Bijou means “jewel” in French, and this drink is a true gem
The Bijou is a classic from the 1890s. Its name refers to the ingredient colors, which represent three different jewels: Clear dry gin for diamonds. Red sweet vermouth for rubies. And green Chartreuse for emeralds.
When you mix those ingredients together, the result is an amber hue—and of course amber can be used as a jewel, too.
Best of all, the flavors combine to create a polished, multi-faceted cocktail that’s perfect before dinner. We’re betting you’ll declare it a crown jewel.
Recipe: The Bijou Cocktail
The Bijou was invented by Harry Johnson, a legendary mixologist (Imbibe Magazine lists him as one of the 25 most influential cocktail personalities of the last 100 years). His Bartenders’ Manual, originally published in 1882, stayed in print for decades. You can still buy a copy of the 1934 reprint.
We adapted our recipe from Johnson’s. This drink takes about 5 minutes to make, and serves one.
- 1 ounce dry gin (Johnson specifies Plymouth; but see Notes)
- 1 ounce Chartreuse (the green, not yellow, variety; see Notes)
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth (Italian vermouth—the red stuff)
- 1 dash orange bitters
- garnish of lemon peel or twist, plus maraschino cherry if desired (see Notes)
- Place all ingredients (except garnish) in a mixing glass half-filled with ice. Stir briskly until well chilled (20 to 30 seconds).
- Strain into a cocktail glass, preferably one that has been chilled. Garnish and serve.
- When garnishing, it’s best to hold the lemon over each drink as you cut off a peel or twist. When you cut into the lemon, you’ll release some of its oils—and by holding the lemon over the drink as you do so, you’ll let the oils impart additional flavor and fragrance.
- Johnson suggests garnishing with an olive or a cherry in addition to the lemon. Just say no to the olive—we don’t think it works in this drink. But the cherry? That works well. Besides, it looks a bit like a ruby, so it’s more appropriate.
- Why stir rather than shake this drink? Because the ingredients are clear. Shaking tends to introduce small bubbles, which can make a drink cloudy. This is not a problem when the ingredients are opaque (think citrus juice), but it can be unattractive when the ingredients are clear.
- For this drink, Johnson suggests Plymouth gin, which has a somewhat lighter (and fruitier) flavor than many other dry gins. It’s nice in this cocktail, but really you can substitute any name-brand London dry gin.
- Chartreuse comes in two versions: Green and yellow. You definitely want the green version for this drink. BTW, the color chartreuse got its name from the hue of Chartreuse liqueur.
- Chartreuse is sweet, with a strong herbal flavor (it’s made from a mix of 130 herbs, roots, and leaves). The liqueur is extremely pungent, so a little goes a long way.
- Carthusian monks began making Chartreuse during the 1740s in the town of Voiron (close to Grenoble and the French Alps in southeastern France). Production hasn’t been continuous, though. The brothers were expelled from France in 1793 and again in 1903. They produced Chartreuse in Spain from 1903 to 1927, when they regained possession of their distillery in Voiron.
- Harry Johnson’s manual was innovative for its time. Unlike many bartending guides, his included more than just directions for mixing drinks. He also told readers how to behave behind the bar. For example: No spitting on the floor. And don’t clean your fingernails while on duty.
- Johnson invented a number of other drinks, including the Morning Glory Fizz, which is meant to be a morning “hair of the dog” remedy. It’s one of the few mixed drinks that uses Scotch whisky to advantage (the flavor of Scotch just isn’t right for most cocktails). We owe you that recipe.
Diamonds in the Rough
“Lovely drink,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “And perfect for June.”
“Yes, it’s a great apéritif,” I said. “But what’s the June connection?”
“Weddings, of course,” said Mrs K R. “Not to mention graduations. It’s the season for jewelry and diamond watches.”
“Oh, right,” I said. “Guess I don’t pay much attention to the bling thing.”
“Which is fortunate,” said Mrs K R. “Since we have a cubic zirconia budget.”
That’s what I call a pearl of wisdom.
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