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?
This week’s fast, easy, and effective recipe. Hey, you’ve got only an hour.
This was my gateway cocktail, a classic. Equal parts of three ubiquitous ingredients, so it’s easy to gather the booze and assemble fast, with zero risk of screwing up.
.75 oz gin
Any London dry is fine
.75 oz Campari
One of the bitterest of the at-any-county-liquor-store aperitifs
.75 oz sweet vermouth
aka Italian or red vermouth
Fast build: Add all ingredients over ice in Old Fashioned glass. Stir gently. Orange peel garnish. Lemon will work in a pinch.
You can also stir the ingredients in a mixing glass and strain over fresh ice. I find there’s virtually no difference in outcome.
If this makes me a vulgarian, I accept the title.
Quickie happy tweaks
Note: Each of the following at least slightly unsettles a classically balanced drink, but provides a different profile.
Use a flavor-rich American small-batch gin. My favorite of this type, D.C.’s Green Hat, can stand up to the other two ingredients.
Some people make this with Hendrick’s gin. For me, its subtle, eccentric [cucumber!], soft notes are completely wasted here. But Hendricks’ own “Unusual Negroni” recipe splits the Campari with Aperol [see below]. I haven’t tried this. Who knows?
Try Carpano Antica vermouth. Dark, herbal, a bit dense. Adds big body to the drink. Expensive, sadly.
Feeling frisky? Go way off script and do equal parts gin and Punt e Mes, a dark, bitter, brown vermouth that acts as both the sweet and the bitter in one swoop. Some try 3 equal parts and replace the sweet vermouth with Punt e Mes. But that slides the drink toward a bitterness I can’t abide. Add a bit of regular sweet vermouth as needed.
Campari too bitter for you? Swap in Aperol, a sweeter apertif, with less of that woolen tongue thing you get with a potent bitter.
Aperol edges the drink’s color from ruby toward orange.
Aperol also has lower alcohol by volume [11%], yielding an in-the-glass ABV of around 30.
Dial down the buzz even more: Cut the gin, top with soda. This devolves the drink into an “Americano.”
Frisky fact: The Americano was the first drink ordered by Bond, James Bond in Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale.
A more elegant look: Stir and serve up, in a coupe.
Impress your happy hour friends with these fun facts
The widely circulated story is that the Italian Count Negroni ordered the first one in Florence in 1919. A boozehound, he asked for gin to be added to his Americano. The rest is history.
Or myth. Most cocktail Creation Stories carry a strong whiff of bullshit at the nose. For what it’s worth, here is a rollicking takedown of the story, from a culinary perspective, by Food Republic.
Freaky fact-ish thing: Whether he invented the Negroni or not, the good Count developed a preference for strong liquor when he was an American rodeo clown. That is what at the Washington Post we used to call a story “too good to check.”