Flower power: Blossoms in your beverages

Although winter didn’t get the memo that it’s officially spring, and despite these cold grey days we know it’s coming.

Not simply because it’s April, but has anyone else noticed that flower patterns are everywhere? I see them on dresses, on notebooks, on wallpaper, on water bottles; I even met a dog the other day who had a floral bandana. Her name was Patty. It seems that flowers are on trend, and this is making its way into the beverage world. I recently read that Whole Foods Markets predicts floral flavours will be the number one trend for 2018. The Oprah of the grocery world has spoken.

Yet drinking flower-infused beverages is not a new phenomenon. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Persians and Chinese all used flower petals such as roses, jasmine and hibiscus to mask the odour of their drinking water. Brewers originally made ‘gruit’, a combination of flower botanicals to preserve their beer instead of using hops. Herbal tisanes such as chamomile have been around for centuries, and have never really gone out of fashion. Today we’re embracing these old practices, and applying a modern twist.

The Niagara brewing scene is unsurprisingly right on trend. I spoke with a few of my former students from the brewmaster and brewery operations management program at Niagara College, and there’s a consensus that floral ingredients are very exciting to play with.

Allen Clifford, brewer at Silversmith, developed the recipe for its Hello, Sailor — Rosewater Kellerbier when he was still a student. He brewed a Kellerbier as an assignment and it was served at a dinner with celebrity chef Vikram Vij. He discovered how rosewater could be used in beer as well as with food, as the famous chef added rosewater to the beer cask.

Allen then refined the recipe, and it is now a seasonal favourite that will hit Silversmith’s taps again this June. As Allen remembers, “I sought to brew a beer that could stand up on its own right but would also be an excellent canvas to highlight the unique character that the rosewater imparts on the beer. I find it adds a hint of sweetness and rose to the flavour while smoothing out the body. It has an unmistakable aroma.”

Other graduates are also experimenting with flowers. Christine Nagy of The Exchange Brewery in Niagara-on-the-Lake recently brewed with elderflowers and is currently conditioning another botanical-based brew for a June release. Brent Milcz of Fairweather Brewery in Hamilton has a spectacular hibiscus-infused saison, Wild Vanessa, that has a gorgeous ruby colour and tart, refreshing palate. The story goes that collaborator Mark Horsley of Bench Brewing grew up on a street in Australia that was abundant in wild hibiscus and the inspiration went from there.

The students on campus are having fun experimenting with flowers, too. Many in their final term are brewing floral-based beers for their final project.

Student Bentley Vass says “as creativity in brewing increases, consumers and brewers are looking for something beyond the plain Jane beer.”

“Flowers add a unique aromatic intensity that you can’t find in hops.”

Bentley is working on a lavender-scented Earl Grey infused beer called The Niagara Fog. His fellow classmate Mitchell Tuckey is working on a gruit made with such flowers as heather and elderflower. Taylor Mackenzie is using flowers as a tool rather than for flavour. Her beer, Purple Haze, is made with the butterfly pea flower that changes colour from blue to purple when the pH level changes.

Lucky for us, we can try all of these beers at Brü-Stock, the college’s Project Brew event in St. Catharines Market Square on April 20.

But the use of flowers goes beyond beer. Dillon’s Distillery has been making an incredible rose-infused gin for years. Peter Dillon explained that the inspiration came when he would visit his son, Geoff (head distiller at Dillon’s) and would always park next to a rosebush. He would get caught and tangled in the thorns, and finally decided that he would make this foe a friend. It has now become so successful that Dillon’s recently planted a wide variety of roses on site to use. The rose flavour of its gin always imparts a je ne sais quoi in my cocktails, and is the Niagara answer to sloe gin, as distiller Dave Dickson explains. Why not use local Niagara roses rather than sloe (blackthorn)? I couldn’t agree more.

Wine lovers aren’t going to find actual flowers in their wine, but remember that certain grapes impart floral aromatics naturally. Petit Verdot, a red grape usually used as a minor character in a Bordeaux blend, is lately being made as a single varietal wine. Its famous violet-scented nose is hedonistic and so unique. Winemakers Andrzej Lipinski of Big Head and J-L Groux of Stratus are already creating examples that are show-stoppers and the talk of the table.

Tea blenders have always had fun creating infusions with flowers, but places such as the Prince of Wales are raising the bar by offering candied roses and violets with your tea. Unbelievably fancy and quite delicious.

So as I see flowers popping up in every realm of the beverage world, I am grateful to all our local producers (both students and professionals) for always keeping us on our toes as to what is new and exciting to taste. Now, if only nature would catch up.

Kristina Inman is a certified CAPS sommelier and TAC tea sommelier who teaches at Niagara College where she also works on business development for the Niagara College Canadian Food and Wine Institute.

Kristina Inman is a certified CAPS sommelier and TAC tea sommelier who teaches at Niagara College where she also works on business development for the Niagara College Canadian Food and Wine Institute.

Source: Opinion | DECANTING NIAGARA: Flower power: Blossoms in your beverages