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The Bijou Cocktail

Submitted by Tim Brice on February 3, 2011 – 12:16 am2 Comments

From the height of late 19th century society comes this most sophisticated amusement: the Bijou Cocktail. Named for the French word for jewel, this visually stunning cocktail dates back to the 1860′s and is a combination of gin, sweet vermouth, orange bitters, lemon peel and green Chartreuse. The Bijou is for mature palates only. If you are not a fan of herbal and slightly bitter tastes then you will likely not favor what the Bijou has to offer. However, if you are a fan of classic cocktails or fancy yourself a member of the cocktail cognoscente then this is one you want in your arsenal.

photo 246x300 The Bijou Cocktail

photo courtesy of Chris Palmer

As with many of the much older cocktail recipes, the Bijou has many varieties of recipe that may be found online with nearly all deviating from the original in an attempt to update it for modern palettes. The original Bijou, according to sources, is a 1 to 1 to 1 ratio of gin to vermouth to Chartreuse with a drop or two of orange bitters added plus lemon peel. Most of the newer versions I have come across tend to increase this ratio in the gins favor. Some, such as Dale DeGroff, prefer a 3 to 1 to 1 gin to vermouth to Chartreuse ratio keeping the orange bitters as is. I do like this version as well, but I find I continually come back to the original. While a gin based drink, this combination produces a bit of whiskey-like character that I find unusual and enjoy a great deal.

The issue many have with the original Bijou recipe is the Chartreuse. It is, in fact, the Chartreuse that gives this drink its unique color and unabashedly herbal flavor. Chartreuse is made from 130 plants known only to the two Carthusian monks who have the recipe. Green Chartreuse is 110 proof while also being quite sweet. Because of this, some claim that it is too herbal and potent to the point of being medicinal. While I get that, I appreciate the vegetal characteristics of Chartreuse and believe it marries well with the other ingredients in this cocktail. Generally, I like it as a shot, over ice with tonic or in a special concoction such as this. I also find Chartreuse mixes well with gin, bourbon, certain tequilas, lemon juice and, to a lesser extent, lime juice.

Keep in mind that most gins come in at 90 proof or better so adding Chartreuse makes this a drink that gets the party started rather quickly. Think of the Bijou as the cocktail you have graduated to once you have left the sorority and stopped drinking long island iced teas.

As is my usual rant, I believe in judging a cocktail by using the best ingredients possible. In this case, that means good gin, Carpano Formula Antica sweet vermouth and Green Chartreuse. Yellow Chartreuse is only 80 proof and tastes even sweeter to me. It doesn’t work in the Bijou nearly as well as the green Chartreuse does. Carpano Formula Anticia is one of a very few sweet vermouths that I would drink straight. It is appropriately sweet with a nice round mouth feel that adds depth to any cocktail. The gin choice here is one of personal preference. I believe it should be a gin that is not full of too many botanicals so as not to compete with the Chartreuse and make the drink muddy. That said, substituting vodka for the gin just makes the drink flat, in my opinion. My gin favorites for the Bijou are Hendricks (something of my fall back favorite), Junipero, No. 209 and even Blue Coat. All of these have their particular botanical leanings but don’t try and do too much.

With an ingredients list like those mentioned above, the Bijou is one high cost cocktail. A full 750 ml bottle of Green Chartreuse runs around $60. The Carpano Forumla Antica vermouth starts at $30 a bottle depending on where you buy it. Similarly any good gin runs $25 a bottle and up. That’s $115 in booze before you’ve ever bought the lemon for the peel. That translates to about $6.50 a cocktail at home!

Seeking this drink out in a bar can be a challenge too as many bars, even good bars, don’t carry green Chartreuse. Even when they do, most bartenders either don’t know the drink or know one of the newer recipes. Be prepared to ask for this one by name and recipe. Yeah, you’ll be that guy who orders off the menu and gets funny looks from his friends and dirty looks from the waitress, but you’ll also be the guy who over tips the bartender when you are well taken care of.


The Bijou Cocktail


1 ounce Gin

1 ounce Carpano Fomula Antica, or other sweet vermouth

1 ounce green Chartreuse

1 dash orange bitters

1 twist of lemon peel (left in or discarded according to your preference)


Add all ingredients except the lemon pe to an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously to combine. Strain into an ice-filled cocktail glass and garnish, if you choose, with the lemon peel. Enjoy!


article clipper The Bijou Cocktail

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