If you’re looking for a drink that’s full of flavor and high in alcohol content, you’ve found it. The Bijou is made with gin, vermouth and chartreuse. It’s similar to a martini and could even be considered its relative. “Bijou” means jewel in French, and it’s creator created the drink using ingredients that represented different gems: gin represents diamonds, vermouth represents rubies and chartreuse represents emeralds. (So, it’s pretty important that you use green chartreuse.)
The Bijou was invented by “the father of professional bartending”, Harry Johnson, in the late 1800’s. It was one of the oldest drinks featured in his 1900 book: New and Improved Bartender Manual. It was a very popular drink for decades, but for some reason it disappeared after the Prohibition. Dale Degroff, “The King of Cocktails”, stumbled across it while reading Johnson’s book and then re-imagined it in the 1980’s. The original recipe called for equal parts of all 3 ingredients, which pretty much tasted like poison to some people.
Chartreuse is a type of liquor that has been being made by French monks for centuries. It’s really sweet, really herbal and really pungent. It’s got a high alcohol content, so it not only packs a flavor punch, but an alcoholic one, as well. The result in a Bijou is that it’s a very herbaceous drink. If the original recipe is too much for you, try adding another 1/2 oz. Of gin and dialing the other two ingredients back to 1/2 an oz. It will be drier and more crisp, with a little bit of herb-y goodness that isn’t too overpowering. This is pretty much what DeGroff did with his re-imagining of the drink, and it makes it more palatable for today’s consumers.
During the 1880’s, bartenders were serving customers with more sophisticated palettes. They started experimenting with apertifs, cordials and digestifs to cater to their customers. In short, people wanted more exotic, flavorful drinks, which is exactly what a Bijou is. In an age of “foodies”, “hipsters” and more gourmet food and drink choices than ever, the Bijou fits right in. It’s a shame that it didn’t survive the prohibition and isn’t currently part of the classic cocktail renaissance. But, with these recipes, you can do your part to introduce it to people and help bring it back!
This is the original recipe, as written by Harry Johnson in the 1800’s. It’s crisp, herbal and sophisticated. It may be too overpowering for some people, and may take some getting used to because it’s far more complex than most drinks.
This has become the new standard recipe for the Bijou. Lots of people these days (In fact, most people these days) find that they like this recipe better and find the taste more palatable. So, if you order a Bijou at a bar, (If they even know what it is) it’s pretty likely that it will be prepared this way.
This variation of the Bijou has been around since the 1930’s. It uses a Campari rinse, which adds a little extra flavor to the drink. You’re supposed to discard the extra Campari, but it doesn’t kill anything to leave it in, either.
This variation was listed in The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual in 2015. It adds Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters and absinthe to the recipe and calls for an orange peel to be used as garnish, instead of cherries or a lemon peel. It changes the flavor up a bit, but still has all of the flavors of the original Bijou.
This is perfect if you’re not fond of the chartreuse in a Bijou. In the place of chartreuse, you’ll find Campari. The story behind the Negroni is pretty funny. One day in 1919, a very drunk Italian count, Camillo Negroni, stormed into a cafe and demanded that the bartender kick his Americano up a few notches. An Americano is made with Campari and soda water, and Negroni wanted gin instead of soda water. So, because of this drunken shenanigans, we can add one more thing to the list of awesome things that came from Italy.
The Bijou is a wondrously complex drink. It’s easy to make, as well. And, even if you find it to be an acquired taste, it’s pretty easy to fall in love with. It deserves a comeback, the same as some of the other classic drinks that are enjoying their own comebacks. So, serve it at a party or make one for a friend and introduce people to the wonderful world that is the Bijou.