The Printemps cocktail is fresh like spring—incorporating basil, orange blossom, and of course St-Germain," explains Vidal. "There is an interesting blend of botanical and floral notes with a slight bitterness."
- 1 oz. Oxley gin
- ¾ oz. St-Germain
- ¾ oz. Martini Ambrato
- 2 dashes orange blossom salive solution
Serve in a rock glass and garnish with a basil flower (or just basil).
"This cocktail was inspired by the French maze entrance leading into the Maison, as that was Lily’s vision for the installation. Lily loves tequila with a sour drink’s composition," notes Vidal.
"With my interpretation of her work, I wanted to create something structured with her taste profile in mind: A cocktail with both elegance and character. Kaffir lime is such a beautiful bright flavor that goes so well with the fruity notes of the fresh elderflower blossoms of St-Germain. The dry vermouth adds some interesting wine notes, complemented by the French herbal flavor from the chartreuse verte."
- 1 oz. Cazadores Blanco tequila
- 1 oz. Kaffir lime-infused St-Germain
-¾ oz. Noilly Dry
- ¼ oz. fresh lime juice
- 5 dashes chartreuse
Serve in a coupette and garnish with kaffir lime leaf.
"The St-Germain cocktail is an elegant, light, and refreshing aperitif. It’s a great introduction to St-Germain as you get all the flavors of our elderflower liqueur in a very balanced cocktail."
- 2 parts Brut champagne
- 1½ parts St-Germain
- 2 parts sparkling water
Fill a tall collins glass with ice. Add champagne first, then St-Germain, then club soda —the order is essential! Stir completely and garnish with a lemon twist.