The First Growth

Originating from Anvil, out in Houston, the First Growth is a rather good cocktail, balanced with a good mix of flavors seeping throughout each sip of the drink.  One of the main ingredients, St. Germaine, is a curious liqueur, that shares it’s name with an even more curious “historical” figure.

“The charming personality of the Count de St. Germain made him a welcome guest in the homes of the nobility of every land. But while he often sat at table with his friends, his own food was specially prepared for him in his own apartments. He ate no meat and drank no wine, his favorite beverage being a tea which he prepared from certain herbs, and which he frequently presented to his friends. His extraordinary popularity was due to his prowess as a raconteur, to his well known intimacy with the greatest men and women of the day, to his familiarity with occult subjects, and especially to the mystery of his birth and nationality, which he consistently refused to reveal.”
From Great Theosophists, “The Count De St. Germain” in Theosophy, Vol. 27, No. 1, November, 1938
This drink looks rather strange, but mainly, the majority of the unique flavor comes from the use of sage, and the utilization of a specific liqueur, that of St. Germain.  The curious liqueur shares its name with the Count of St. Germain, who was a rather aberrant gentleman, truly a count, who apparently knew great secrets of alchemy, had an exceedingly good memory, was a fashionable dresser, “with a slender, graceful figure, a captivating smile, and eyes of peculiar beauty” (Great Theosophists).  An eccentric of the highest class, he was known to have created gold from silver, and change smaller diamonds into one larger substantial diamond (Ibid).  Like such alchemical pursuits, I see a cocktail the same way: a bartender mixes the ingredients into one unique new flavor, improving their worth, value, and measure by quite a bit so that the patron can enjoy the concoction.  While there may be many different tastes of alcohol, the taste of a cocktail is unlimited.
As such, taking a few interesting components, my first thoughts when viewing the First Growth, is that it follows a traditional three, two, one ratio cocktail.  The drink is one and a half ounces Hendrick’s Gin, an ounce of pineapple juice, and a half of an ounce of St Germain (Mayock).  Instead of bitters, the flavor is augmented through the use of a freshly muddled herb, sage, similar to how mint would be used in a Mojito or a Mint Julep.  The flavors however, are quite bright, and one would never expect pineapple and sage to go so well together, let alone with elderflower notes and the botanicals of the gin.  Yet the entire cocktail works.  And really well I might add.  The pineapple juice also, when shaken hard, produces a texture, that adds to the overall flavor and aesthetic of the cocktail, giving the drink a nice thin layer of foam that produces a nice overall appearance as if the sage leaf garnish floats upon a bed of clouds.
The drink is the brain child of Bobby Heugel of Anvil Bar and Refuge, a bar located out in Houston.  Having visited the location, I have to say it has a very good decor; but I’ve only been on one night, and I will have to visit again on a different night when other bartenders, such as Bobby, are working.  The bar is a unique bar, in that it doesn’t stock vodka, only produces cocktails with a historical flair and flavor, and does things with premium ingredients and a wide array of liquors. It is a great example of the cocktail movement towards new found forms of expertise in service.
Like the count, St Germain as the liqueur is quite strange.  The elderflower liqueur smells on the nose as if it were lychee, but tastes rather perfume-like, sweet yet savory, with a syrup like quality to it, most likely on account of the level of sugar in the drink. As their website discusses, elderflowers are an ingredient that has an exceedingly short shelf life, and so they have a brief window of time in which after they pick it, they begin the process of infusing the macerated elderflowers with eau de vie, followed with a blending of simple syrup to turn this into a liqueur (  Overall, the liqueur is not unbalanced, and after you get used to the strange exotic flavor, is something that does not seem perfume like at all, but rather fruity and delicious.
Comparatively, the liqueur is similar to something known as Elderflower cordial, which traces its roots all the way back to the Roman Empire (Wikipedia).  The cordial is essentially a soft drink, made of sugar and water, as well as the flowers of the elderberry to flavor the drink; usually it is sold concentrated and then mixed with sparkling water to make a nice summertime soft drink (Ibid).  I should point out, that a soft drink is a drink that does not contain alcohol, and drinks that do contain alcohol would be referred to as a hard drink.  The flowers utilized in the drink need to be cooked and steeped into the solution, since elderflowers actually are poisonous, containing a small alkaloid that is removed during the heating process (Ibid).
Try this drink a a refreshing, yet still rather potent cocktail.  The sage would pair it nicely with something like pork, which will also go with the pineapple in the drink.  It might be paired even better with tomatoes, contrasting two very distinct flavors (tomatoes) and pineapple, by bridging the two with sage and botanicals which go nicely with both.  Hendrick’s gin is preferred, and what Bobby utilizes, seeing as it has rose petals and cucumber infused into the gin as well, but something like Beefeater 24 might work nicely, giving it a nice citrus / fruit flavor that could complement the pineapple juice.  If you want the drink to be more refreshing, and lighter on the alcohol, it would be easy to turn into a highball, by either increasing the pineapple juice, or adding in a tad bit of soda water.  In such as a case, I would serve the drink over ice, as is traditional for highball cocktails.
If you want to be adventurous, or rather, not so adventurous, replace the St. Germain with agave syrup.  Steve Garcia of Mesa ended up making his own variation through this process while I was talking to him about the First Growth, and it worked wonderfully.  However, he also went really heavy on the sage, muddling it prior to mixing the drink, and garnishing with an entire sprig of sage rather than just a single leaf.  In either case, the proportions may have to be fiddled with to get it right according to the taste of the imbiber.
The First Growth:
1 1/2 ounces Hendrick’s Gin
1 ounce pineapple juice
1/2 ounce St-Germain
3-4 sage leaves
Combine  the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, and shake until chilled.  Double strain the drink into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a sage leaf floated on top of the cocktail.
Great Theosophists.  1938. “The Count De St. Germain.”  Found in Theosophy, Vol. 27, No. 1, November, 1938. (accessed April 21, 2010).

Mayock, Emily Hanna.  2010.  “Gin is in.”  Originally published February 24, 2010.  Nightclub and Bar. (accessed April 21, 2010).
St. Germain. (accessed April 21, 2010).

Wikipedia contributors. “Elderflower Cordial.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. (accessed April 21, 2010).