MxMoXII: Colleen Bawn

You might have thought, given my less-than-sterling results with last month’s MxMo submission, that I’d veer in a completely different direction for this round. And I have, to a certain extent — hot beer? Gone. Rum? Gone (given that this months theme is “whisk(e)y,” that’s not much of a surprise). Raw egg? Oops…

I’ve only come across this drink in one book, Edward Spencer’s The Flowing Bowl, published in London in 1903. I’ve had the book for a couple of years, but I managed to breeze right past this drink without giving it any more thought than a derisive, “eh — that’ll never work.” Then, a month or so ago, I was sitting at the bar at Zig Zag Cafe, and Murray set one of these down in front of me. It was great – ok, maybe just good, but way better than I’d expected it to be, given my initial attitude about the recipe.

The Colleen Bawn is simple to prepare, though it requires a somewhat elusive ingredient — Yellow Chartreuse — and it includes the bogeyman of modern mixology, a raw egg. Between the egg and the spice garnish, the Colleen Bawn has an aura of nog about it, but don’t be deceived — between the Chartreuse and the Benedictine, this drink promises a veritable gobsmack of herbaceous mojo, making its character closer to that of a Last Word or a Widow’s Kiss than a run-of-the-mill Tom & Jerry.

My only complaint with the Colleen Bawn, though, does involve the egg. While it works to give the drink body, and keeps the strong-flavored ingredients from being too overwhelming, the egg makes this cocktail a bit heavy. I’d suggest recruiting an adventurous friend or few, and using one egg for every two drinks (or playing with the recipe — I’ve pondered swapping out the whole egg for a mix of heavy cream and egg white, but haven’t pursued it further). While this will probably never make it into your usual rotation, it’s a good “check this out” drink for your ovophilic friends.

Colleen Bawn

  • 3/4 ounce rye whiskey (something vigorous like Rittenhouse bonded)
  • 3/4 ounce yellow Chartreuse
  • 3/4 ounce Benedictine
  • 1 fresh egg
  • 1 tsp sugar / simple syrup, or to taste

Pour the liquids in a mixing glass. Beat the egg with the sugar, and add to booze mixture. Ice well, shake long and hard, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Dust with cinnamon, nutmeg and, Spencer says, “pink sugar.”

Oh, and the name? I don’t know where Spencer came across the drink, but the name is related to the notorious 1819 murder in County Limerick of a 15-year-old farmer’s daughter named Ellen Hanley — thereafter known, for reasons opaque to me, as “the Colleen Bawn” — by her newlywed husband, a well-to-do man named John Scanlan, and by his servant, Stephan Sullivan, who shot Hanley and dumped her body in the Shannon. The trial and subsequent executions of Scanlan and Sullivan, with their overtones of love, murder and class divisions, was the news item of the day, and spawned the publication of a bestselling novel, The Collegians, in 1829, and the even more popular Broadway and West End drama, The Colleen Bawn, in the 1860s, followed by the opera The Lady of Killarney, in 1862; the silent-film feature, The Colleen Bawn, in 1914; and the 1934 film, Bride of the Lake. (and not a speck of that’s from Wikipedia….) At the time of Spencer’s book, the story was still a hot number in London, so I’d venture to guess he or an acquaintance nabbed the name and stuck it to the drink.

Head over to Jimmy’s Cocktail Hour for a recap of this Mixology Monday, and check out the main MxMo page for an overview of coming months’ events.

One Response to MxMoXII: Colleen Bawn

  1. I’m years late on this posting, but as we are making this drink tonight I thought I would chip in to possibly clear up confusion about the name– “colleen bawn” is an anglicization of gaelic “cailin ban” or something like it, which means something-or-other girl. Light girl, or beloved girl, or something. I thought I was going to be more helpful, sorry, it’s been 17 years since I studied Gaelic. But you get the point.

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