In which I inflict my “talent” on my neighbors in an update of the classic Bijou cocktail.
I “created” this one for a homegrown talent show in my community, in which I was invited to demonstrate my, um, “talent” in mixology at halftime of the festivities.
You’ve reached a sad point in life when your most recognizable skill involves alcoholic beverages.
And yet, here I am. Best to make the most of any opportunity life hands you, I say.
The Bijou: A jewel. A really big jewel
Since “Carderock’s Got Talent” was a song-dance-performance event, I searched for “theatrical” allusions in the cocktail canon. This led me quickly to a pre-Prohibition classic called the Bijou. Early in this century “Bijou,” a French word meaning “jewel,” was a common name for a town’s theater.
The Bijou cocktail, debuted in the 1880s, was given the name because its high dose of Green Chartreuse gave the drink a hue of a dusky emerald.
Problem is: The original Bijou is a snoutful, intensely herbal from the Chartreuse, busy with the cutting notes of gin, fragrant with vermouth. Some say it disappeared with Prohibition not because it was forgotten but because it was too intense, as tastes drifted to simpler settings for gin, like a Martini.
A more accessible jewel?
But this was for a community event, where palates probably were more used to TGIFridays’ beverage menu than, say, that of a grand hotel bar filled with robber barons and their retainers.
Could I turn this big, uncompromising classic into something suburban showgoers might enjoy sippin? Let’s see, shall we?
Clearly, creating an Old Fashioned that looks like a Martini has its challenges
I was trying yet another spin-off of the Old Fashioned, this time using the lovely and potent Luxardo Maraschino liqueur and Angostura orange bitters to complement the rye. Not bad, as these riffs go, with some nice lathework by the maraschino and bitters smoothing the rye’s rough edges.
Sipping, I was moved to contemplation.
Say, [I mused], hadn’t I bought a bottle of unaged rye not long ago? And wouldn’t it be odd and [maybe] wonderful to use that clear liquor with the translucent Luxardo and the colorless orange bitters to make … a perfectly transparent Old Fashioned?
I had turned yet another suspect idea into a fool’s errand.
This drink appears in one of the most esteemed cocktail books of the last century. It’s terrible. Please don’t make it
Sometimes the most valuable public service we can render here at A Measured Spirit Global Headquarters is harm reduction.
Do. Not. Make. This. Drink.
Hell cocktail recipe
Into a mixing glass, do not add:
1 oz cognac
1 oz creme de menthe
Do not shake or stir with ice. Do not strain into a small snifter or shot glass. Do not garnish with red pepper flakes.
Like I said, don’t make it.
Hell cocktail tasting notes
This drink is just fu*king horrible.
The creme de menthe swamps the cognac. The mouthfeel is gummy.
The pepper flakes transmit no heat. They merely get caught in your teeth.
Using equal parts brandy and creme de menthe is like serving coq au vin with Hershey’s chocolate syrup gravy.
Welcome to Hell
People who are fans of John Cheever, the novelist who pulled back the curtain on life among the affluent suburbanites of mid-century Connecticut, may recognize this as a nitwit cousin of the Stinger.
That drink mixes the same two liquors, but it favors the base spirit in 2:1 or 3:1 ratios. The effect is of a brandy tamped down with mint candy — a favored nightcap for the coupon-clipper too timid for a martini.
But if forced, a reasonable person can drink one without harm or lasting loss of self-respect.
But this fresh Hell thing — not so much. Do. Not. Make. It.
Whenever I’m eyeing the bottles behind a bar, I scan for Creme de Violette. An undistinguished looking cylinder of dark purple with a circumference of silver label, the bottle of CDV is a key signifier, as they say in sociology: It tells me that someone in the chain of custody is a fellow cocktail geek.
Bars that have it on hand use it almost exclusively to make a single drink: The Aviation.
The pre-Prohibition gin mix-up was first referenced in print in 1911, eight years after the Brothers Wright committed the act of flight in Kitty Hawk.
This is no coincidence. The Aviation takes its name from the dusky sky blue color the CDV paints the drink.
Where the Aviation gets its wings
The armature of the Aviation is essentially a gin sour: 1 part gin, 1/2 parts each lemon juice and a sweetener.
What makes the drink distinctive is the fact that the sweetener comprises Luxardo Maraschino liqueur and CDV. No simple syrup or sugar.
About the Creme de Violette: Many liqueurs can be taken straight, or thinned with soda to make a neat little sipper. Don’t try that with this gal Violette. She’s sweet to a fault and generic in flavor, maybe a bit flat from the flower petals used to distill it.
But properly measured, she brings some great fun to the party.
At a Mill Valley restaurant, serve yourself and live large
Maybe I don’t get out enough, but this is the first time I’ve seen Margarita bottle service: At Playa restaurant in Mill Valley, California, $48 for a voluminous tankard of Margarita, iced and bucketed tableside in the fashion of an overpriced Chardonnay.
The thing is, the Margaritas were unnecessarily spectacular: tart and bright, with the kick of el burro. All glasses were Old Fashioned style, half the rim wearing a collar of salt and half plain.
I was as usual going to do the Intrepid Cocktail Geek routine at Playa and order some unthinkable mezcal/anisette/Asian-pear-tincture/espresso-rose-water-bitters/nitrogen-frozen-Kool-Aid-garnish thingy named after the chorus of some Guatemalan rap song.
Wisely, I deferred to our group’s preferences, and to my own curiosity about being served a whole bottle o’ cocktail fun.
It was so good we ordered it twice.
Seems like a brilliant mix of customer delight and business smart. Folks drink more when they serve themselves, the product is pre-batched, the wait-staff is freed from one-off re-orders and even from the salted-or-unsalted query.
And hey, it’s a rare chance to act nearly as cool as you wish you were.
True, it’s not like being a rapper in the red velvet room of a downtown club working through a case if Ciroc. But bottle service of high-power hootch, the vessel sweating in its metal bucket of ice as the gang tops each other off until — oops, gone already? ¡Uno mas, senorita! — is just a hoot.
nb: The food at Playa is so tasty it’s almost unfair to other Mill Valley restaurants.
A surprisingly drinkable mix of mezcal and rye. The presentation? Loco
Placed before me at a random mezcaleria in Healdsburg, California:
“Maybe that should be served up, without the ice cube?” said I.
The waitress baby-sitting the bar this early afternoon referred to the handwritten guide the head bartender had left behind the counter.
“No,” said she. “It says to serve with the big ice cube.”
“Maybe it should be served in an Old Fashioned glass?” I offered.
“No, he said to serve everything in a Margarita glass.”
When in Rome, etc.
Gamely, I took a sip. The ice cube brushed my nose.
The odd thing is, it was an unexpectedly arresting drink. It looked like a train-wreck on the menu — all those unrelated flavors in one place! — but it was at least a solid B, with extra points for originality.
I have no idea what it was called on the menu.
So I am naming it here.
La Nariz Congelada, or The Frozen Nose
1.5 z mezcal
.5 Luxardo maraschino liqueur
Stir in a mixing glass, serve up in a coupe with one big ice cube, because…well, WTF. Brandied cherry garnish.
Frozen Nose cocktail tasting notes
Mixes two base spirits and a liqueur, each with vivid, distinctive flavors.
The smoke of the mezcal, the grainy edge of the rye, the high-pitched sweet of the Luxardo…somehow balance themselves.
Instead of a bar fight, this somehow comes off as a slightly edgy barstool conversation among three very strong-minded people who’ve never met.
Which is to say: A fascinating entertainment, but slightly dangerous.
Okay, so I tried this in an Old Fashioned glass. Worked much better.