Building a home bar is an exercise in setting priorities. Spicy rye whiskey, decent mixing gin and a bottle of Cointreau? Right up there at the top of the list. Maraschino liqueur, Campari and Chartreuse? Maybe around level B, after all the basics are covered and you’re ready to explore a little bit. Dutch-style gin or Martinique rum? Wild cards – grab ‘em when you find ‘em, but you probably won’t use them that much, and putting a lot of energy into the search will only leave you frustrated (unless you live near Hi-Time Wine, Bev-Mo, Sam’s, Astor Place, or a very few other mondo liquor stores in the country. Lucky bastards.). Advocaat? A bargain bin or surprise-your-guests oddity; otherwise, save the space for a bottle of something more useful.
Until about a month ago, I placed Parfait Amour in the same neighborhood as Advocaat, Creme de Noyeaux and Baranjager. It’s an amusing, obscure liqueur, mentioned in plenty of old cocktail manuals, but almost entirely as a layer in a sticky-sweet pousse cafe. Purple in color and with a taste, as Ted Haigh writes in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, “like the delicate combination of grape jelly beans and marshmallows,” Parfait Amour is a mixological curiosity, an unusual 19th-century violet, orange and vanilla liqueur that somehow made it’s way into 21st-century Washington State liquor stores (plenty of them, too — you’ll have to drive all over town to find a bottle of Punt E Mes, but Parfait Amour? It’s everywhere.)
Or it was until recently, anyway. That’s because a little over a month ago, the rows of pretty purple Marie Brizard bottles suddenly wound up with a bright orange tag on the shelf beneath them — CLOSEOUT. Evidently, someone at the state liquor board finally figured out that nobody was buying this stuff, and decided to drop the axe on the old Perfect Love. It’s days are numbered here in Washington; soon, that shelf space will be given over to Sour Guava Pucker, or Cabana Boy Rhubarb-flavored Rum, or some other ghastly product-of-the-month.
Faced with the demise of this liqueur (locally, anyway), realizing that this classic flavor I’d often sneered at would soon be denied me, I found myself, first, offended and dismayed that the product was being removed, and, inexplicably, with a strong desire to grab a bottle of this liqueur before it disappeared.
After putting it off until I was afraid I’d missed my chance, I finally picked up a bottle last week, and set to making the one non-pousse cafe-style drink I knew of offhand that called for Parfait Amour: the Jupiter Cocktail.
- 1 1/2 ounces gin
- 3/4 ounce dry vermouth
- 1 teaspoon orange juice
- 1 teaspoon Parfait Amour
Shake with ice, and strain into chilled cocktail glass.
Back to Vintage Spirits: Haigh credits Harry MacElhone with printing the first known recipe for the Jupiter in 1923. I found Doc’s description of the drink spot-on, mostly: it doesn’t have a very appealing color (kind of purply grey and hazy), but it does have a special something in the flavor. But to my taste, that special something was too vague – with a teaspoon each of the two modifiers, the Jupiter tasted like a classic dry martini with something indefinable dribbled into it. Not bad – actually pretty good – but still, it was a minor taste at the periphery of the drink.
I made a second version of the Jupiter that was more in line with my palate. I increased everything: ratcheted up the gin to 2 oz., the vermouth to 1 oz, and the OJ and PA to 1/2 ounce each (that’s about 3 teaspoons – I added it a teaspoon at a time, tasting as I went until I found an agreeable balance). This version, I found, kept the gin and vermouth flavor dominant, but the fruit and liqueur flavors became more than just a ghostly echo. Of course, I’ve only just started with the drink, so after a few more versions, I may find myself toning it back to Doc’s suggested recipe.
Was it worth the purchase? Maybe. Granted, when the state placed Parfait Amour on the dead-booze-walking list, it did wind up in the bargain bin. But now I’ve got a 750 ml bottle (shy 4 teaspoons) of grape candy-flavored liqueur taking up precious space in my crowded liquor cabinet (actually, it’s now in my liquor annex, on a shelf in the hall closet). I like the Jupiter, but I don’t know if I like it enough to work my way through the bottle. Pousse cafe, anyone?