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Cheers! A barrel-aged Bijou cocktail

Jul 21, 2017

The Bijou's ingredients and one of the small barrels used for aging.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Cheers! team visited the Grove restaurant in Grand Rapids to learn about an old cocktail the restaurant is taking one step farther..

Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings first met bartender Maureen Di Virgilio at a contest held by Long Road Distillers in Grand Rapids. Di Virgilio won that competition.

Di Virgilio says they’ve started making a pre-Prohibition cocktail called the Bijou. It was as popular as the martini at the time. “Post-Prohibition, everybody forgot about it. It’s starting to gain momentum right now,” she said.

But Grove adds a twist. The restaurant barrel-ages the Bijou. Like whisky or bourbon, barrel aging imparts certain characteristics and mellows alcohol.

“We had a barrel that had just been sitting on the back of the bar when I started working here,” she explained. It was empty. It was just decoration.

Maureen Di Virgilio at the Grove restaurant in Grand Rapids.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

She and a fellow bartender decided to use it. They mixed up a big batch of Bijou. Actually, it was too big of a batch, about three litres too big. That’s enough to fill another small barrel. A sister restaurant let them borrow a barrel. It turns out that different barrels do different things to the taste of the cocktail.

Tasting a sample from the borrowed barrel (which had been used several times to age other gin-based cocktails), Coxen said, “Just like other barrel-aged cocktails that I’ve had, it kind of mellows it out.”

Tasting the Grove’s barrel, which had only been used once before, Coxen noted: “Definitely very different, not quite as mellow as the first one. It’s a little bit more spunky I think, kind of like you; you’re so cheerful,” she said to Di Virgilio.

The bartenders experimented with blending the cocktail contents from the two barrels and found combination they liked.

While Coxen was tasting the barreled samples, Di Virgilio mixed up the blended cocktail, chilling it with ice, straining it into a coupe, giving the drink a couple of sprays of absinthe from an atomizer, then adding an orange peel.

“Well, it’s beautiful,” Coxen said, noting the orange and absinthe aroma. After taking a sip, she said, “That’s lovely. It really does show what barrel-aging can do to a cocktail in that it sort of really mellows it out, but adds this really interesting wood note. It’s got a lot of herbal character from the gin, the green chartreuse, and the sweet vermouth. Those are all really herbal ingredients. It’s delicious.”

Di Virgilio says at first there was a lot of explaining to do for customers. “People had a lot of questions, but it was really rewarding because we’d been previously been getting asked, ‘Oh, what’s in that barrel?’ The answer was ‘nothing.’ But, now we have a story behind it,” she said. Those who’ve tried it have really enjoyed the barrel-aged Bijou. The comment heard most often is about how the drink is so smooth.

If you just want to try the Bijou at home, here’s the recipe:

Bijou

1-1/2 oz Long Road Distillers’ Michigin (more about that spirit here)

1-1/2 oz Dolin sweet vermouth

A blended, barrel-aged Bijou.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

½ oz green chartreuse

2 dashes of orange bitters

2 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters

2 or 3 sprays of absinthe using an atomizer

1 bit of orange peel

Combine everything except orange peel and absinthe in a vessel with ice. Stir until very chilled (30-40 revolutions). Strain into a coupe glass. Spray with absinthe. Add orange peel. Serve.