Colleen Bawn

As I’ve already said, I think maybe more than once, it was in Boston that I learned how to drink. The bar that was singularly instrumental in teaching me was Green Street Grill in Cambridge.

It was the kind of bar people go out of their way for. Fortunately for me, I lived about 35 seconds from it, and it was there I had my first Old Fashioned, first taste of Fernet Branca, first flip, fizz, Collins, sour, etc., etc., etc. And it was there I had my first Colleen Bawn, then a fixture on their extended cocktail menu.

We ordered so many of them that winter that the bartenders used to groan when they saw Vikki’s bright red coat walk in the front door, because they knew they would be forced to make at least one egg drink. Eggs, you see, are a giant pain in the ass. You have to shake them once without ice and then once with, and with the ice you have to shake them forever, and you usually have to garnish ornately, artful dashes of bitters or hand-grated nutmeg or other such annoying flourishes that take up valuable doing-other-things time.

It’s worth noting, however, that we didn’t care about their groaning then, and I have even less sympathy for it now that I work with eggs myself. Never let a bartender make you feel bad about ordering a drink. If like Amaretto Sours, order an Amaretto Sour. I don’t care if you like Splenda Mojitos in January: you want what you want, and our job is to make it for you. Unless, of course, you order Ramos Gin Fizzes on a busy weekend night, in which case you can go fuck yourself.


The Colleen Bawn (meaning “fair girl,” from the Irish cailín bán) is the name of a play from 1860 by Dion Boucicault. It dramatizes the true story of Ellen Hainley, murdered at 15 by her wealthy husband and his servant. The murder of a beautiful young commoner and indictment among the aristocracy caused something of a stir, as you might imagine, and the story became about justice overcoming social class. Both men were hanged, and Hanley was interred under the inscription:

“Here lies the Colleen Bawn
Murdered on the Shannon
July 14th, 1819”

Once again, the connection between this cocktail and its name eludes me — my best guess is that it’s named after a “fair girl” because it’s so lovely, but who the hell knows? What we do know is that  it shows up in 1904 in Edward Spencer’s The Flowing Bowl, and it’s as good today as it was then:

Colleen Bawn
1oz Rittenhouse Rye
1oz Yellow Chartreuse
1oz Bénédictine
1 full egg
Shake without ice to whip the egg; add ice and shake with hearty vigor; strain into cocktail glass; garnish with grated nutmeg and/or cinnamon

Yes, I realize I’m advertising a cold weather drink with pictures of sunshine. I live in San Diego. Deal with it.

The egg combined with the saffron in the Chartreuse gives the drink the color of custard, which texture-wise is not so far off. It is creamy with egg, smooth and a little thick. The rye, big as it is, is more for infrastructure than flavor; the liqueurs, as with the wonderful Widow’s Kiss, mix perfectly together. Individually, Yellow Chartreuse and Bénédictine are both full, pungent, herbal French liqueurs, and it seems kind of silly to put them together save for the fact that it works.

This is a drink of strange opposites: it’s highly complex but not difficult, it’s a little sweet but also a bit bracing. While it’s good any time, the thickness of the egg and the sweetness of the liqueurs (also that one cocktail is the equivalent of 3.2oz of 80 proof liquor) make the Colleen Bawn perfect as the last drink on a cold night.

Heering Flip

There are, believe me, no shortage of cocktail recipe books. And even someone with no experience with a single one of them could likely guess that most of them are complete garbage.

There are two easy ways to tell. The first is the easiest: generally speaking, the more recipes a book has, the worse those recipes will be. If the cover boasts more than, say, 750 of them, it’s probably an admittedly enormous collection of completely terrible drinks.  The second is almost as easy: flip to the recipe for a Margarita. If it calls for sweet and sour there (or really anywhere in the book), throw it away because it is worthless.

What we have left are the histories, the celebrated single-bar books, and the books with no recipe for a margarita (which is a promising sign). Beta Cocktails (formerly Rogue Cocktails) is an example of the latter. Written by Kirk Estopinal and Maksym Pazuniak, Beta Cocktails is a thin little number with about 40 recipes that range from imaginative to bizarre. It’s a fantastic and innovative mini-collection, great to jog the imagination, or just to try something totally new on a Sunday night.

Heering Flip

2oz Cherry Heering
0.5oz Bittermans Xocolatl Mole bitters
1 whole egg
1 pinch salt
Add all ingredients, shake with no ice to emulsify, add ice and shake the jesus out of it. Strain over fresh ice. Garnish the egg-foam head with three drops Mole bitters.

Yes, two ounces of Cherry Heering. Yes, a half ounce of bitters. See? Bizarre.

This isn’t so much a dessert drink as it is a dessert course. The nose was a predictable cherry and chocolate, but the first sip evoked chocolate milk and, strangely enough, pie. The egg serves to thicken the already very thick Heering base, and the salt only makes it more savory while offering a bit of sourness on the back end.

The overal impression was that the drink is cooler than it is delicious, but still very drinkable. And strangely balanced – while definitely a sweet drink, it’s not too sweet as the ingredients might suggest. It is, however, exceptionally thick and rich. This is for someone who’s done with their food but still hungry. I will definitely make this again.