The Bijou

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Perhaps my favorite digestif, alongside a Rusty Nail, the Bijou is a very complex and interesting cocktail, which features gin, Italian vermouth, orange bitters and green Chartreuse.


With a hue like amber, the Bijou, meaning jewel in French, is a cocktail that really sparkles and shines.  The drink is essentially a Martini of equal proportions, with the addition of green Chartreuse, which gives the cocktail flavor and depth unlike a Martini, and gives it a bit of a kick.  The cocktail could function well served pousse-cafe style in order to highlight the distinct flavors and colors of the cocktail ingredients.  However, in that case, it would not taste the same at all, since part of the nature of the cocktail is the unification of the vermouth and gin through the orange bitters and Chartreuse.

Harry Johnson wrote the Modern Bartender’s Manual (1900), in which the current Bijou appears originally (Wondrich 256).  Harry Craddock would later borrow from it and publish it in the Savoy Cocktail Book (DeGroff 64).  His work, specifically the last two editions are filled with detail and illustrations, alongside the recipes, are considered cult objects for modern mixologists interested in historical mixology (Wondrich 256).  However, Johnson was not well received by his contemporaries, but did receive attention from various people who hired him to train others in the art of bartending (Ibid).  Johnson created a bar in Chicago in 1868 which was one of the “finest establishment[s] of the kind in this country,” as he himself claimed (Ibid).  Most likely, a lot of the things which he claimed were hyperbole:  there are plenty of discrepancies between his claims and the archival facts.  Yet despite all his exaggerations, Johnson’s version of the Bijou is the current one, and this demonstrates that he is a competent mixologist: Wondrich notes that there is another one, which was produced by Chris Lawlor, the recipe for which was printed in 1895 and called specifically for Grand Marnier instead of green Chartreuse, thereby making the cocktail less complex (Ibid 258).  As such, the Bijou demonstrates that a cocktail, a specific one, can go through several variations in ingredients, but retain its name. 

I have talked about yellow Chartreuse before, but this is the first time in this blog that I will be mentioning green.  The green variety is a harsh 55% alcohol by volume and is green on account of the use of a wide variety of herbs that infuse the liqueur, and imbue it with a green color that comes from the chlorophyll.  The colors are similar to that of an emerald jewel.  Just like the other variety, green is a product of the monks of the Carthusian Order who are located at the Grande Chartreuse monastery.  The liqueur, being proprietary, contains one hundred and thirty two different plants that give it the unique flavors.  It is this liqueur that gives the drink an indescribable and unique taste, one that will be drastically different depending on each individual’s palate.  Flavors that come out, to me at least include hyssop, coriander and thyme.  

The recipe that Harry Johnson presents mentions a specific type of gin, Plymouth. Since Plymouth is a proprietary gin, as I mentioned earlier in the Chelsea Sidecar article, it is something which has a unique and specific flavor set.  The coriander that comes out in the Plymouth blends well with the coriander, which is already one of the more prevalent flavors found in the green Chartreuse.  The juniper, because it is more muted than the coriander, assists the cocktail in blending together as a uniform whole, and the orange adds a distinctive citrus flavor in the cocktail that pairs nicely with the lemon oils expressed into the drink.  Lastly, the recipe calls for either an olive or a cherry: the olive seems to not work well with the drink, but it would be more a matter of personal preference.

As a digestif, the cocktail would be well suited to help someone settle their stomach, or assist with digestion; the large alcohol content encourages it to be consumed on an full stomach.  Thus, it doesn’t necessarily need to be paired with food as is the case with an aperitif or another cocktail that is going with a meal.  Plus, because of the nature of the green Chartreuse, and the high volume of it in the cocktail, taking time to imbibe and reflect upon the drink brings out the flavors and complexity of the cocktail rather well.

The Bijou:

3/4 ounce Plymouth gin
3/4 ounce sweet / red / Italian vermouth
3/4 ounce green Chartreuse
a dash Orange bitters

Stir together the ingredients in a mixing glass, and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with a cherry, and express the juices of the lemon peel over the drink.

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Craddock, Henry.  1999.  The Savoy Cocktail Book.  Originally published 1930.  London: Pavilion Books.

DeGroff, Dale. 2008. The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks. New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers.

Wikipedia contributors. “Bijou.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bijou_%28cocktail%29 (accessed March 6, 2010).
–. “Chartreuse (liqueur).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chartreuse_(liqueur)&oldid=342631366 (accessed March 6, 2010).–. “Vermouth.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermouth (accessed March 6, 2010).

Wondrich, David. 2007. Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar. New York: Penguin Group.