One thing about being behind the bar for as long as I have is that part of my mind is an overstuffed Rolodex full of drink recipes. Sometimes things get misfiled (there's a slight chance I'll make you a Negroni when you ask for an Americano), but I generally have at least passing familiarity with most popular modern and classic cocktails.
Every now and again, someone throws me a curveball. It happened last weekend while I was at work. Someone asked one of the other staff members for an Alaska cocktail. I paused for a moment to ponder the recipe and came up completely blank.
All I had was that it was an actual old-school cocktail recipe, not some gaudy concoction that the customer is surprised I haven't heard of when said customer in fact invented and named the cocktail at a bachelorette party the weekend before.
The guest informed us that it's a mix of gin and green Chartreuse V.E.P., the fabulous (and fabulously expensive) aged version of regular green Chartreuse. Well, of course that was going to be good. I did a little research and found out that my guest was close to nailing the mark. It looks like he was doing his drinking at extremely nice bars, because the actual recipe for an Alaska calls for the yellow version of Chartreuse.
Yellow Chartreuse is the younger sibling to the original green version. It's a little sweeter, lower in proof (but still quite strong at 80 proof, as opposed to the whopping 110 proof of green Chartreuse), and has a different flavor profile due to the inclusion of different herbs and spices, primarily saffron.
Green Chartreuse is already pretty hard to find in bars, and the yellow is about as rare as hens' teeth. You might be tempted to substitute Strega, a similar herbal liqueur from Italy, but it doesn't work with gin nearly as well as Chartreuse does.
Savvy cocktailian readers may go "Hey! This is just a classic Martini with yellow Chartreuse instead of vermouth!" And they would be right. Make a small change to a recipe (especially a recipe as simple as these) and you end up with a very different drink. After all, what's a Cosmopolitan but a citron vodka Kamikaze with a splash of cranberry?
Oh, one of my favorite parts of the Alaska is a note about it in one of my go-to references for old-school cocktails, The Savoy Cocktail Book: "So far as can be ascertained this delectable potion is NOT the staple diet of the Esquimaux."
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They sure don't write 'em like they used to, do they?
Alaska Cocktail 1-1/2 ounces London Dry gin 1/2 ounce yellow Chartreuse 1 dash orange bitters
Stir well with ice cubes. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.