While we would never try to disguise a mediocre sparkler with a fruit infusion, we would transform a really nice bubbly into a fabulous summer cocktail. To explore this idea, we decided to make a beautifully colored hibiscus syrup. Nothing heavy or cloying here. Just a bright, slightly sweet, slightly tangy enhancement to your sunset sip.
The basis for this syrup is Roselle Hibiscus ( Hibiscus sabdariffa), specifically the stout fleshy calyces found at the bottom of the flower. Although you can purchase dried calyces on line or in some specialty stores, our interest in this idea was prompted by our finding fresh calyces at a local farmer’s market. Once you have found fresh hibiscus you are well along the way to having a wonderful syrup.
Once you have the whole hibiscus bud, remove the calyces from the white seed pod in the center. Rinse both the calyces and the seed pods carefully. We were surprised by the next step. The seed pods of the hibiscus contain a natural pectin so there is no need to add store bought pectin to make your syrup “syrupy”. Take the white seed pods and and put them in a small pot with enough water to cover them. Bring them to a gentle boil for about 10 – 15 minutes. The seed pods will soften and release their pectin. Add a little water as needed keep the pods floating. Once you have boiled the seed pods, remove them from the water and discard them. Now add the calyces to the reserved liquid. Boil the calyces in the liquid for another 10-15 minutes. They should become very soft and turn the liquid a beautiful red color.
After about 15 minutes add sugar to the mixture. The amount you add is really a matter of taste. For us we wanted to keep the crisp tart berry and rhubarb taste of the hibiscus front and center, so we went light on the sugar.
Boil the mixture a few more minutes to get the syrupy texture you want. Then strain the syrup. (You can save the calyces to spoon over ice cream or mix into yogurt!).
Cool and refrigerate the syrup.
At the perfect time spoon some of the syrup into a beautiful champagne glass and top it up with your favorite sparkler. Locals recommends the Viva La Vida from Treasure Cellars.