Monday, December 14, 2009

Tailspin/Bijou/Oh Come On Already


This month I somehow managed to not forget Mixology Monday
(something I'm exceptionally skilled at), so I really wanted to find something decent to whip up. Considering the theme is "money" (which according to the rules could be interpreted as using "the good stuff" to prepare a top-shelf version of an otherwise pedestrian cocktail), I was eager to find an old concoction and dress it up nice-like with some quality ingredients. Plunging into my modest collection of bar guides, I unearthed a recipe I thought fit the bill pretty well: The Tailspin.


I pulled the Tailspin from the 1936 edition of the Old Mr. Boston DeLuxe Official Bar-tender's Guide and it looked like a winner: Gin, green Chartreuse, and sweet vermouth in equal proportions all topped off with a dash of orange bitters. I like all those ingredients, so it was the perfect drink to spruce up with some of the spiffier denizens of my liquor cabinet. Here's what I ended up with:

Tailspin (as written)

1/3 Old Mr. Boston Dry Gin
1/3 Italian Vermouth
1/3 Green Chartreuse
Dash Orange Bitters

Sir well in ice and strain into 3 oz. cocktail glass Squeeze lemon peel on top and serve with cherry or olive.

Tailspin (my "money" version)

3/4 oz. Old Raj 110 proof dry gin
3/4 oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
3/4 oz. Green Chartreuse
1 Dash Angostura Orange bitters

Sir well with ice and strain into 3 oz. cocktail glass Garnish with lemon twist.

A couple notes about this recipe:

1) The Tailspin comes out a rich amber color and is gorgeous to look at. On the tongue it's a pungent medley of herbal goodness, with dense, powerful flavors from top to bottom. It's slightly on the sweet side, but there's enough alcohol presence to rein it in. The saffron-infused Old Raj brings another flavor component into the mix with the Carpano and Chartreuse, and definitely ratchets the whole affair up a notch or two. For comparison, I made one using some other dry gins, and while they ended up producing a sharper, brighter drink, the Old Raj version has more depth and will probably be my go-to recipe.

2) Half the cocktail blogging community has discussed this freaking drink to death already.

I discovered this when I did a simple search online for "Tailspin Cocktail." I made several versions of the drink, took notes, and thought I'd better just take a quick peek and see if anyone else had tried it out too. A BUNCH of people had (Did I mention I'm frequently "late to the party" where this kind of thing is concerned?). And there was much discussion of what this drink actually contained, and what it should be called. Turns out the Tailspin is very similar to a drink called the Bijou, and that similarity has contributed to a good bit of head-scratching and bewilderment amongst us booze geeks.

On my end, I was using a series of Mr. Boston's editions spanning 70-some-odd years as my starting point, and these books revealed some interesting quirks, both mixological and editorial. I compared Tailspin and Bijou recipes in the editions I had, and here's what I found:

1936 edition: Exact same recipe, except the Bijou is garnished w/ a cherry *only*, instead of a hunk of lemon peel and cherry/olive for the Tailspin. Also, the ingredients are listed in a different order for some reason.

1940 edition: Same as in the 1936 edition, except now the Bijou is supposed to be shaken.

1959 edition: Same as the 1940 edition.

1966 edition: Same as in the 1959 edition, except now they want the Bijou to be stirred again.

1996 edition: Same as in the 1966 edition

2009 edition: Bijou same as in the 1996 edition, but the Tailspin now has a dash of Campari in place of the orange bitters.

Moving on to other bar guides, I consulted The Official Mixer's Manual by Patrick Gavin Duffy, which lists the Bijou as being the same gin/Chartreuse/vermouth/bitters combo, but with only a lemon peel as garnish. I also found it listed in The Ultimate Book of Cocktails which indicated that curacao could be substituted for bitters and that Plymouth gin must be used.

If you're still with me at this point (God help you), you've probably determined I'm a bit of a masochist. Allow me to reinforce that assessment by providing just a few links to some places where the Bijou and/or Tailspin discussion has taken place.

Oh Gosh!


Cocktail Chronicles

Underhill Lounge

The Spirit World

If you looked at any of those (including the comments), you can see that going online often raises as many questions as it answers. So is there a conclusion to be drawn here? It seems there's a loose consensus that when made with Campari, it's a Tailspin. When made with orange bitters, it's a Bijou. It really depends on the source though. This sort of thing is what makes the type of alcoholic archaeology we practice simultaneously exciting and frustrating.

And I'm beginning to see why sometimes it's easier to just get a damn gin & tonic.


Pantagruel said...

Nice post, did you consider really kicking it up another notch with the Chartreuse VEP? That might be overkill but I'm tempted to give it a try...I'll let you know if I do.

Pantagruel said...

I tried it with the VEP last night. It was GOOD. Talk about turning it up to 11.

You're right, the Old Raj really works in this drink, probably the best use I've tried for it, although admittedly I've only tried it in a few drinks.

Dr. Bamboo said...

Panta: Glad you liked it w/ the Old just seemed to work so well IMHO.

Also, I tasted the VEP recently (and loved it), but I haven't gotten my hands on a bottle yet. Now I really have some incentive to track one down!