January 21 is Rasputin’s birthday, so to celebrate the occasion we’ll be mixing up the Bulletproof Monk cocktail. Like Elvis, Oprah or Groucho, he’s one of those characters that is forever known by one name. But few, if any, of those famous characters can match his notoriety. With Rasputin it’s often hard or impossible to distinguish fact from fiction, but we’re not overly concerned with that. We’re just here for amusement and cocktail inspiration, and Rasputin’s birthday is plenty of reason to drink a Bulletproof Monk.
Grigori Rasputin was born January 21, 1869, to a peasant family in Siberia. Almost nothing is known about his early life, but of course that hasn’t prevented stories after he rose to fame. But we do know that he was illiterate until he was an adult and got married to a peasant girl in 1887.
For unknown reasons he cast off his old life in 1897 at the age of 28 and embarked on a religious pilgrimage. He spent years as a strannik (a holy wanderer or pilgrim) and by the early 1900s developed a small circle of followers. By 1904 or 1905 he had made his way to Kazan where he gained a reputation as a holy man who could help people. This was enough to get him a letter of recommendation to become a monk at the Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg. There he met the archbishop Archimandrite Theofan, who was impressed by Rasputin and well connected.
Rasputin’s wild ideas and alarming table manners were a source of fascination to the city’s aristocracy, who at the time were intensely interested in the occult and the supernatural. By November, 1905, he met Tsar Nicholas and by sometime in 1906 the royal family was convinced that Rasputin had the power to heal their son, Alexei, who suffered from hemophilia.
The good times rolled for Rasputin. He had status and power at court, with regular access to the palace and royal family. He used the position to his benefit, accepting bribes and sexual favors. Soon enough he was a controversial figure, accused of heresy, rape and other indiscretions. Virtually everyone outside the royal family opposed him.
Killing the Monk
The onset of World War I, the end of feudalism and government bureaucracy led to rapid economic decline in Russia. Many, especially on the far right, blamed Rasputin and Tsarina Alexandria. A plan for Rasputin’s assassination was hatched.
Records are sketchy, to be sure, but he was killed in the early morning on December 30, 1916. What really happened will never be known, but he was killed at the home of Prince Felix Yusupov. The story Yusupov told in his memoirs is the most accepted version of events.
Yusupov invited Rasputin to his home shortly after midnight, where he offered Rasputin tea and cakes laced with cyanide. Rasputin appeared unaffected, and when he asked for some Madeira wine that too was poisoned. Rasputin drank three glasses but showed no ill effects.
Around 2:30 AM Yusupov went upstairs where his co-conspirators were waiting, returned to the basement with a pistol, and shot Rasputin in the chest.
Yusupov left the basement but returned later to confirm that Rasputin was dead. But he wasn’t and leaped up to attack Yusupov, who fled with Rasputin in pursuit. In the courtyard of the home Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich shot Rasputin again, with a final shot at close range into his forehead. The conspirators wrapped the body in cloth and dumped it into the Mallaya Nevka River.
The Bulletproof Monk Cocktail
While Rasputin was clearly not bulletproof, he certainly proved to be one hard-to-kill monk. That, in turn, leads us to the Bulletproof Monk cocktail as Drink of the Day.
The Bulletproof Monk recipe was developed in 2017 by Blaine Adams at the now-closed Barrel and Ashes in Los Angeles. The drink appears to be named after a terrible 2003 film of the same name. The critics’ consensus was that the film’s only saving grace was venerable action star Chow Yun-Fat. Our Editorial Board decided to reappropriate the recipe toward a better known and certainly more notorious monk.
The drink itself is the ever-classic combination of whiskey modified by one or more liqueurs. In this case the modifiers are two of our Editorial Board’s favorites: Chartreuse and Bigallet China China. We’ve certainly discussed Chartreuse in a variety of cocktails like the Bijou, the Last Word, the Nuclear Daiquiri and others. Bigallet China China is the current best choice as a substitute for the long gone Amer Picon, which we used in the Hoskins cocktail and the Brooklyn cocktail.
Bulletproof Monk Cocktail
- 2 oz Bourbon
- ½ oz Chartreuse Green, not yellow Chartreuse.
- ⅓ oz Bigallet China-China Bigallet China-China is often considered a substitute for the original Amer Picon, which is no longer available. Torani Amer is another substitute that will work.
- Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into pre-chilled glass.