After I first received my copy of the Gentleman's Companion a couple of years ago, I flipped through the pages and landed on the Jimmie Roosevelt--a champagne cocktail spiked with cognac and topped with a green chartreuse float. It blew my mind. So, of course, when we had some friends over later that month, it instantly popped into my mind. What better occasion for a fancy champagne cocktail? And, since I knew that all of my guests were comfortable with green chartreuse, easily the most controversial ingredient, what could possibly go wrong? Mind you, this was before I had ever tasted, or even heard of, drinks like Firpo's Balloon Cocktail and the Adios Amigos, before I had learned about Baker's borderline obsession with cocktails that have large amounts of absinthe. At that specific moment in time, I still harbored a certain naivete and, I'm not afraid to admit it, infatuation with all things associated with Charles Baker (except perhaps the man himself). I was only aware of the successful creations, like the tasty Remember the Maine, and knew nothing of the abject failures. Like so many others, I had been caught in a web of flowery prose, exotic locales and the ethos of the 1930s world traveler and adventurer.
But in this case, the ingredients were not my downfall. As most people know, ingredients are only half of the equation. It is the process of making a cocktail--that learned ability to actually construct a drink properly--that truly separates the novices from the amateurs and the amateurs from the professionals. That is where the magic of well-crafted cocktails lies. Though the actual method is hardly given any space on a menu, that is where the mystery and suspense lie, because what a drink tastes like actually does depend on how its made. When constructing a cocktail at home, this process is guided by vague instructions that require some amount of interpretation and the resulting drink's success will depend, heavily, on the home bartender's skills and experience. So, at this particular point in time, I was doomed.
Champagne Cocktail No. II, which with Modestly Downcast Lash We Admit Is an Origination of Our Own, & which We Christened the "Jimmie Roosevelt"
Fill a big 16 oz thin crystal goblet with finely cracked ice. In the diametrical center of this frosty mass went a lump of sugar well saturated with Angostura, then 2 jiggers of good French cognac, then fill the glass with chilled champagne, finally floating on very carefully 2 tbsp of genuine green chartreuse--no pineapple, no mind sprig, no cherry garnish.
Considering my drink crafting skills two years ago, this cocktail was a bit over my head. Sure, I could perform the tasks, but doing them well, or even doing the right thing at the right time, that was more iffy. Even picking out appropriate glassware seemed difficult--I don't have 16-ounce goblets. And then came the cracked ice, which is when I started to worry about what I had gotten myself into. I have never to this day had another champagne cocktail over cracked ice. (Cubed ice? Yes. That is our preferred way to drink French 75s. But not cracked ice.) Everything seemed to go down hill from there. Second step: add the bitters-soaked sugar cube to the "diametrical" center of the ice. Note, this is not easy in a champagne flute that is very tapered at the top. Pour in cognac and top with champagne. Finally, float the chartreuse. When the opening of your glass is the same size as your barspoon, floating anything is pretty much impossible. Or at least it was for me. Baker makes it sounds almost easy, but it is easily one of the most involved champagne cocktails I have ever made.
I have heard that when a Jimmie Roosevelt is made correctly, with expert precision and, I must add, confidence, such as at the Pegu Club in New York City, it will knock your sock garters off. When properly made, the flavors should transform and evolve as you drink, ensuring that you receive multiple flavor combinations over course of the drink. Unfortunately, I was not making drinks then with either expert precision or even confidence. What I remember of that first Jimmie Roosevelt is the glorious herbal aroma of chartreuse mixing with the champagne. I remember how annoying it was trying to drink through cracked ice. And finally, I remember the disappointment--after all the steps and all of the mess, the cocktail wasn't all that exceptional. In fact, I believe the word we chose was "weird." And I would now also add forgettable, as I have no recollection of the flavor.
But I didn't give up. My initial fascination with the Jimmie Roosevelt never really disappeared. So a year later, while reading cocktailvirgin's interview with Brian Rea, what did I find at the end shimmering like a beacon but a variation of the Jimmie Roosevelt. No "diametrical center." No crushed ice. No floats. All of the ingredients that initially sparked my imagination were present, and, best of all, it didn't sound hard to make. And it wasn't. We enjoyed this cocktail last fall, and it was exactly what I had hoped for--bubbly, herbal and dry with a little spice and richness. In short, absolutely delicious.
Jimmy Roosevelt (Recipe by Brian Rea, originally posted at cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com)
1 1/2 ounces cognac
3/4 ounce green chartreuse
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Shake cognac, chartreuse, and bitters with ice. Strain into a chilled coupe. Top with champagne.
Notes on Ingredients: I used Pierre Masson VSOP brandy and Chateau St. Michelle sparkling wine [I suggest 2 ounces].
This is still one of my absolute favorite champagne drinks. The differences are tiny enough--just the omission of the sugar cube and an increase in green chartreuse. The chartreuse's sweetness surely balances out this change. The proportions are also very similar, except that the Baker version is twice the size. Of course, in both recipes the amount of champagne is unspecified, but considering sixteen-ounce goblet specified, using seven or eight ounces of champagne is what Mr. Baker has in mind. As I usually cut all of Baker's recipes in half, Brian Rea's recipe made a lot of sense. And it is just so tasty his way.