The Bijou cocktail owes its name to the colors of its three ingredients. Since Bijou is the French term for jewel, Harry Johnson chose the name for his creation because each element reflects the color of a popular gemstone.
The Gin part stands for diamond, Sweet Vermouth for ruby, and Green Chartreuse for emerald.
The drink has a long history and has been popular for decades. But unlike most other classic cocktails, it disappeared from bar menus after the prohibition.
After that, it took quite some time until the drink was re-discovered and experienced a comeback.
Ingredients for making a Bijou cocktail
The three traditional elements of a Bijou are Plymouth Gin, Green Chartreuse, and Sweet Vermouth. The Gin part not set in stone, but the other two components are a fixture in the cocktail.
Plymouth Gin still works perfectly, but in many modern recipes, you'll find other types of Gin. A traditional London Dry Gin or Dry Gin, for instance, are common substitutes.
Sweet Vermouth and Green Chartreuse are fixed ingredients in the recipe and should not get replaced.
Vermouth in the Bijou cocktail
Vermouth is a French fortified wine infused with different herbs and botanicals.
Contrary to what the red color of Sweet Vermouth suggests, it is based on white wine. Also, you can get it from different producers with different qualities. A Martini Rosso would be a common choice.
Yet, in case you want something classier, take a look at Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth. It is one of my favorite Vermouths, not only for the Bijou but especially for Negronis.
Green Chartreuse is as well a French herbal liqueur based on wine. It goes back to an ancient recipe invented by a monk.
It's infused with an incredible number of 130 herbs and spices and has a distinct green color and an ABV of 55%. As you can imagine, the formula is a big secret. But still, some things about Green Chartreuse are known.
Bitters are an optional add-on
Additionally, to the aforementioned components, you can add a dash of orange cocktail bitters to the mix to create a more complex flavor profile.
History of the Bijou
The recipe of the Bijou cocktail goes back to the 1890s. Shortly after its first appearance in a bar, C.F. Lawlor was the first to publish the cocktail recipe.
A few years later, in 1900, the drink would be publicized in written form by its creator, Harry Johnson. It was part of his book - New and Improved Bartender Manual.
In his original recipe, Johnson asks for equal parts of Gin, Sweet Vermouth, and Green Chartreuse, and, for decades, this version has been a popular choice in bars.
However, with the start of prohibition in 1920, the popularity of the Bijou began to decline -for obvious reasons. And when the transport and serving of alcohol finally were legal again, the Bijou cocktail was forgotten by most.
Decades later, famous bartender and cocktail expert DeGroff browsed Harry Johnson's cocktail book when he discovered the Bijou cocktail.
Inspired by the list of ingredients, he tried the recipe. But what he tasted was an overwhelming and unbalanced flavor of Green Chartreuse.
To fix that, he changed the traditional recipe. DeGroff's improved formula consists of 3 parts gin, 1 part Vermouth, and 1 part Green Chartreuse.
Today you'll rarely get a traditional version of the Bijou cocktail. You will get either a drink based on DeGroff's recipe or another tweaked version.
Bijou cocktail variations
As you now know, the traditional recipe is a rare sight. The taste of Green Chartreuse is just too dominant.
Instead, you can use DeGroff's version (3:1:1), or pull back on the Green Chartreuse while keeping Gin and Sweet Vermouth balanced. That's how our recipe below works.
The first version published by C.F. Lawlor went in a completely different direction. He also went for equal parts, but instead of using Green Chartreuse, he opted for Grand Marnier.
And while Grand Marnier is a great cocktail ingredient, this version never became that popular.
Another variation that is somewhere in between is a 2:1:1 approach. Two parts Gin, mixed with one part Vermouth and one part Green Chartreuse.
Which one you prefer is up to your taste buds, but I recommend starting with the 3:1:1 approach first.
Garnish your cocktail with either lemon peel or Maraschino cherries. Both garnishes are mentioned in Johnson's original recipe and work brilliantly.
And if you feel a little fancy, you can combine them by skewering both on your cocktail pick.
The Bijou cocktail is related to numerous cocktails. The original equal-parts recipe based on Gin and Vermouth is reminiscent of an Italian classic, the Negroni. But there are more drinks that are not too far off in style and flavor.
Last but not least. The Last Word is another traditional cocktail related to the Bijou. A three-ingredient cocktail made of Gin, green Chartreuse, and Maraschino Liqueur.
- 1 oz Plymouth Gin
- 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
- 0.5 oz Green Chartreuse
- 1 dash Orange cocktail bitters
- Add all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice.
- Stir until the drink is well-chilled, and then strain into a chilled Nick & Nora glass.
- Garnish with Maraschino cherry, lemon peel, or both.