Sometimes you look at a recipe and think, this can’t possibly be good. Then you taste it and realize in some sort of epiphany from a supernatural power that you were dead wrong. In this case, it just so happens to be monks and green faeries. The Opal, a horrifically pungent and strong cocktail, is just that, a fantastic libation that whets the tongue and inebriates the mind.
Made with two ingredients, this is a rather simple cocktail. Well, to be totally fair and correct, three ingredients, but ice is almost common place in drinks now a days, that the dilution of the water and the chill from the ice makes for a rather normal drinking experience. But this drink features Chartreuse and absinthe. Sounds mighty fine, doesn’t it? Shaken with crushed ice, this is essentially a frappe, and instead of shaking, it is easy enough to just churn the mixture with crushed ice in a glass, chilling it as you swizzle the shards of frozen water around, observing the crystal as it becomes more opaque from the rapidly decreasing temperature, witnessing the colors of the absinthe changing as you see the louche.
This drink relies heavily upon dilution. Without it, the absinthe would be rather strong on its own, and the drink would not be palatable to most; the small shards of crushed ice help increase the surface area ratio between the ice and the liquid, increasing the rate of dilution. Or so logic would indicate. Yet, even though the drink works well with dilution, too much and it eventually becomes flavored water, almost like extremely watered down pastis. Embury categorizes the beverage under that of a short drink, and I presume in many respects that this is a wise decision, since the drink does fall apart.
To be honest, I’m not exactly sure how the drink was meant to be served. On one hand, Embury classifies the drink as an after dinner cordial, meaning it should probably be served in a cocktail glass strained, but unlike most other drinks, he writes about using crushed ice, which he goes on a few pages earlier with regards to the frappe style of drinks. In the frappe, he writes that there are two methods to serve the drink, one of which is straining into an “Old-Fashioned glass, adding ice water, if necessary, to fill the glass” (Embury 231). On the other hand, Embury himself prefers to pour “ice and all, into a saucer champagne glass and serve with short straws” (ibid). When thinking about this drink, I think that it represents and is extremely reminiscent of the absinthe frappe in terms of construction, so personal preference is the choice here, but I prefer to lean on the side that strains the ice and all into an old fashioned glass for sipping. Actually, I don’t even like shaking it, and prefer to churn the drink with a swizzle stick. To each their own.
There are multiple cocktails all of which are named Opal. I figure that I ought to mention two of them, the first being in Craddock’s works, and the second being a drink in Crockett’s Waldorf-Astoria. The former is a gin, orange juice, triple sec combination which is reminiscent of an Orange Blossom and even has some orange flower water added into it. The second version is an aromatic gin cocktail, with gin, orange bitters, dry vermouth and absinthe, making it for rather interesting Martini. Both of these versions are quite good on their own, but regardless of that those gin based variations I prefer this drink mainly because it is stronger, but also because it exudes a sort of fascinating herbal aroma. Furthermore, I am not exactly sure why the version Craddock provides would be called Opal, considering it isn’t even the color of the gemstone. Well, rather, orange tints in opals are extremely rare, compared to the commonplace colors of white or green, both of which are the colors of absinthe after it becomes cloudy on account of the louche.
The choice between which Chartreuse to use really makes this drink: do you want to provide a bit more sweetness or a bit more herbal bite. It really depends on the palate and aim when making the libation, but also what type of absinthe is being used since each have their own characteristics, and some are sweeter than others. When I make this drink, I’m using Vieux Pontalier, so I choose to utilize yellow Chartreuse because of the sweetness, and because Vieux Pontalier seems rather dry compared to quite a few other absinthes, such as Absente.
Opal (Craddock):1 1/2 oz gin1/2 oz orange juice1/2 oz Cointreau1/4 tsp simple syrup3 drops orange flower waterCombine the ingredients in a shaker tin with cracked ice, shaking to chill, and strain into a cocktail glass.Opal (Embury):1 1/2 ounce absinthe1/4 – 1/2 ounce yellow or green ChartreuseMix the ingredients in a shaker tin with crushed ice, shaking well, and straining the entire mixture into an old fashioned glass.