The Sazerac gets most of the attention as supposedly being the quintessential New Orleans cocktail, as well as being named the official cocktail of New Orleans by state legislators with nothing better to do, and marketing-interested locals. But some say that the truest and most essential New Orleans cocktail is this one.
New Orleans cocktails are the order of the day all this week, as we approach Mardi Gras day in six days! I was particularly inspired to demonstrate the proper way to make this drink, after the ridiculous version in that recent Variety article which used “Meyer lemon-infused gin” and no cream! Sheesh.
This drink was invented by Henry Ramos in the 1880s in his bar at Meyer’s Restaurant (now long-gone) in downtown New Orleans. As the story goes, when Huey P. Long was governor of Louisiana he brought with him to New York’s Roosevelt Hotel the bartender from the New Orleans Roosevelt to teach the bar staff there the proper techniques just so he could have New Orleans gin fizzes whenever he was in New York. Every man a king …
The magical secrets of this drink are the egg white (for body, texture and froth), orange flower water for its amazing perfume, and to shake the living crap out of it, with plenty of ice, for no less one minute and preferably two, about a dozen times longer than you’d shake any other drink. You really want to emulsify the egg white and get a good frothy head going. During its heyday it’s been said that Mr. Ramos had a dozen young barbacks behind the bar who did nothing but shake gin fizzes all day, and supposedly they were shaken for 12 minutes to achieve the proper consistency. (It would seem to me that there’d be no ice left after that long. I would have dropped dead after the first dozen; making one batch of two fizzes last night made me want to take a nap, and that was even before a single sip. Clearly I need more exercise.)
Also, make sure you use plain seltzer or carbonated water, not club soda, as the latter contains too much salt.
Ramos Gin Fizz
2 ounces gin. (Use an Old Tom gin if you can get it, otherwise Plymouth is nice.)
1 ounce cream.
1 egg white.
1/2 ounce simple syrup.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
3-4 small dashes orange flower water.
Shake all ingredients except the soda water WITHOUT ICE quite vigorously for at least one minute, preferably longer — the longer the better. Then add ice and shake for 1-2 minutes, as long as you can manage, until extremely cold and frothy. Strain into a tall thin glass, or a very large old fashioned glass, and top with soda water.
Serve these with a brunch and your guests will fall at your feet and declare their everlasting devotion.
David Wondrich, author of the James Beard award-winning book Imbibe!, spoke to the New Orleans Times-Picayune after the Sazerac was declared the city’s official cocktail and dispelled some myths about the drink, also opining that although a really good drink it’s not all that special — it’s a local version of an improved whiskey cocktail, when you get right down to it.
Dave said, “For me, the funny thing is that the Sazerac gets anointed as the sainted cocktail of New Orleans history, so to speak, where its paternity is completely lost in mist and there is all kinds of corporate stuff and shenanigans involved. Meanwhile, Henry C. Ramos invented the Ramos Fizz, was credited for it and famous for it during his lifetime, was a hell of a guy, a native New Orleanian, and he just gets the also-ran treatment. For me, that’s the irony of it.”
When asked by interviewer Todd Price if the Ramos wasn’t a drink that didn’t fit modern tastes, Dave replied, “Neither did the Sazerac until five years ago. Who could say? You have a properly made Ramos and it is a delightful drink.” He’s absolutely right about that.
One extra bit of controversy involving this wonderful drink is whether or not to add a drop or two of vanilla extract. Most bartenders don’t, some claim it’s sacrilege, but local bartender extraordinaire Chris McMillian (currently of Bar UnCommon) does. Try it and see what you think. Here’s Chris making a Ramos Gin Fizz:
New York bartender Don Lee has perfected a technique for making Ramos Fizzes in which he says you get a beautifully creamy consistency and a nice tall meringue on top, but without requiring a shake any longer than you’d shake a Pisco Sour. Unfortunately I had had about seven drinks the last time he showed me how, so my memory is hazy, but it involves a 10-ounce chimney glass, placing an inch or so of soda at the bottom of it before pouring the drink into it, double-straining it when pouring and then adding the soda in a slow trickle so that the meringue rises out of the top like a soufflé … or something like that. Next time I talk to him I’ll get it down pat and let y’all know.