If you ever wanted a drink recipe to show to your friends—one that you reserve for that special person you want to dazzle with something creative—this is it. If you know someone who claims that they don’t like gin, but it’s clear they have never experienced the wonderful alchemy of a gin-based cocktail, now’s your chance to change their mind. For anyone interested in layering basic elements and techniques to create something remarkable in the glass, this cocktail will certainly entertain. The Juliet & Romeo has a fancy presentation yet it’s easy to make and is perhaps the most interesting, most refreshing and delicious cocktail we’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing.
It comes by way of Toby Maloney of The Violet Hour in Chicago, but it has also appeared on the menu at his other bars such as the Bradstreet Crafthouse in Minneapolis. We’ve been sharing it with special guests at our own cocktail parties for years and it’s the one that people tend to remember. Making it at home hasn’t stopped us from ordering it when we visit one of Mr. Maloney’s bars, but not everyone has that opportunity, so we felt it’s time to share the love.
It looks a little complicated as written, but this isn’t hard to make. And we’ll just say right now that although the presentation may appear a bit over-the-top, trust us. It’s worth every moment of effort. Master this and your friends will think you are the best cocktail geek they know.
Juliet & Romeo
2 oz gin
.75 oz lime juice
.75 oz simple syrup
3 drops rose water
3 drops Angostura bitters
3 slices cucumber
3 sprigs mint
1 pinch salt
Muddle cucumber, mint and pinch of salt. Add rest of ingredients. Let sit for 30 seconds (time allowing). Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with 1 floating mint leaf and 1 drop rose water on top of leaf, and 3 or more drops of Angostura on the surface of the drink.
So, what’s so special about the Juliet & Romeo? Well, as we mentioned, it’s a gin cocktail that doesn’t taste like gin, but because it is also a sour formula it has somewhat broader appeal than an all-spirits drink. Add to that the fact that it has muddled cucumber—a fresh flavor that you don’t often see—this winning combination may surprise you. Aside from shaking the main ingredients, the time is spent carrying out a series of tweaks that take a good start all the way to a champion finish. That is to say, what starts as a pretty basic gin sour with muddled mint and cucumber becomes something better than the sum of its parts. Let’s go through the steps so you can understand the tweaks, since it is those additions that really make this drink sing.
When muddling, we are trying to break down the cucumber more than the mint. Abusing mint tends to draw out bitter vegetal flavors, but with this drink that is less of a concern. Still, the key is to focus your muddler on the cucumber to transform the slices into juicy pulp so that flavor ends up in the glass, not behind the strainer. The tiny pinch of salt at this stage helps enhance those flavors.
The recommended gin for this drink is Beefeater, but any full-flavored London Dry will do. You want a gin with a lot of juniper and citrus backbone. Brands that are known for smoothness or subtlety won’t work as well here. Two whole ounces won’t overpower the the other ingredients because once you account for every flavor component, your gin is working to elevate the other elements. Cucumber, mint, citrus—these are all enhanced by the flavors present in gin. And then there’s the Angostura. Something magical happens in cocktails that contain gin and Angostura like we saw recently with the Fitzgerald. It’s hard to explain, but as Toby once said, “Angostura and gin go together like ham and eggs.”
The toughest ingredient in all of this is the rose water. You may need to shop around for this, but it’s a common ingredient in middle eastern cooking. A specialty food store is your best place to find it. Once you do, you don’t need much. Three drops go into the drink which is enough to add a kiss of floral aroma to an already interesting flavor profile.
Shaking with ice is going to break down the mint. Don’t worry about the tiny green bits that will come through the strainer. They add an accent to the colorful garnish. Finishing this drink properly is an important step. the garnish contains three aromatic elements that work together to scent each sip. After straining into a chilled cocktail glass, slap a single mint leaf and float it carefully on the surface. Then, add one drop of rose water to the floating leaf. Finally, add three or more drops of Angostura bitters to the surface of the drink surrounding the leaf. Each drop will form a little red puddle and every sip will smell of mint, roses and spice.
If there’s any criticism for this recipe it’s that it has a bunch of little steps that make you question their value, but once you make the Juliet & Romeo properly you will realize that it’s not as difficult as it might sound, and most of the details are fun to carry out in front of guests as they watch with anticipation. One sip of this cocktail and you or your guest will understand why it is worth the extra effort. Just be prepared to make more than one!