The Rubicon

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Visually reminiscent of the laurel leaves adorning the wreath of an ancient Roman, the Rubicon is another excellent example of molecular mixology created by Jamie Boudreau.


“Alea iacta est.”

Suetonius’ Vita Divi Iuli, Paragraph 33

The famous words that were supposedly uttered by Caesar as he crossed the Rubicon mark a point of no return.  The phrase, meaning the die has been cast, mark the beginning of the civil war launched by Caesar against Pompeius Magnus and the Optimates.  This civil war, which lasted from 49 to 45 BCE, demarcates the shift between the Roman Republic to that of the Roman Empire; however, many philologists contend whether or not these changes were long in the process, and whether it was not necessarily the destruction of the Roman Republic, but a transformation.  This cocktail, named because of the rosemary which gives the visual sensation of being roman laurels, exemplifies the spirit of transformation which is found during the historic period which inspires the cocktail: the use of fire, heat, changes the flavors, of the drink, transforming it not unlike its’ original ancestor, but into something unique.

This drink takes its basis from that of the Last Word, and looks rather similar to the last word in terms of ingredients.  However, once you have ignited the Chartreuse, you have crossed the Rubicon, and are passed any point of return.  The ignition of the Chartreuse tames the alcohol content in the drink, but also helps cook the rosemary, bringing out a lovely herbal aroma, with the strongest presence being that of the rosemary (Boudreau).  Overall, an intensely fascinating drink, the Rubicon is a bit time consuming to make, especially if you are doing hand crushed ice; yet it is well worth the effort.

Suetonius, the author of various biographies of the Caesars, supposedly took his phrase from the words of Plutarch, found within the biography of Pompeius.  These words, which can be read as the “original” source, are found in Greek, stating: “Ἑλληνιστὶ πρὸς τοὺς παρόντας ἐκβοήσας, Ἀνερρίφθω κύβος διεβίβαζε τὸν στρατόν” (Plutarch Life of Pompey, 60.2.9).  Translated as, “he declared in Greek before those who were present, let the die be cast, and he led the army across [the Rubicon].”  The version given by Suetonius reminds me of the differences between the Last Word and the Rubicon.  In a way, the Rubicon, which Jamie executed so well, performs like Suetonius transcription of the famous saying: it stylizes it, but makes it also more approachable.  Yet, the Rubicon is a drink that is also unlikely to be found in your average bar, and as such does not fit well with respect to the mold in such a manner.

 An herbal gin works well in this drink, helping emphasize other notes that are found in the cocktail; however, something that has a citrus note helps bring forth the citrus in the drink, and also balances it quite a bit more.  Beefeater 24 is quite good in this drink, but so is Plymouth, both with slightly different flavors and notes, emphasized by the infusions within each spirit.

This brings a nice question about what other flavors could be pulled forth in this drink: since Chartreuse is an infusion of 132 different plants and spices, no matter what herbal flavor you pull forward, you will probably be able to find something which can be emphasized within the drink.  It would be interesting to experiment with other herbs, yet you should remember to use something which won’t taste poorly when “cooked” slightly would be ideal.  Mint would not stand up to the fiery heat of igniting the green Chartreuse; perhaps it would be best to try this with sage, or thyme, perhaps even lavender, and then replace the Maraschino with creme de violette in the last case.

To me, this drink actually fits well as a “perfect” cocktail, something which is described by Colin Peter Field as a drink which can be consumed both before and after a meal (Field 80).  The herbal nature of the drink, the strong flavors, the lack of heavy, overwhelming sweetness, each of these things helps the drink function extremely well as an aperitif, but simultaneously, the drink works well as a digestif, thanks to the heavy alcohol content, and the Chartreuse.  Plus, rosemary, being a strong flavor, will dominate the palate on the finish, and gives the drink the staying power to linger in the mouth long after the meal is consumed, which helps encourage the drink to be consumed away from foodstuffs.

The most difficult thing about making this drink is actually balancing the timing.  Essentially you have to do all the steps prior to igniting the Chartreuse, since you do not want to overcook the product.  Therefore, hand crushing ice, because it is time consuming, must be done prior to mixing the drink, so as not to encourage over dilution.  The entire cocktail is an act, one in which you are representing not only the liquor and the flavors, but also yourself upon a sort of stage in which this cocktail is enjoyed visually and aromatically, and not just taste wise (Uyeda 11-12).  The white smoke rising from the glass as the cocktail is strained over the burning Chartreuse even conjures images of war, something befitting a cocktail which has a name linked to one of the most seminal events in European history.

The Rubicon:

In a rocks glass:

1/2 oz green Chartreuse
1 rosemary sprig

In a mixing glass:

2 oz gin
1/2 oz maraschino
1/2 oz lemon

Curl rosemary in rocks glass.  Shake, with ice.  Ignite the rocks glass with the Chartreuse, let it burn for about five seconds, then strain the shaken mixture into the rocks glass, extinguishing the flame.  Top the drink with crushed ice. Garnish with another sprig of rosemary.

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Boudreau, Jamie.  2007.  “Molecular Mixology III: Rubicon.”   Spirits and Cocktails.  Originally posted July 13, 2007.  http://spiritsandcocktails.wordpress.com/2007/07/13/molecular-mixology-iii-rubicon/ (accessed June 18, 2010).

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

Embury, David A.  2009.  The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.  Originally published 1948.  New York: Mud Puddle Books, Inc.

Field, Colin Peter.  2003.  The Cocktails of The Ritz Paris.  New York: Simon & Schuster.