Updated: Mar 4
It's been an interesting time for me personally. With the closing of Pouring Ribbons and a new job writing for a spirits importer and distributor, I'm finding my role within the industry has shifted. I've been writing about cocktails and spirits for years now. While this new path seems like a perfectly logical transition, it all feels entirely unfamiliar. I find myself waking up at 6 AM for work rather than finally turning in at 6 AM after work. It feels like there should be a word for such a feeling...
Jamais vu, a French term translating to "never seen," is the phenomenon of experiencing a situation that is recognizable in some fashion, but nonetheless seems novel and unfamiliar. My introduction to the phrase came from the incredible RPG Disco Elysium which describes it as "The opposite of déjà vu. Not *already* seen, but *never* seen. Everything that should be familiar appears strange and new."
Much of my experience in Rechavol could be described as haunting, but the concept of jamais vu seems to have stuck with me the most during the absolutely surreal last two years. So while the dust settles after all these shake-ups (heh), I thought I'd make a little equal parts cocktail to encapsulate this moment in time.
This is a more bitter, floral, and outright herbaceous cocktail than your popular equal-parts standards. There's less overall sugar than a Last Word and the proof of the liqueurs is higher than drinks like the Paper Plane or Naked and Famous, making this an exceptionally balanced, earthy alternative to the fruit-forward cocktails typically anchored by either maraschino cherry liqueur or orangey liqueurs like Aperol or Amaro Nonino. It's similar, but distinctly different in profile, almost like you could say it should be familiar, but appears strange and new. A hint of stone fruit, almost like tart apricot...hmmm, interesting. Apricot you, say?
Jamais vu recipe
.75 oz Dudognon Selection 5 Year Cognac
.75 oz Strega
.75 oz Suze
.75 oz Lemon juice
1 dash Pernod Absinthe
I know this is a cocktail and spirits blog, but let's take a second to talk about the brilliant Disco Elysium.
It may come as no surprise that I am an enormous video game nerd. As much as I could go on and on about my love of vermouth, I could go on endlessly about why Final Fantasy VIII is the greatest love story ever told, or why Ryu is cooler than Ken, or maybe I'll just recite every line of dialogue from the original Resident Evil. Instead, I'll just tell you to go play Disco Elysium right now because it is a damn triumph of storytelling.
Okay, back to cocktails.
The last few weeks of service at Pouring Ribbons saw us shaking more Naked & Famous cocktails than I thought possible. The writer Robert Simonson wrote a lovely piece last month, Pouring Ribbons in Seven Cocktails, kind of a Top Five list that grew into a Top Seven of sorts. While I was obviously beyond flattered to have The Warriors make the cut, it's the Naked and Famous cocktail that had folks flocking literally from all over the world to have Joaquín Simó's famous equal parts delight in the bars' final weeks.
And who could blame them? It's frickin' delicious!
Naked and Famous recipe
.75 oz Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal
.75 oz Yellow Chartreuse
.75 oz Aperol
.75 oz Lime juice
The Naked and Famous is inspired by the Paper Plane, which is, in turn, a play on the Last Word cocktail.
Last Word recipe
.75 oz London Dry Gin
.75 oz Green Chartreuse
.75 oz Maraschino Liqueur
.75 oz Lime juice
The 1916 classic, the Last Word, has provided the template for countless contemporary cocktails, including the Paper Plane, Naked and Famous, Final Ward, Pete's Word, and dozens, if not hundreds, of other cocktails on menus across the world. It's a versatile and forgiving template, but these liqueur-dominated drinks can often skew heavy or sweet without a thoughtful selection of ingredients and awareness of temperature (icy cold, no exceptions) and dilution (sooo much water is needed to balance the sugar).
After writing one of my gentian liqueur-focused articles, I started messing around with gentian liqueurs as primary bittering agents in an equal-parts format. I fell in love with the pairing of Suze and Strega and took it from there.
Once I had my liqueurs locked in, it was time to find the base spirit. I initially went with rye whiskey, but over a year of experimenting found that some ryes worked super well, but most made for a surprisingly limp and mellow drink.
It wasn't until I landed on the name "Jamais Vu" that I realized I had been reaching for the wrong distillate the entire time. I needed to go French.
After shaking up a few, it was clear that Cognac was the way to go. Though, to be fair, Armagnac makes for just as tasty as cocktail. Anyway, it's about dang time Cognac gets to star in its own equal-parts cocktail!
Dudognon Selection 5 Year Cognac
I champion brandy-based cocktails at every bar I've worked, and this is my favorite cocktail brandy, hands down. It still makes for my favorite Sidecar. At 44% ABV, this expression from Dudognon lends itself wonderfully to cocktails. It tears right through the Suze and Strega with its tart apple and oak tannin bite and retains its integrity through the finish – which I'd say is the most important part of balancing an equal parts drink. Choosing Cognac as the base spirit for this cocktail is really what locks in that sense of jamais vu for me.
If you can't get your hands on Dudognon, the next, most obvious choice is Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac. Copper and Kings' American Craft Brandy works nicely as well. In general, reach for something bottled higher than the standard 40%—it's going to need to stand up to some very assertive liqueurs.
And yes, you should absolutely use this as a jumping off point to try Armagnac in place of Cognac—a substitution you should probably be making more often anyway!
The original inspiration for this cocktail came from the interplay of Suze and Strega. This vibrant gentian root liqueur provides enough earthy bitterness to bring balance to the whole cocktail. Don't forget to check out my Gentian Liqueur Guide for info on the category as well as in-depth tasting notes.
Aveze is the most comparable substitute for Suze you'll find out there.
As much as I desperately want to call for Yellow Chartreuse and make this a marketing team's dream, I can't help but reach for Strega. Every. Time.
Anything Yellow Chartreuse can do, Strega does better. This is one of my favorite pointless nonsense debates to have with bartenders, but I'll die on this hill. The anise, mint, and saffron notes perhaps make for a more challenging, or at the very least, polarizing, alternative to the infamous French liqueur. While I know it would be a cleaner pitch to go 100% French with the ingredients, it's just a better cocktail with Strega. I do find the "witch" translation of Strega to be an appropriate thematic tie-in to Disco Elysium, so there's that too.
But yeah, I guess Yellow Chartreuse is a fair enough substitute. (j/k it's great!)
You know what they say: sours gonna sour.
The absinthe is in here as a nod to the original, number one best equal-parts cocktail, the Corpse Reviver #2. And before anyone comes @ me all "well, technically the dash of absinthe means it's not equal parts blah blah blah," just HUSH.
The cocktail is delicious without this addition, but now that I've tasted it, I can't just untaste it. Realistically, any anisette or anise-heavy spirit will work as a substitute.