There’s something about the pre-prohibition era cocktails that I can’t quite put my finger on.
They’ve got this allure and appeal of a Gatsby-Esque era gone by that modern creations just can’t match. When you imagine the same drink that’s in front of you passing through the lips of Franklin Roosevelt, Charlie Chaplain, and Al Capone, you’re filled with a real sense of nostalgia and lusting for the past.
The Bijou is one of those old-timers that always feel fresh and is an absolute must in any serious mixologist’s repertoire.
What is the Bijou Cocktail? A Quick History Lesson
An old classic, The Bijou dates back to Harry Johnson’s The Bartender’s Manual from 1900, but went out of fashion in the post-prohibition era, only going through its renaissance in the 1980s.
The cocktail is said to have taken its name from the French word for jewel, owing to the colorful hues of its ingredients.
The ingredients in question are Gin (for diamond), Vermouth (for ruby), and Chartreuse (for emerald).
If you’re sitting reading this thinking “hold up! I’ve never even heard of Chartreuse” then don’t worry, I’ll explain it all now.
Chartreuse is a French herbal liqueur that was originally made at the Grande Chartreuse Monastery, just north of Grenoble, by an Order of Carthusian Monks in the 18th Century.
A wine-based liqueur, with the herbal mixed still produced by Carthusian Monks at the Monastery to this day, Chartreuse has a very distinct herbal flavor that is at once sweet and spicy and has the distinct brag of being one of the very few liqueurs that continues to age and improve in the bottle.
Enough of the history lesson, what does a Bijou actually taste like?
Well, imagine a Negroni that’s taken a trip out of the Italian lakes, over the Alps, and into the fertile French countryside.
The Chartreuse gives a Bijou a much earthier, sweeter taste than a Negroni, and with a different sort of kick to boot.
While both have that strong punch from the Gin base, the combination of Vermouth and Chartreuse gives the Bijou a pleasantly exciting spicy aftertaste that few cocktails can truly match.
A Simple and Delicious Bijou Cocktail Recipe
Now it’s time for the jewel in the crown: the Bijou Recipe.
It’s so simple that there’s no need to even give a step-by-step breakdown. Just add equal parts (2 ounces) of your Gin, Vermouth, and Chartreuse into a mixing glass, fill with ice, stir and strain into a chilled Nick & Nora glass (don’t worry if you haven’t got one, a coupe will do just fine here).
To finish, garnish with a lemon twist and maraschino cherry and before you know it you’ll be sipping on a pre-prohibition classic that’s back with a punch after a few decades in the shadows.
Twists on the “Love and Murder” Cocktail
The first twist on the Bijou is the ratio. Unlike other famous “third third third” cocktails, the delicate balance of the Bijou is ripe for a switch around.
The most common choice is to reduce the amount of Chartreuse, some people even go as far as to only put in a few drops.
It’s all dependent on how much of a kick you want your Bijou cocktail to have. If you’re a lover of herbal liqueur, go ahead and put the full third in.
If you’re after a much more subtle taste to an old classic, reduce the amount and let the flavor of your Gin and Vermouth shine through.
If you want a much sharper bite to your drink, consider replacing the Gin with Vodka.
Sure, you’ll lose a few of the herbal and botanical notes that are so prevalent in the juniper-based spirit, but the strong scent of the Chartreuse will more than make up for it.
If vodka isn’t your thing, play around with your choice of Vermouth. There’s sweet or dry, red or white options that make the Bijou cocktail much much more than a simple, one-trick pony.
So there you have it.
A more than century-old classic that’s making its comeback in bars all across the Western hemisphere.
Get yourself down to your nearest liquor store, or online, pick up a bottle of Chartreuse and have fun sinking these classy French jewels to your heart’s content.
I started bartending in 2017, just 4 days after my 18th birthday, at a cocktail bar in my hometown. I immediately fell in love with the art and science of mixology and have since worked in bars across Yarm, York and Liverpool in England.