While most backbars typically house just a single bottle of absinthe—tapped mainly for Sazeracs and Corpse Revivers—Brooklyn’s Maison Premiere prefers to carry between 30 and 40 varieties at any given time. Though the bar suspended operations last March and remains dark as of early 2021, when it should be toasting to its 10th anniversary, the hiatus hasn’t discouraged bar director and resident wormwood conservator William Elliott from making the case for an all-time favorite absinthe cocktail—the Yellow Parrot.
“On paper, it was such an outlandish recipe,” recalls Elliott of the equal-parts mixture of absinthe, yellow Chartreuse and apricot brandy. “Commingling these sweet and strong ingredients … it sounded disastrous.” But the Yellow Parrot has been a stalwart of iconic recipe books since the early 20th century. Given its Gallic makeup, it’s easy to assume that the Yellow Parrot took flight in France before crossing the channel to England ahead of appearing in bar manuals like The Savoy Cocktail Book and Cocktails by Jimmy (Late of Ciro’s), both published in 1930. But in Robert Vermeire’s 1922 Cocktails: How to Mix Them, the Yellow Parrot makes an appearance, cited as a “Boston drink,” obfuscating the drink’s true provenance.
In any case, Elliott credits Maxwell Britten, Maison’s founding bar director, with first floating the drink as a candidate for their menu in the bar’s early days. He’d plucked it out of The Savoy Cocktail Book, a source whose drinks don’t always translate to today.
“A lot of the old Savoy cocktails just end up sucking. We were sure that this was going to be another example of that,” Elliott recalls. But the nearly century-old Yellow Parrot held up as written, radiating the alchemical appeal only equal-parts drinks offer.
Though Elliott did not alter the original components or proportions (“it’s rare to have something so unadulterated from Savoy”), he personalized the Yellow Parrot for Maison Premiere in a few subtle ways. In keeping with the drink’s Francophile makeup, he leaned heavily French, settling on Vieux Pontarlier absinthe and Giffard Abricot du Roussillon to complement the Chartreuse. According to Elliott, both bottles in question have unfussy, down-the-middle profiles relative to their categories, making them ideal for mixing. He also discovered that the cocktail is at its best when it’s stirred with ice for longer than seems natural.
“You can’t over-stir it,” says Elliott. “It really brings out these nuances that are buried: You’ll get some of the more specific herbal notes of the absinthe, and honey comes through from the Chartreuse and melds in with the apricot. After about 20 seconds of stirring, you can’t taste all these details. After 40 seconds or a minute, though, things start popping off.” And, since both the Pontarlier and Chartreuse contain essential oils that louche, or emulsify, when met with water, this step also confers on the finished product an unexpectedly velvety consistency. “Texturally, it really is incredible—the mouthfeel is ridiculous,” adds Elliott.
Guests, whether they’re familiar with the cocktail’s ingredients or not, frequently ask, “What the hell is going on here?” when they come across it on the menu, Elliott says. “Nine times out of 10, they love it. I’m still surprised that it’s been such an underground crowd-pleaser.”