The Classic Gin Cocktail to Go Over the Top

Wrapping presents with a Bijou. Photo and story Greg Nagel

Every year around the holidays, you won’t find me watching “Elf,” “The Grinch,” or “Nightmare Before Christmas.” Before pulling into any mall to do retail battle, I find myself dusting off my Sylvester Stallone “Over The Top” DVD..you know, that insane arm-wrestling adventure movie from 1987? I put on a headband, get psyched, then challenge my 10-year-old daughter to a best of three arm-wrestling matches…letting her win, of course. Then it’s off to shop till we go over the top.

After perusing several jewelry departments, I somehow recall the French word for jewel is bijou, then reminisce about the classic cocktail with the same name. “Should I just buy my wife the ingredients to make a proper Bijou cocktail, or go with something shiny?” I think to myself. Boozy Christmas gifts are always best!

The Bijou cocktail is boozy, yet approachable. Equal parts gin, Green Chartreuse, and sweet vermouth (plus a dash of orange bitters) makes for a complex, floral, and herbaceous experience. I had my first Bijou at The Cellar in Fullerton where I was completely taken aback by the ease of production and effortless consumption. The deep golden drink is adorned with lemon peel and Luxardo cherry, adding in sweet and citrus aromatics that enhance the gin and vermouth in the background.

The recipe is part of the 1900’s Bartenders’ Manual by Harry Johnson, where equal parts booze are prescribed, which is my preference. Chartreuse definitely wins the arm-wrestling match of flavors, leaving gin and sweet vermouth as the supporting cast. If you prefer it a bit gin-forward, you can tweak the “1-1-1+ dash” recipe and dial up the gin a bit. Like any home cocktail, try it the way it was designed more than a century ago, then tweak as necessary for your own palate.

My Bijou: Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth, Blinking Owl Gin, Green Chartreuse, orange bitters, lemon peel, Luxardo cherry. Add ice water to your glass (martini or coupe) while building the drink in a mixing glass. Add 1 ounce each of gin, Chartreuse, and Antica to the mixing glass, plus a dash of orange bitters, then stir. Add 4 to 5 cubes to the mixing glass and stir until condensation builds on the outside (20 to 30 seconds). Dump the ice water from your drinking glass, strain in your drink, then garnish with lemon peel and cherry.

Find all of your glassware, cocktail books, and Bijou ingredients at The Mixing Glass, 3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa (Please do not ask the staff how to make a Bijou Dion)

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