When Seth Raymond first encountered the Black Donald, Jamie Boudreau’s Drambuie-laced riff on the El Diablo, it changed the way he made drinks.
“Because of that—the Drambuie—I got an idea,” recalls Raymond, bar manager at Ani Ramen in Jersey City, New Jersey. The idea? To substitute yellow Chartreuse, an herbaceous French liqueur with similar hints of honey and spice as the Scotch-based Drambuie, for simple syrup. “It brings more complexity to the cocktail and still has the sweetness from the honey,” explains Raymond.
He first put the idea into action at the now-closed Seattle bar, Naga, when a server requested a dealer’s choice cocktail. “He wanted to try something different and he said, ‘Make me something strong,’” recalls Raymond. “I made him a Sazerac with yellow Chartreuse,” instead of sugar or simple syrup. “I thought the honey would go well in with any brown spirit—a Scotch, a whiskey—it made me think, ‘What else could I try?’”
That was seven years ago. Today, Raymond is still calling on yellow Chartreuse as a sweetener for drinks ranging from citrusy coolers to spirit-forward classics. In addition to his Sazerac riff (which he prefers with a Cognac base), he also uses the liqueur to sweeten Old-Fashioneds and Manhattans. In a pinch, it makes for an interesting variation on a Penicillin, too, he says.
In general, yellow Chartreuse works best with brown spirits, explains Raymond; the saffron and honey notes complement the honey-and-vanilla characteristics of many whiskies. However, he cites one particular exception. In Melanie’s Moto, a riff on the Mojito, Ramond deploys the French liqueur as a bridge between the herbaceousness of Thai basil and the spice notes of Peychaud’s bitters, which he floats on top of the drink. The result is a riotous jumble of flavors working together as a harmonious whole.
Nearly a decade after that a-ha moment in Seattle, Raymond is still making Sazeracs with yellow Chartreuse. “When someone says ‘Make me something interesting,’ that’s what I make.”