Classic: Bijou

Another classic cocktail coming your way, this time courtesy of the late 19th to early 20th century America. The first known publication of this recipe is in Harry Johnson’s classic The Bartender’s Manual, published in 1900. It’s not known whether Mr. Johnson was the actual inventor, but since nobody knows for sure, it’s often attributed to him.

Photos by ADV Photography
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The word “bijou” is French for jewel, so some have guessed the name could have been a description of the dynamic colour these ingredients produce when combined. It could also be a hint at the origins of this drink’s signature ingredient, the green Chartreuse.

Another popular theory goes like this:

It was the first truly damp Fall evening of the year in turn-of-the-century New York City. The French Ambassador to the United States had been travelling around the city all day to examine potential sites for what would become the future Consulate General of France in New York. This was all very exciting for him, but was less so for his entourage, especially his striking young wife.

Once the chill set in, she decided that she’d had quite enough of trudging around this boorish continent and abandoned her husband to his pursuits, knowing that he would likely be out and about for the rest of the night. Longing for a moment of respite from her boredom, she decided to settle in to the bar at the Chelsea Hotel, where a strapping young Harry Johnson was tending.

He took notice the moment she walked in. Now, a fancy then-new hotel like the Chelsea was accustomed to having their share of famous and important guests pass through, but something about her struck him. The very picture of Old World elegance and poise, she effortlessly commanded the room. As she approached the bar and took her seat, he couldn’t help but also notice a certain sadness about her, or was it a… longing?

“Bonsoir monsieur, do you have any French beverages here, s’il vout plaît?”

Momentarily taken aback by her exotic accent, he quickly recovered and with a wink replied, “Of course, I’ve got just the thing, but it’s a surprise.”

Without waiting for a response, he set about scanning his inventory to figure out just what the heck he was going to make. Ah, Chartreuse; That certainly sounded French. With that picked, his experience took over. Some gin, some sweet vermouth, and a hint of orange bitters to round it all out.

“What do you call this?” she asked, as he presented the cocktail in a gold-rimmed coupe.

Noticing the way the light shimmering off the drink was reflected in her eyes, it occurred to him, “Well miss, this is a one-of-a-kind invention that I call the Jewel.”

With an intrigued smirk, she asked, “Qu’est-ce que c’est ‘jewel’?”

Harry smiled and reached out by her face, gently brushing her cheek as he touched her earring.

“This is a jewel.”

Her heart skipped a beat.

“Ah… un bijou.”

Ok, fine, I made all of that up, but you can’t deny that it made for a good cocktail origin story!

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1 oz gin
1 oz sweet vermouth
¾ oz green Chartreuse
1 dash orange bitters
Lemon peel or brandied cherry

Combine all ingredients, except the peel or cherry, into a mixing glass with ice and stir well. Strain into a cocktail glass or coupe and garnish with the lemon peel or brandied cherry.

Many sources have the three principal ingredients set to equal parts, but the Chartreuse packs a strong punch, and can really dominate the other flavours when it’s not reduced slightly, hence this recommended recipe. As ever, experimentation is half the fun, so go wild if you want to up it!

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