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The Ramos Gin Fizz

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.

A Ramos Gin Fizz at Seven Grand

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.

Cocktail of the Day: The Desperate Housewife (or, I can’t believe what Bree just did!)

“A Pour Man’s Game?” Ugh. There are some puns at which even the likes of me must groan … fortunately, I can’t claim credit for this one — it’s the title of a nice article in weekly Variety (link long dead) about the resurgence of cocktails. It’s been done before, as we know, but I never complain about seeing another one; the resurgence must surge further!

The article mentions some familiar names — Dr. Cocktail (of course), Tony Abou-Ganim, and has a fair number of quotes from our friend Daniel Reichert, former proprietor of Vintage Cocktails, a catering company that once provided mostly classic and historic cocktails along with some new ones for various events. (I must confess I wouldn’t mind having such a gig.)

This article, like so many others I’ve read these days, tends to falter once it gets to the recipes. Their Sazerac is close, but is very, very wimpy when it comes to the Peychaud’s Bitters … one dash? C’mon folks, it’s not expensive stuff, and this drink is a showcase for the flavor of Peychaud’s. Use at least three, if not four. That drink they call a “Ramos Gin Fizz” … um, ain’t. It’s got several ingredients in common, but Henry Ramos’ bartenders weren’t infusing their Plymouth gin with Meyer lemon peel in 1888 … and the drink needs cream and lime juice in it, too. What is this, some kind of California “lite” version? Sheesh. It might be a fizz, but it ain’t a Ramos.

Fortunately, there’s a tasty-looking new creation by Daniel himself, and being fans of its namesake we love the name:

The Desperate Housewife

The Desperate Housewife
(created by Daniel Reichert)

1-1/2 ounces light rum.
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice.
3/4 ounce Cointreau.
1/2 ounce fresh pomegranate juice or POM Wonderful.
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur.

Shake with plenty of ice, strain into a large cocktail glass.
Garnish with a lime wedge.

The article said, “[The Desperate Housewife Cocktail is a] recent invention of Reichert, who doesn’t like to make Cosmopolitans. ‘I find them dull,’ he says. ‘This has a little more spine to it, but it’s still easy to drink.'” This is a nice companion to the Footloose in the sub-sub-genre of Cosmopolitan alternatives. (Are people still really ordering Cosmopolitans?)

The Martinez Cocktail

[UPDATED] My turn to mix last night, and we paid a long-overdue visit to a true classic. I like Martinis, but we shouldn’t forget the Martinez, a great drink in its own right, and a nearly-forgotten cocktail that deserves a lot more recognition.

This cocktail goes as far back as the first-ever bartender’s guide/cocktail recipe book, Professor Jerry Thomas’ The Bon-Vivant’s Companion, or How to Mix Drinks, first published in 1862. It’s been called the drink that gave birth to the modern Martini, although it bears little resemblance these days; perhaps an ancestor would be a better description. Thing is, nobody after Thomas seemed to agree on a recipe.

Thomas called for twice the amount of sweet vermouth as gin, others called for twice the amount of gin. Patrick Gavin Duffy, in his seminal bar guide, called for dry vermouth instead of sweet, and whoever made that initial substitution in a Martinez pushed the drink on its way to being a Martini. I opted for a cross between two versions I found at CocktailDB.com, balancing the gin and the vermouth, which I wobbled by using a powerful vermouth — Carpano Antica Formula, my favorite sweet vermouth (full of herbs, spices and bitter notes).

Here’s the recipe from that 2006 version, the version we like now, and Professor Jerry Thomas’ original (it’s arguable that he created this cocktail, but there’s no solid evidence).

The Martinez Cocktail
(CocktailDB mélange)

1-1/4 ounces gin.
1-1/4 ounces sweet vermouth.
2 dashes maraschino liqueur.
1 dash Angostura bitters.

Stir with ice for no less than 30 seconds; strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist.

Here’s the version we like to make in 2010. We like 2 dashes of Angostura Orange Bitters, but Seattle bartender Jamie Boudreau recommends 1 dash each of Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6 for the spice, and Fee’s West Indian Orange Bitters for the citrus.

The Martinez Cocktail
(modern version)

2 ounces Hayman’s Old Tom gin. (Or Plymouth if you can’t get Old Tom.)
1 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur.
2 dashes orange bitters.

Stir with ice for no less than 30 seconds; strain into a cocktail glass.
Twist a lemon peel over the drink and garnish with the twist.

Now, the original version from 1862. A “pony” is one ounce, and we’re interpreting the amount “a wineglass” to be two ounces.

The Martinez Cocktail
(Professor Jerry Thomas’ version, and the first published one)

(Use small bar-glass.)
Take 1 dash of Boker’s bitters.
2 dashes of Maraschino.
1 pony of Old Tom gin.
1 wine-glass of sweet Vermouth.
2 small lumps of ice.

Shake up thoroughly, and strain into a large cocktail glass.
Put a quarter of a slice of lemon in the glass, and serve.
If the guest prefers it very sweet, add two dashes of gum syrup.

We’ll probably try this with the good old standby, Martini & Rossi. Boker’s Bitters was a stomachic bitters which didn’t survive the 19th Century, and seemed to be Professor Thomas’ favorite. Here’s a scan of an old advertisement for Boker’s Bitters from the New York Weekly Tribune, April 30, 1879.

Old Boker's Bitters ad

Old Tom gin was a sweetened gin, and if you can’t find any and wish to approximate that add a couple dashes of simple syrup (“gum syrup” was simple syrup with gum arabic added).

Obviously you can’t get the original item anymore, but you can make a quite reasonable facsimile with this recipe, a modern interpretation by Dr. Cocktail. But let’s digress for a moment about Boker’s Bitters … what did it taste like? As this 2007 article tells us, for a long time no one really knew.

Until about a year ago there wasn’t a person alive who knew what Boker’s bitters truly tasted like. But then a man turned up at the London Bar Show with a finger of the old stuff to share. Made using cassia, cardamom, and bitter orange peel, Boker’s was once swirled with brandy, orgeat syrup, and lemon peel in a cocktail known as the Japanese. The company disappeared a century ago in the wake of legal changes that outlawed many bitters, and it’s impossible to find anything but empty bottles today. “It was a tiny amount of original Boker’s—no one knew it existed,” says Charlotte Voisey, a champion British bartender who has created cocktail lists for The Dorchester in London and New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel. In the end she declined to join the tasting line. “I didn’t know who he was,” she says, “and I didn’t see it as my place to ask for some. It was that sacred.”

At Tales of the Cocktail in 2008, I got to taste some, one tiny drop on the back of my hand. It was extraordinary.

After much research Dr. Adam Elmegirab has come up with his own commercially produced version of Boker’s Bitters, which may help take your Martinezes and other classic cockails back to the 19th Century.