Oh, man, do I love this drink. A real hidden gem, this one! The jewel of my eye! A cut above the rest! Har! Har! Okay, that’ll do.
So, this cocktail has been well covered by the internet-drink-enthusiasts-guild (you know who you are). There’s probably not a lot more to say about it, but I’m not going to let that stop me from rattling on for some 2000+ words. Heavens, no. But, in an effort to differentiate my adorable little post from the others, I have chosen to mix the Bijou three ways – “un Bijou ménage à trois,” if you will.
First, a bit of obligatory history. The Bijou is credited to Harry Johnson, who in his “Bartenders’ Manual, 1900 Edition,” specified equal measures of Plymouth gin, sweet vermouth, and Green Chartreuse; stirred with shaved ice; strained and garnished with either a cherry or olive (an olive?!) Oh, and a swath of lemon peel twisted smartly over the drink and then discarded. A cocktail of the same name appears in C.F. Lawlor’s “The Mixicologist,” which was published in 1895, but that one calls for Grand Marnier rather than Chartreuse – a wholly different animal all together. I’m going to ignore that one.
According to David Wondrich, Harry Johnson appears to have had a reputation for vainglorious boasting. It turns out many of his claims of cocktail renown, acclaim, greatness and glory were almost entirely self-imagined. Despite this, it would seem he knew how to make a mean drink. Let’s start with the original:
- 1 oz. Plymouth gin
- 1 oz. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
- 1 oz. Green Chartreuse
- 1 dash orange bitters (50:50 mix of Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6 and Fee Bros. West Indian Orange Bitters)
Add your ingredients to a mixing glass along with a standard complement of ice. Stir for about 25 to 30 seconds and then strain into a chilled coupe. Express the oils from a lemon peel over the surface and then garnish with a brandied cherry. You can garnish with an olive if you wish to putrefy your cocktail and drink from the cup of abhorrence.
As noted above, Johnson’s recipe specifies the type of gin, but isn’t explicit with regards to the brand of sweet vermouth. I chose Cocchi’s exceptional vermouth, which offers rich flavours, including a strong, but not overwhelming vanilla note. It’s similar to Carpano’s Antica Formula; however – dare I say it – the Cocchi strikes a better balance between the vanilla and the other flavours. Besides, the LCBO, in its infinite wisdom, de-listed Antica Formula. What. The. Fuck? What’s up, LCBO – was it just too delicious? Was it selling too well? On a good day, I am annoyed; on a bad day, I am infuriated.
Some claim that this is a layered drink, i.e. the ingredients are “stacked” starting with the ingredient having the highest specific gravity and then adding the others in order of descending specific gravity, i.e., vermouth (SG = 1.044), Chartreuse (SG = 0.998), and then gin (SG = 0.937). Presumably, the idea is to exhibit the “jewel-like” appearance of the individual components (ruby, emerald, diamond, respectively?). I don’t really get how to properly chill/dilute a layered drink, let alone drink one. Pousse-café style drinks are more of a novelty, in my opinion. Given that I can’t find any evidence that the Bijou is layered and that layered drinks are silly (although aesthetically pleasing), I don’t recommend that you proceed in this fashion.
Anyway, back to the drink in hand.
The 1:1:1 ratio specified in the original makes for one Chartreusey cocktail. Although slightly tempered by the gin botanicals, the assertive herbal flavours of the Carthusian Monks’ elixir dominates the drink. Plymouth usually has a nice juniper zing and lemony bite, followed by notes of coriander and pepper, but here, I feel it’s bulldozed a bit. The herbaceous, vegetal flavours are upfront with citrus, pine and fruity raisin notes being played by second fiddle. Delicious, but perhaps a bit imbalanced. I’d like to get my hands on some navy strength Plymouth to see how it fairs.
