Friday, October 05, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Bijou

Bijou is French for jewel, and the if-it-ain’t-true-it-oughta-be story is that this elegant drink’s name stems from the fact that each of its ingredients bears the color of a precious stone: diamond (gin), ruby (sweet vermouth), emerald (green chartreuse). One variation of the cocktail is served as a pousse-café or a layered drink, with all three elements presented parfait-style. This is a complete waste of time. Stir them up and render the Bijou a magnificent amber hue greater than the sum of its parts.

The recipe was spotlighted in the Modern Bartender’s Manual (1900) by Harry Johnson. Cocktail historian David Wondrich offers a brief biographical sketch of Harry in his book Imbibe! and makes it plain that Johnson was a bullshit artist of the first rank as well as an enthusiastic if misguided self-aggrandizer. You might score points boasting about working the stick at a bar on the Bowery in New York now, but not in the 1880s as Harry had it on his résumé.

I’ve seen the cocktail compared to the martini, which makes sense in theory as they’re both gin-based. But the Bijou is far sweeter and richer, the latter owing to green chartreuse’s herbal pyrotechnics. And the flavor only grows more dense as it settles. A dash of orange bitters, another tie to the martini, anchors the mixture nicely. Use a trace of Campari instead and you have a Tailspin. I like both versions but prefer the subtle citrus note of the original; there’s enough going on here without Campari’s bitterness stirring up trouble. Save that raucousness for the Bowery.

The Bijou

1 oz. gin
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1 oz. green chartreuse
dash of orange bitters

Stir. Strain. Garnish with a lemon twist.