South Baltimore's Prohibition-era cocktail lounge Idle Hour has a number of distinctions to its credit: 2009's Midnight Sun Best of the Best of the Best award for Best Pickle Back Shot for one. In addition, it's one of the region's top sellers of the French liqueur Chartreuse.
Idle Hour sells so much Chartreuse per annum that the producers of the rather potent herbal beverage flew the owners to France and gave them a full-blown tour of the production facility, monk parties included (yes, it's named after a monastery). The majority of the cocktails you'll find at Idle Hour contain Chartreuse in some facet, including their rather tasty Bijou (French for jewel).
The Bijou is a classic cocktail first seen in the legendary "Harry Johnson Bartender's Manual." It was given the moniker for its combination of "three jewels" of liquor — gin (diamond), Chartreuse (emerald) and, traditionally, vermouth (ruby). In this case, the vermouth is replaced with Fee Brothers Orange Bitters so that'd be, uh, spessartite garnet.
(Note: I later learned that Idle Hour's recipe actually calls for Cinzano sweet vermouth instead of orange bitters).
With equal parts green Chartreuse and Copper Fox Distillery's brand new Vir Gin single malt, the juniper berry notes from this shockingly smooth gin blend excellently with the herbals found in Chartreuse to produce a sweet, powerfully floral cocktail with a sock of orange goodness courtesy of the bitters. Sip this one slowly, as Chartreuse is widely known to be a butt-kicker at 110 proof — and the addition of gin only adds to the fun.
Owner Brendan Finnerty has typically seen the drink served with cherries in the U.S. But when traveling in France, "we saw it repeatedly served over yonder with either an orange or lemon rind. And we drank a lot of them with the Carthusian monks," Finnerty said. So, at Idle Hour the Bijou is served in the same style. And a pro tip: Allow the rind to mellow for a bit at the bottom before taking that final sip. The orange flavor imparted to the remainder of this potent potable is well worth the few extra minutes.
How to make the Bijou
3/4 oz. Green Chartreuse
3/4 oz. Copper Fox Vir Gin
Dash of Fee Brothers Orange Bitters
Orange rind for garnish
Combine Chartreuse, gin and bitters over ice and stir. Strain into Martini glass and rim/garnish with orange rind.
Where to get the Chartreuse Bijou
201 E. Fort Ave., Riverside