Friday, August 17, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Alaska

This will be the second consecutive cocktail of the week featuring yellow chartreuse. It’s my way of helping out the liqueur that I think of as a neglected little brother. You know, like Eli Manning or Bobby Kennedy.

Green chartreuse gets the lion’s share of attention in the current cocktail renaissance. Both varieties are made in France from a combination of 130 spices, herbs and flowers according to a recipe known only to two Carthusian monks, and they ain’t talking. Green is stronger both in alcoholic content (110 proof) and in taste, and as such is called for more often these days in drinks like the Last Word. 80-proof yellow is nowhere near as intense in flavor. It’s lighter, more herbaceous, almost honeyed. This pronounced difference in tone and texture is why yellow chartreuse does not make an adequate substitute for green; it has more in common with Strega than its own sibling.

Still, the yellow has charms of its own, not the least of which is a long, mellow finish. The best way to appreciate it is in a cocktail that puts it in the spotlight. The Alaska has been around at least since 1930, when it appeared in The Savoy Cocktail Book, but no one seems to know where its name came from; odds are, then, that the drink didn’t originate in the Last Frontier. Maybe its color prompted a midnight sun reference. The Alaska is essentially a more herbal martini, with chartreuse instead of dry vermouth. (As for the bitters, remember that’s how they used to make martinis, and it’s how I still prefer ‘em.) A bold gin is a good choice here. Yellow chartreuse may not be as boisterous as green but it still takes over a room, and you’ll want a gin that can go toe-to-toe with it.

The Alaska

2 oz. gin
¾ oz. yellow chartreuse
2 dashes orange bitters

Stir. Strain. Garnish with a lemon twist.