But today the pretty shrub is a regular rock-star on the bar scene. The Hugo cocktail is everywhere -- a splash of elderflower syrup, Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine), a couple of crushed mint leaves, maybe a lime wedge, and a topper of sparkling water. It’s the rage in Italy, Austria, Germany, where it’s dubbed the “Szenegetränk” this summer, meaning the “scene drink.”
No one could tell me why it’s called the Hugo, but the word on the Web is that it was created last summer in Südtirol, the idyllic northern Italian area that’s home to the Dolomite mountains and where the holunder plant blankets hillsides and meadows for a few weeks each June.
The low-alcohol cocktail is elegant, subtle, with just a hint of natural sweetness, a whisper of fruit. The flavor is tough to describe. I guess I’d say there’s a fleeting pear presence, a hovering of citrus.
I stumbled upon this delicious drink on the first night of a recent hut-to-hut trek in the Dolomites. Our merry band of hikers had rendezvoused in Teis, Italy (a hamlet of about 500 people) that afternoon. During dinner at a nearby hotel, our server recommended the Hugo to one of our group who asked for "something different.” In the weeks that followed, we saw it promo’d on bar menus, in pastry shops, on billboards, in magazines and even at mountain-top huts where hikers clicked glasses to celebrate their successful climbs.
The Hugo is different from the elderflower cocktails that are popular in the U.S. today. Most of those use St. Germain, a liqueur made from elderflower blossoms. These trendy quaffs are delicious too, but they’re heavier and boozier than the Südtirol’s Hugo which uses syrup instead of liqueur.
As an aperitif, the Hugo piques the palate. In the middle of a warm afternoon, it’s a refreshing pick-me-up. One German Website I found said the Hugo “tastes like summer, sun, and vacation.”
Bartender, I’ll have another.