January 19 is Dolly Parton’s birthday and in honor of the Queen of Nashville we’ll be having Jolene’s Bittersweet cocktail. We don’t often name a Drink of the Day after a living protagonist, and are more often inspired by characters with some hard edges.
Ms. Parton brings a bit more good-natured levity to the party. After all, who else would throw fun at themselves and say, “The higher your hair the closer you are to God.” Or “it costs a lot to look this cheap.” Her signature style failed her once, though, when she entered a drag Dolly Parton lookalike contest and lost.
Dolly has become a cultural icon and a noted philanthropist. That’s pretty good for someone that can’t read sheet music and has and somehow has had 25 number one singles on the Billboard country music charts. And she wasn’t relying on songs about how her dog died and the pickup truck broke down.
Dolly Rebecca Parton was born on January 19, 1946, in a one-room cabin in Tennessee. She’s the fourth of twelve children, raised dirt poor in shacks and cabins without heat, indoor plumbing, electricity or running water. Her father, a sharecropper and later tobacco farmer, paid the doctor for her delivery with a sack of cornmeal.
Dolly started singing on local TV and radio stations as a child and moved to Nashville immediately upon graduating high school. By 1967 she had earned a spot on the syndicated TV show The Porter Wagoner Show, but significant success still eluded her.
But one afternoon she wrote two songs that would become major hits. Jolene was released in late 1973 and was a major hit. But the 1974 release of I Will Always Love You was bigger and has become one of the most performed songs of all time. Even Elvis, whose birthday we celebrated with the Velvet Elvis, wanted to record it. She liked the idea, but refused when Elvis’ manager insisted she sign over half the publishing rights. That savvy decision has been credited with earning her many millions in royalties.
What she’s done with all that money is a story of its own. When Whitney Houston did a bestselling cover of I Will Always Love You she took the royalties and invested in a large complex in a Black neighborhood in Nashville. She put her own recording studio there in honor of Houston. She launched her Imagination Library in 1995, which gifts one book a month to a child until they begin school. Her philanthropy is so noted that Jeff Bezos gave her the change from his sofa cushions, or rather $100 million, to donate as she pleases. That’s pretty impressive for the Backwoods Barbie.
Jolene’s Bittersweet cocktail
Sometimes our Drink of the Day is inspired by a notable figure and something associated with them. Like the Satan’s Whiskers for Aleister Crowley. Or simply their favorite drink, like the Jack Rose for John Steinbeck’s birthday.
Dolly Parton isn’t much into cocktails herself, so we’re falling back on her first real hit song, Jolene, for inspiration. And Jolene’s Bittersweet cocktail isn’t even quite the name of the drink. It is, you see, a drink developed at Jolene’s Sydney, a basement bar in, you guessed it, Sydney, Australia. The bar was profiled at Boothby, an Australian cocktail site.
The Jolene’s Bittersweet recipe is a variation on the Penicillin cocktail that we mixed to honor the discovery of Penicillin. The Penicillin cocktail itself was developed by Sam Ross at the former Milk & Honey in New York and has risen to the level of modern classic. It’s served around the world,
Jolene’s Bittersweet carries the same underpinnings as the Penicillin: Scotch whisky, lemon juice and honey-ginger syrup. But it adds a bit to the bitter and sweet sides with a bit of Yellow Chartreuse and Amaro Montenegro. It also calls for a float of mezcal rather than Islay Scotch. It’s a whole new animal, developed in true Mr. Potato Head fashion.
Jolene's Bittersweet Cocktail
- Old Fashioned Glass
- 1¾ oz Scotch Whisky The original recipe calls for Aberfeldy 12, a Highlands single malt. If you have such a single malt use it, otherwise a blended Scotch will still work well.
- ¾ oz Fresh lemon juice
- ⅓ oz Honey-ginger syrup
- 1 tsp Yellow Chartreuse
- 1 tsp Amaro Montenegro
- ⅓ oz Mezcal
- Garnish: orange twist
- Add all ingredients except Mezcal to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into an Old Fashioned glass with ice, preferably a single, large cube.
- Float Mezcal on top.
- Express twist and add to glass.
- Pour in the direction of your liver.