Friday, January 25, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Champs-Élysées

Picking up where we left off, with the Sidecar

Versatility is the hallmark of a good cocktail. A small change can result in a vastly different experience. The Sidecar serves as a perfect example. Replace the Cointreau with, say, the complex French liqueur chartreuse and you might as well give the drink a new name. Maybe something that connotes Gallic elegance like, say, the Champs-Élysées.

But which chartreuse? That’s the question.

When the Champs-Élysées appeared in the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), Harry Craddock did not specify a particular shade of chartreuse. Over time green has become the default choice; thanks to its higher proof and bolder taste, it’s the go-to color for bartenders and cocktail aficionados everywhere. As this recipe indicates, it’s how the drink is made at the Zig Zag Café, where I first sampled it.

Yellow chartreuse, on the other hand, has a more sedate flavor that would seem a better match for cognac. Flipping through my 1956 edition of Patrick Gavin Duffy’s Official Mixer’s Manual, I wasn’t surprised to see him call out the lighter brand of chartreuse.

There’s room for still more invention. Washington Post cocktail authority Jason Wilson offered a variation forsaking sugar in any form and incorporating sparks of orange that add a higher register to the drink. Contrast his version with the Zig Zag’s for a sense of the subtle range that’s possible within the spectrum of a single cocktail.

The Champs-Élysées

Jason Wilson

1 ½ oz. Cognac
¾ oz. yellow chartreuse
½ oz. lemon juice
dash of orange bitters

Shake. Strain. Garnish with an orange twist (not pictured).