The Story Behind The The Jasmine
Before the turn of the century, when bartenders were slinging Chartreuse and discovering mezcal and forgotten amari, one young bartender and one simple riff helped to kick off the renaissance by complete chance. That bartender was then-architecture student Paul Harrington, and the cocktail in question was the Jasmine: a bright pink Pegu Club riff with Campari and lemon juice — and an early application of the Mr. Potato Head-style of cocktail creation.
The Jasmine’s story begins in 1989 when chef Evelyne Slomon made the move from NYC to Berkeley, Calif. In the Big Apple, Slomon was the official taste tester for legendary bartender Dale DeGroff’s Rainbow Room cocktails, and having been spoiled by his creations, she went out in search of a proper drink in her new home. While visiting some friends in Emeryville — across the bay from San Francisco — she stumbled upon Townhouse, a former speakeasy with a colorful past that had recently been refurbished by French restaurateur Joseph LeBrun. The joint quickly became her go-to watering hole, and there she began teaching the young Paul Harrington how to make a Martini to her ideal spec, and many cocktail-focused discussions followed.
As Townhouse had no cocktail menu back then, drink ordering came down to conversations between guests and Harrington, who would then pull from his repertoire of mastered classics — an early example of the “bartender’s choice.” But one night in 1993, fellow Berkeley student Matt Jasmin strolled into the bar and asked Harrington to simply make him something he’d never made before. With few guidelines, Harrington had the whole back bar at his disposal to make a new cocktail, and he thought back to the Pegu Club cocktail that he had recently learned of via “Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide.”
“I used to make my Pegu with a fair amount of bitters,” Harrington told writer Robert Simonson in “Modern Classic Cocktails.” “So when I eyed the Campari, a light went on.” Harrington got to riffing, swapping the Pegu’s double dose of bitters with a splash of Campari. On the bar sat a fresh basket brimming with lemons, so he subbed the Pegu’s lime juice for lemon, and snagged a lemon twist for the garnish. He named it the Jasmine (only to realize years later that he had misspelled Matt’s last name). But at that point, the cocktail had already grown legs and entered the canon. The opportunity to fix the typo was long gone.
In the late ’90s, Harrington teamed up with editors of Wired magazine to start CocktailTime.com, a website comprising multiple cocktail columns. By ‘98, the columns had been compiled in a book entitled “Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century” in collaboration with Wired editor Laura Moorhead. The book went on to become a source of inspiration for bartenders at the crest of the modern cocktail renaissance, particularly Tony Abou-Ganim who famously purchased 50 copies of it for his staff at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. To honor Harrington, he made the Jasmine the house drink at the Bellagio’s high-end Chinese restaurant of the same name.
Harrington left bartending to pursue architecture and Matt Jasmin allegedly never had another Jasmine after that one night in ‘93. However, the cocktail’s fame only snowballed. Although Harrington considered it a Pegu Club riff, in 2000, Slomon put the cocktail on the menu at her restaurant Nizza La Bella as an alternative to the many Cosmo orders that were flooding in. “I was never a big fan of the Cosmo,” she told Simonson. “I’d tell customers, you should order the Jasmine. That’s the Cosmo for grownups.”
On that note, the Jasmine is less sweet than its doppelganger due to its inclusion of bitter liqueur. It’s crisp, citrusy, a tad bitter, and boasts a profile that’s been likened to grapefruit juice. Though the original recipe doesn’t specify which style of gin to employ, we recommend London Dry to keep the profile in line with a Pegu Club.