Next up: a Bijou adapted to suit modern tastes, i.e. more gin, less Chartreuse. Typically the gin is upped to 1½ ounces and the sweet vermouth and Chartreuse scaled back to ¾ ounce each (e.g. Attaboy). Some go further and reduce the Chartreuse to a mere ½ ounce. Jack McGarry of the Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog also ups the vermouth, as well as adds a couple dashes of aromatic bitters and absinthe. He also opts for an orange twist over the lemon and drops the cherry garnish completely. As for gin, Tanqueray is spec’d. PDT and Death & Co. also call for a London Dry over Plymouth. Tanqueray (or Beefeater, for that matter) has the piney juniper chutzpah to stand up against the pungency of Chartreuse, so I went with that.
- 1½ oz. Tanqueray London Dry gin
- 1½ oz. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
- ½ oz. Green Chartreuse
- 2 dashes orange bitters (50:50 mix of Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6 and Fee Bros. West Indian Orange Bitters)
- 2 dashes Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s The Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters
- 2 dashes Fils du Roy La Courailleuse Absinthe
You know the drill – stir, serve up, garnish with orange twist.
Mr. McGarry knows what he’s doing. Lovely. Just lovely. (McGarry won 2013’s “International Bartender of the Year” at Tales of the Cocktail, after all. What’s more, Dead Rabbit was Tales of Cocktail’s World’s Best Cocktail Bar 2015, and Drinks International’s Best Bar in North America from 2013 through to 2016 and World’s Best Bar 2016).
This one again begins with Chartreuse’s sweet herbal notes, but transitions nicely to the citrusy/piney notes of the gin, then giving away to vermouth’s complex fruity flavours. The herbaceousness is back for the finish accompanied by a slight drying, wormwood-like bitterness and a vague savoriness. Definitely drier relative to the original with the herbal flavours reigned in. All the flavours are well integrated and interwoven. Excellent.
For the final version of the Bijou, I decided to dust off ye olde iSi whipper and make a foam topping. I feel like the whole molecular cocktail thing has come and gone, particularly foams (with the notable exceptions of the recently closed Booker and Dax in Manhattan and the Aviary in Chicago – but foams aren’t really their thing, I don’t think). Do people do cocktail foams anymore? Based on Jamie Boudreau’s excellent new book, “The Canon Cocktail Book: Recipes from the Award-Winning Bar,” there’s at least one person that does! He provides recipes for orange curaçao and honey foams. I’ve based my foam recipe on Mr. Boudreau’s template:
- 1 sheet bloomed gelatin
- 3 oz. hot water
- 6 oz. flavourful liquid (orange curaçao, honey syrup, etc.)
- 3 oz. lemon juice
- 3 large egg whites
Kevin Liu, author of “Craft Cocktails at Home,” tells me that foams are a type of dispersion where a gas (typically air) is dispersed into a liquid. The other two types of dispersions are suspensions (solid dispersed into a liquid, e.g. coffee) and emulsions (a dispersion of two immiscible liquids, e.g. vinaigrette).
Producing a foam involves generating a protein film that traps pockets of gas into a network. Egg whites and gelatin are a great source of film-forming protein.
Egg whites are made up of water, protein, and small amounts of minerals and sugars. From what I’ve read, egg white contains about 40 different albumin proteins, the major one being ovalbumin, which makes up 54% of the white. When eggs are whipped, gas (usually air) is entrained and the protein molecules are denatured, exposing their hydrophobic and hydrophilic ends. The molecules align themselves between the gas and water, thus forming bubbles with their hydrophilic chains pointing into the water and their hydrophobic chains into the gas, creating a thin film network around the bubbles. In addition, the proteins can bond to one another side-to-side as crosslinks, which increases the stability of a foam.
Gelatin, in case you didn’t know, is an animal protein prepared by the thermal denaturation of collagen, isolated from animal skin and bones. Gelatin is a great stabilizer and foaming agent, which when present in small amounts, facilitates the formation of foam, or enhances its stability by inhibiting the coalescence of bubbles.
Now for the lemon juice. Adding an acid, such as citric and malic, helps to stabilize egg white foam. Firstly, acid helps in the abovementioned protein denaturing. Acid also neutralizes the charges on egg white proteins, which makes them less repulsive and more likely to come together and form a film network around the bubbles. Similar to how alcohol, when ingested by women, makes men less repulsive to them.
