New Cocktail: Semele’s Flame

Youssef, if you’re reading this, this one’s for you, kiddo. (Youssef is the charming young waiter/bartender we met at the Semeli Hotel on Mykonos last month. He and I had a great chat one afternoon about cocktails; he, like me, is self-taught, and like me he has invented cocktails. To my shame I have forgotten the name of the cocktail he made for me, but it made me forget I don’t like ouzo or grapefruit juice. Well done, Youssef!)

My party thought it was a no-brainer for the hotel to have a cocktail on its menu that referenced the myth of Semele and Zeus: Zeus got her pregnant, and when Hera found out she disguised herself as a crone and visited Semele. She expressed doubt that the girl’s lover was actually the king of the gods, prompting Semele to beg Zeus to reveal himself in his full glory to her. He refused at first, but eventually he decided to show her just a small portion of his divinity. Unfortunately, even that was too much for the mortal Semele, and she perished in a burst of flame.

(Zeus rescued the unborn child and sewed it up in his thigh; the baby was born from his thigh — Dionysus, who then rescued his mother from Hades and installed her on Olympus. She was in charge of whipping up the Bacchantes into their frenzies.)

So after mulling over the possibilities, here’s what I came up with.

Semele’s Flame

First off, using Metaxa was a no-brainer: It’s a quintessential Greek brandy-based liquor, and it’s quite tasty. I decided to start with a Metaxa version of the Bee’s Knees. (Honey is also a Greek specialty.) It was okay but lacked the punch of the original gin-based cocktail.

Perhaps some herbal notes would help? I experimented with adding a bit of Faccio Bruto Centerbe, a passable substitute for the increasingly rare Green Chartreuse, and it wasn’t bad. I even made a version using actual Green Chartreuse, but thankfully (for my cabinet) the Centerbe was better.

However, it still wasn’t a great cocktail. My next thought was to add some smoke; I settled on mezcal, although I could have gone with a smoky scotch or scotch blend. Much better.

And then, on a whim, I smeared some honey on the rim and rimmed it with a honey/sea salt mixture. (The sea is yet another Greek thing.)



  • 2 oz Metaxa (I used the 12-year-old)
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz honey
  • 1/8 oz mezcal
  • honey/sea salt* rim

Smear honey around 1/4 of the rim of a martini glass. Dip it in the honey/sea salt mixture.

Add the 1/2 oz of honey to a shaker. (Instead of trying to scoop the honey out of your jigger, use a tablespoon and scrape it from there. 1 tbsp = 1/2 oz)

Add the other ingredients and then stir to dissolve the honey. Add ice, shake, and strain into the martini glass.

*I happened to have a tin of honey/sea salt, but you can make your own by combining granulated honey and fine sea salt, probably in a 1:1 ratio. Experiment.

Pro tip: If you’re going to be making a lot of these, batch the honey and lemon juice mixture (2:3 ratio) so that you don’t have to dissolve the honey each and every time.

Also, it might be interesting to float the mezcal rather than adding it to the shaker. And maybe try barrel-aged honey… More work is required.

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