Monday, May 20, 2013

The Bijou Cocktail: Chartreuse, Gin, Vermouth, Orange Bitters

I recently acquired the PDT Cocktail Book, the excellent guide by the barmen at the famous New York speakeasy. I was perusing it when I came across the Bijou Cocktail. When I saw the ingredients, I had to make it. I am glad I did.

Bijou Cocktail

To make one, combine with ice:
  • 1 oz gin
  • 1 oz green Chartreuse
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1 dash orange bitters
and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a lemon peel and a cherry.

As I was pouring the ingredients into my mixing glass, I kept thinking, "Oh gin, how I love you." (Yes, I really do talk to my liquor bottles. Well, only when they're good to me.) "Oh Chartreuse, how I love you, too." "Oh, sweet vermouth, you and me are best buds." And then I wondered, "Why have I not combined these before?"

It makes perfect sense, after all. Combine the three best ingredients out there, and you should have a good cocktail, right? Of course! Man, those PDT guys know what they're doing!

The drink is balanced, but all of the ingredients are there, quite distinct, in fact. There is a hint of orange, the cloves and cinnamon of the vermouth, and the crazy herbessence of the Chartreuse. Three of my favorite ingredients make a damn fine cocktail indeed.

The Trader Vic Variation of the Bijou

But then I saw from the PDT note that the original recipe was from 1895, so I went searching through all of my other cocktail books, and there it was in my Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide from 1965. Except that one was different. Here, Trader Vic combines equal parts gin, curacao, and French vermouth with a dash of orange bitters. French or dry vermouth is not the same as sweet, to be sure. In fact, I hardly consider them in the same family. Why they are both called vermouth is beyond me. And orange curacao and Chartreuse are nowhere near the same, either. How are these drinks even related?
 
But then Trader Vic includes the note, "Variation: Use green chartreuse instead of curacao; increase gin to 1 1/4 oz."  Ah, there's the Chartreuse. And you increase the gin because Chartreuse is so potent. After trying this version, I knew Chartreuse really was a quality mixing ingredient.

Exceptional recipes for Chartreuse aren't that prevalent. Hell, I keep it around mainly to make Last Words, which is a damn fine cocktail. But both the PDT version with equal parts gin, Chartreuse, and sweet vermouth and the Trader Vic version with 1 1/2 oz gin and 1/2 oz Chartreuse, and 1/2 oz dry vermouth are fine cocktails.

The Trader Vic version is less potent, less herbal, and more subtle, with floral hints and a cleansing finish. The PDT version is upfront and pounds on the imbiber with its honey and spices.

The Bijou Cocktail: a damn fine drink.

3 comments:

  1. got a substitute for chartreuse for people living in Beirut?

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  2. I have heard that the Italian liqueur Strega can be a substitute, but it may be too minty or anise-flavored. Chartreuse really is in a category all of its own. It is sweet and herbal, but not like Fernet or Sambuca or, in your town, Arrack.

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