So we have egg whites, gelatin and lemon juice – all the makings for a good foam structure. Now we just need a flavouring to make it taste like something. Dave Arnold complains that foams are rarely done right – they are typically underflavoured and/or misapplied. In order to avoid these pitfalls, I chose to make an absinthe foam. Absinthe certainly isn’t lacking in the flavour department and I feel that it complements the Bijou in the same way the dashes of absinthe do in Dead Rabbit’s version. So, here’s the foam recipe I used, adapted from Jamie Boudreau’s template:
- ½ packet of powdered gelatin
- 3 oz. water
- 6 oz. Fils du Roy La Courailleuse Absinthe diluted to 40% abv (~3¼ oz. absinthe/~2¾ oz. water)
- ½ tsp. fresh lemon juice (fine strained)
- 3 egg whites (I used large brown eggs from Beking’s Poultry Farm)
- 2 iSi N2O cartridges (15 g)
Bloom the gelatin in cold water (I used 3 oz. + 2¾ oz. of water). Once the gelatin has softened, gently heat in a saucepan while whisking until the gelatin has completely dissolved. If not given enough time to dissolve, the gelatin will clump, resulting in runny foam. Remove from heat and allow to cool or, if impatient like me, place the saucepan in an ice bath to hurry things along. If you don’t wait until the water is chilled, when you add your egg whites, there’s a good to fair chance you’ll cook them slightly. #foamfail
Once the water is chilled, add the absinthe, fine-strained lemon juice and egg whites. Fresh eggs are best. By all means, use pasteurized eggs if you don’t have access to farm-fresh eggs and/or suffer from salmonellaphobia. And be sure to strain the juice – solids love to get into and clog the iSi siphon valve. I like to give the mixture a quick whisk just to incorporate everything before pouring it into the iSi canister.
Once everything is sealed in the canister, give it two shots of N2O along with a hearty shake and store in the fridge for a few hours.
- I used powdered gelatin because someone in my house that is not me accidentally threw out the box of gelatin sheets.
- I tried making the foam with the Chartreuse at full-strength (72% abv) and found that:
- the flavour overpowered the other ingredients in the cocktail, and
- the foam was runny.
- I’m not sure of the chemical effect that alcohol has on foams, but I suspect it adversely affects the stability. Given that Boudreau has no problems with his foam that uses 40% abv curaçao , I decided to bring down the proof of the absinthe.
- I reduced the quantity of lemon juice in the recipe. Absinthe, unlike curaçao or honey syrup, isn’t sweet and doesn’t need the balancing acidity. Having said that, I reckoned I still needed some acid for foam stability.
Okay, once the foam is good to go, it’s time to make a cocktail.
- 1½ oz. Fils du Roy Gin Thuya
- 1½ oz. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
- ½ oz. Green Chartreuse
- Absinthe foam
- Orange bitters for garnish
Combine the gin, vermouth and Chartreuse, stir until chilled, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Take the iSi whipper out of the fridge (you’ve been storing it in the fridge, right?), invert and top the cocktail with absinthe foam. Using a dropper, carefully place orange bitter drops atop the foam in a manner that is pleasing to the eye, like you would for a Pisco Sour. Splendid.
I suspect that most of you have not had a taste of Distillerie Fils du Roy’s Gin Thuya, and for that, your life is diminished. You may not even be fully aware of this diminuendo of life satisfaction, but it’s there. Haunting your mind when you are left alone with your thoughts in the blackness of night. Bottled at a healthy 45% abv, Gin Thuya is made with the usual botanical suspects along with freshly picked cedar shoots from Saint-Arsène, Québec. I advise that you seek out a bottle or two.
The aromatics from the absinthe and orange bitters greet your nose as you bring the glass to your mouth for the first sip. The creamy, anise-laced head complements the herbaceous, junipery/piney, citrus and coriander-like flavours that lie beneath. Not bad. Not bad at all.
To my chagrin, the foam breaks down quickly and resembles something like pond scum after about 10 minutes. Kinda nasty. Not sure what I can do about that. More lemon juice? Xantham gum? Sugar? More cowbell? If I am honest, I’m not sure it’s worth the effort to figure out. I like the non-foam versions better!
And on that bombshell, that’s it! Happy drinking!