There are few things as esoteric as spirits, wines and beers. There are literally millions of each around the world, and each has a following. Some more than others, of course, but tastes and customs vary so widely that anything goes.
That pops up from time to time in letters I get from readers asking the darndest things. Here is one that sent me on a fascinating hunt.
While reading a recent "Dowd On Drinks," it suddenly occurred to me that your encyclopedic knowledge of adult beverages might be able to solve a 25-year-old mystery.
Long before a certain local bar in my area became a strip club, it was a popular hangout for employees of an electronics manufacturer. Sometime in the early 1980s, I was wasting oxygen there with a bevy of co-workers, chatting with the barmaid.
As we were still young and foolish instead of just foolish, we were discussing the various bottles of alcoholic beverages visible behind the bar. This led to taste-testing, conducted without benefit of scientific reasoning, or, for that matter, without much reasoning at all.
In a rather non-prominent place was a bottle containing a bright green liquid, and somebody asked what it was. The barmaid, acting somewhat surprised that it was there, said she had no idea. She took down the dust-coated bottle and we passed it around. It had a brand name (which of course I cannot remember), but none of us, including the barmaid, had ever heard of it.
We tasted it. It was rather sweet but might be good as a minor ingredient in certain cocktails. More important, all agreed that its taste was something we had experienced before yet we could not identify it. Suddenly someone shouted "Circus peanuts!" Everyone else said "That's it!" as we remembered the orange marshmallow-like confections we had occasionally consumed as children.
Every now and then, I wonder what that beverage was. Circus Peanuts have a distinctive flavor, but I don't know what that flavor is. Any thoughts?
– Michael D. Trout, Selkirk, N.Y.
"Circus Peanuts" are made by four different companies (no one ever bothered trademarking the name), so the ingredients might vary slightly from one manufacturer to another. However, they are marshmallows made of sugar, corn syrup or high-fructose corn sweetener plus gelatin, pectin, maybe even soy powder and some color plus a bit of artificial flavoring.
I suspect it's the latter element that piques the curiosity and may cause some differences of opinion. Candy aficionados have often remarked that Circus Peanuts, while of indeterminate flavor, usually are most like banana. Using that as a basis, the closest I can come to banana flavor and a green liqueur — without it actually being banana-infused — is, ta da!, Chartreuse Green.
(I rule out creme de menthe since you made no mention of a minty smell or taste in your mystery liquid.)
Chartreuse Green (there is a yellow version as well) is one of those esoteric potions created by 16th century monks — in this instance the Carthusian order located near Grenoble, France. It's a 110-proof liqueur made up of 130 plant ingredients, and the precise recipe and process usually are known to only two monks at a time as a security measure.
While it can be mixed in a cocktail, to get the true experience Chartreuse should be chilled and sampled on the rocks.
Got a question of your own? Feel free to visit my Web site (billdowd.com) and send it along.
(William M. Dowd covers the world of adult beverages at billdowd.com)
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