Light, bracing – and pretty as a flower
Need a drink that won’t knock you off your game? The Chrysanthemum is here for you. It doesn’t contain a base spirit, so the alcohol quotient is moderate. And its rich, aromatic flavor is so satisfying that you won’t miss the extra alcohol.
The Chrysanthemum works well as an afternoon pick-me-up or predinner drink. Especially this time of year, when its eponymous flower reaches peak bloom.
Fall is perfect for planting. And you’ll definitely want this one in your garden of cocktail delights.
Recipe: The Chrysanthemum Cocktail
The Chrysanthemum contains dry vermouth and Bénédictine liqueur, with a small amount of absinthe for seasoning. It’s unusual in that it contains no “base” liquor (no gin, whiskey, vodka, tequila, brandy, or rum). So its alcohol content is lower than that of most traditional cocktails.
A recipe for the Chrysanthemum first appeared in print in Hugo Ensslin’s 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks. Ensslin called for equal parts of dry vermouth and Bénédictine – making his recipe way too sweet for modern tastes. Today, most bartenders make this drink with 2 parts dry vermouth to 1 part Bénédictine. There’s still a kiss of sweetness to the drink, but one that’s pleasant, not cloying. It’s definitely dry enough to serve as a pleasing predinner cocktail.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and serves one.
- 2 ounces dry vermouth
- 1 ounce Bénédictine
- ¼ teaspoon absinthe or substitute (see Notes for discussion of absinthe substitutes)
- orange twist garnish (optional)
- Place all ingredients (except garnish) in a mixing glass half-filled with ice. Stir briskly until the contents are well-chilled (about 30 seconds).
- Strain into a cocktail glass, preferably one that’s been chilled. Garnish with an orange twist, if desired, and serve.
- Want a slightly less voluminous drink? Use 1½ ounces dry vermouth, ¾ ounce Bénédictine, and a scant ¼ teaspoon absinthe.
- Why stir rather than shake this cocktail? Because all the ingredients are clear. Shaking introduces small oxygen bubbles, which can make the drink cloudy.
- But if you want to shake, go ahead. We often do.
- Absinthe was banned in the US (and much of the world) for years because one of its ingredients was thought to psychoactive and addictive. But it’s legal again now, and widely available in liquor stores.
- Absinthe is still expensive, though. So you might want to substitute a taste-alike, such as Pernod. That’s an anise-flavored liqueur (or pastis, to use the French term). There are other brands of pastis available, too – just ask the good folks at your liquor store for a recommendation.
- Dry vermouth is a key ingredient in this drink, so select a good one. The Martini and Rossi brand would be a good choice, as would Noilly Prat or Dolin.
- BTW, vermouth is fortified wine, and relatively low proof. Which means it will oxidize once opened. Store the open bottle in the refrigerator to extend its life.
- Bénédictine is an aromatic herbal liqueur. It’s a bit sweet (but the vermouth and absinthe tame its sweetness in the Chrysanthemum).
- Our usual note: We’re noncommercial, and don’t get compensated for naming brands. We recommend only what we like and buy with our own money.
- In The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), Harry Craddock reports that The Chrysanthemum was “well-known and very popular” in the American Bar of the S.S. Europa, a then-new German passenger ship. The Europa was a high-speed steam turbine ship that could cross the Atlantic Ocean in 5 days, sailing between Bremerhaven and New York.
- During World War II, the Europa was captured by the Allies. In 1945, the US claimed her for use as a troop transport. Eventually, the ship wound up in France, where she was refitted and renamed Liberté. From 1950 until 1962 she sailed between Le Havre and New York.
- You may have seen Liberté in movies without realizing it. She was featured in the 1954 film The French Line, starring Jane Russell. She also made a brief appearance in How to Marry a Millionaire, a 1953 movie with Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, and Lauren Bacall. But perhaps her best-remembered role was in Sabrina, a 1954 film starring Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, where Liberté appears in the final scene.
Turn On, Tune In, Drink Up
“Love this cocktail,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “And its florid name.”
“Makes me want to wear some flowers in my hair,” I said.
“Ah, yes, the summer of love, 1967,” said Mrs K R. “Fifty years ago – we were just little flower buds at the time.”
“Not the mature blossoms we are now,” I said.
“Well, one of us is,” said Mrs K R. “Mature, I mean.”
“I’m a late bloomer,” I said.
“Every flower must grow through dirt,” said Mrs K R.
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