I struggle with Chartreuse, the French herbal liqueur, made by Carthusian monks at their monastery in the Chartreuse mountains near Grenoble. The monks have been making Chartreuse since 1737 according to a recipe given to them in 1605 by François Annibal d’Estrées. It is composed of distilled alcohol aged with 130 herbs, plants and flowers, and has a strong, herbaceous quality, as well as a healthy percent alcohol. The challenge with Chartreuse is the 130 herbs, plants and flowers. Finding the correct mix of ingredients to blend and balance with the heady mix already present in Chartreuse is akin to the quest for the Holy Grail. I have yet to find a cocktail containing Chartreuse that I truly love. Mind you that doesn’t stop me from searching… remember, great rewards are given unto that brave knight who quests for the Grail!
Enter the Bijou cocktail, a mix of Gin, Vermouth, and Chartreuse. In French, the term “bijou” means “jewel.” The cocktail is said to have been invented by Harry Johnson, one of the forefathers of the classic cocktail and one of the earliest documenters of the craft in his 1900 tome: New and Improved Bartender Manual. Actually, the Bijou stands out as one of the oldest recipes in his book, itself dating to 1890.
The cocktail is presumably called Bijou because it combines the colors of three jewels: Gin for diamond, Vermouth for ruby, and Chartreuse for emerald. An original-style Bijou is made stirred with ice as noted by Harry, but I really prefer my cocktails shaken with crushed ice, so that is my preferred method.
On the palate the three components come together nicely to make for a refreshing and balanced cocktail. The herbaceous quality of the Chartreuse actually finds a nice foil in the sweet, figgy Vermouth, while the Gin lends a clean, refreshing bite on the aftertaste. Quite pleasant indeed.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Bijou cocktail…
2 oz. Gin
1 oz. Green Chartreuse
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
1 dash Angostura Orange Bitters
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake to chill. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with an lemon twist (preferred).