Swampwater

Some of the most fun I had writing Drinking French was looking at vintage ads for French spirits and apéritifs. I went down a lot of rabbit holes as one led me to another, then another, and then another. On particularly creative ad was for Suze, which showed a gentian root (the primary ingredient in the apéritif) playing the bottle opener like a guitar. Whatever mind came up with that one was brilliant.

When I had Tim Master on my IG Live, talking about Chartreuse, one drink he mentioned making was the Swampwater. I was a little young when some of the following ads came out, but I vaguely remember the name, Swampwater.

Swampwater came out around the time of Harvey Wallbangers, Rusty Nails, Stingers, and Slow Comfortable Screws. Chartreuse was also having a bit of a hey-day. The mystery of the monks brewing it up in the French alps was played up, but I doubt that these days, you could sell something by using the line, “…stranger of all liqueurs, stranger on the rocks with soda than anything you’ve tasted.”

I love the stuff, but that wouldn’t make me want to try it. But people did.

Back in those days, it looks like people had fun. There weren’t so many rules about who could make what, what you had to use in a drink (or dish), and if you had to worry about being given a hard time for doing so. And before Brooklynites came along and put drinks in Mason jars, the nearly 400-year-old company was already showing everyone how to do it, taking the seriousness down yet another notch.

Not only did the ads give recipes for making one drink (or a whole gallon!), but also advised on how to ask a bartender to make you one. “If he asks you what the &%$# it is, tell him.” Nowadays they’d probably use the f-word.

Chartreuse is enjoying a revival of sorts, in cocktails like The Last Word, the Alaska, the Chartreuse Slushy, and the Naked and Famous. (If you have Drinking French, The Yellow Cocktail on page 202 is a favorite.) While the first two could be considered “serious” cocktails, the last two are definitely shaken or stirred, or iced, while one’s tongue is planted in their cheek. While Chartreuse ain’t cheap (don’t you wish you stocked up on it when it was $109.77 a case, as shown above?) it’s still great in a drink, smooth or swampy.

Swampwater Cocktail
Print Recipe
1 drink
The original recipe calls for 6 ounces of pineapple juice but I prefer a little less, 5 ounces. Feel free to adjust the amount to your taste.
1 1/2 ounces green Chartreuse
5 (or 6) ounces unsweetened pineapple juice
1/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
wedge or wheel of fresh lime
1. Stir together the Chartreuse, pineapple juice, and lime juice in a Collins glass or tumbler.
2. Add ice and garnish with lime wedge or wheel.

Swampwater

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10 comments

  • Meg
    May 12, 2020 1:21pm

    Interesting that all the ads have jars, just like hipsters today! Reply

  • Chris
    May 12, 2020 2:57pm

    One of my favourite drinks at a local bar that is now permanently closed was the swamp water. I don’t know what else they added because it was brackish not clear. Literally it looked like you were drinking water from a swamp but it was delicious! Reply

  • TJ
    May 12, 2020 5:05pm

    Chartreuse is my absolute favorite. And at $$109.77 a case I would have been a more frequent customer. Did you get to visit the monks as part of your research, David? Reply

  • Laurie
    May 12, 2020 6:29pm

    How cute are those little crocodilians!!
    I’d be cutting out that ad and mailing it in an instant if I could.
    Don’t you just wonder what the Swampwater part game is? Reply

  • john burke
    May 12, 2020 8:50pm

    One of the ads calls Chartreuse “the only world’s grande liqueur.” Not “the world’s only”? Odd. Reply

  • Jessica D
    May 12, 2020 10:45pm

    I have never had Chartreuse before, but your Instagram Lives and your book have me very intrigued. I checked online and they carry it at my local ABC Liquor Store (I’m in Virginia, USA), so I think I am finally going to try it! Reply

  • Richard Pirrera
    May 13, 2020 12:11am

    David, love Drinking French. As in Julia & Julie, I want to make every drink in the book. Reread L’Appart and loved it even more the second time around. What a gifted writer! Love your style! Reply

    • May 13, 2020 10:57am
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks for your kind words about L’Appart and glad you liked it – twice! Reply

  • Patricia
    May 14, 2020 3:42am

    In France/Paris do they have any well known mixed drinks that do not contain alcohol? In North America, for example, we have the “Shirley Temple”. Reply

    • May 14, 2020 9:28am
      David Lebovitz

      I don’t know of any. The cocktail culture in France is different from in the U.S. and it’s not probable there’d be a faux-cocktail for kids. But this is faux Champagne called Champony (there are probably other brands) which is sparkling apple juice, who bottle resembles Champagne, but is meant for kids. Reply

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