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The Roffignac Cocktail

Gary Regan, sans The Professor today, contributes an article to the San Francisco Chronicle with some authentic pointers for that most French of spirits.

Americans tend to sip their Cognac neat, at room temperature, or warmed slightly by cupping the glass in the palm of the hand. It’s an elegant postprandial potion.

And those with a passion for classic cocktails take their Cognac with Cointreau and fresh lemon juice in the form of a sidecar, one of the world’s most sophisticated mixed drinks.

In France, though, where style is always the name of the game, those in the know drink their Cognac over ice in tall, slender glasses, mixed with all manner of juices and sodas. Are we missing out on something? You’d better believe we are.

On a recent trip through the Cognac region of France, I visited most of the major Cognac houses and expected to be told that nothing should be added to the treasured elixir lest it become contaminated beyond recognition. I was gravely mistaken. I was treated to Cognac mixed with tonic water, ginger ale, club soda and even cranberry juice. The fact is that Cognac has so much character and flavor that it holds its own no matter what you add to it.

How about an old, old New Orleans classic?

The Roffignac

2 ounces Cognac.
1 ounce raspberry syrup.
Soda water or seltzer

Fill a highball glass with ice. Add the first two ingredients, then top off with soda or seltzer. Swizzle and serve.

Count Louis Philippe Joseph de Roffignac was Mayor of New Orleans from 1820 to 1828, and was famous and beloved for, among other things, introducing street lighting to the city and laying the first cobblestones in the French Quarter. He also lent his name to this favorite concoction, sort of an early 19th Century highball.

According to printed recipes the original sweetening agent for this drink in New Orleans at the time was something called “Red Hembarig.” I hadn’t the slightest idea what this was, but when it was pointed out that the German word for raspberry is Himbeere, many agreed that it was probably a misspelling of a German variety of raspberry syrup that was used.

I’ll still use my VS or even VSOP for drinks like this, but for that $60-per-bottle Pierre Ferrand 20-year-old stuff … well, I still like sippin’ that stuff neat.

Gimme a necta, bra!

New Orleans’ own “nectar”, that is — it began life as a soda fountain flavor at Katz and Besthoff drugstores in the Crescent City (known to the locals, of course, K&Bas “K&B”). I’m just barely old enough to remember the soda fountains at K&B — great burgers and fries, BLTs and, of course, those fabulous nectar sodas and floats.

Nectar is a New Orleans original, and I’ve had a hankering for it lately. Deep red, with an almond-vanilla flavor that was best described as tasting “like wedding cake”, it may have died out when the soda fountains did, but still lives on as a sno-ball flavor, and has even been resurrected by a little company in Mandeville. A little Googling revealed a forum on nectar on eGullet, a wonderful article from the Times-Picayune about it, and I was pleased to see that the New Orleans Nectar Soda Company is still around, kind of — their website has no real content, although when I was home for Christmas I bought a bottle of New Orleans Nectar Soda at the Rouse’s in the Quarter.

Pableaux Johnson, who wrote the T-P article, also says, “Folks craving the goodness of nectar closer to home might do well to check the shelves of a neighborhood grocery store. The Mandeville-based Nectar Soda Co. sells fridge-friendly six-packs of the stuff for open-and-sip convenience. The company also markets 16-ounce bottles of the syrup for those keen on mixing their own.

Syrup and soda are available at Dorignac’s, Langenstein’s Metairie Road store and most Sav-a-Center stores. Call (877) 463-2827 or e-mail nscmail (at) nectarsoda (dot) com for information.”

He was also kind enough to provide some “nectar sipping spots”, places in the Crescent City where you can go and have a soda the old-fashioned way:

Sophie’s Ice Cream, 1912 Magazine St. (504) 561-0291
Tuesday- Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Monday

Creole Creamery, 4924 Prytania St. (504) 894-8680
Sunday-Thursday, Noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Noon to 11 p.m.

Plum Street Snowballs, 1300 Burdette St. (504) 866-7996
Monday-Saturday, Noon – 9 p.m., Sunday, 2 – 9 p.m.
Closed Oct. 15 through March 15

Ah, Plum Street. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of huge Chinese takeout tubs full of finely shaved ice and syrup I’ve had there over the years. There you won’t get a soda or a float, but a gorgeous sno-ball drenched with nectar syrup and topped with a frightening amount of sweetened condensed milk. Heaven.

Finally, for do-it-yourselfers, I managed to find some homemade nectar recipes and made up a batch of both syrups. Recipe no. 1 seems to be the one; I wasn’t all that thrilled with no. 2, but maybe with tweaking (like more sugar, less water) it’d work.

Most importantly … when you’re making nectar soda, DO NOT use club soda! Use sparkling/carbonated water only, with a sodium content of 0. Club soda contains salt and sodium bicarbonate, and that really throws off the flavor of the nectar. If you’ve got a soda siphon, this is the perfect thing to use it for (other than gin fizzes, of course).

3 cups granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
2 tablespoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon red food coloring

Bring sugar and water to a boil over medium heat. Let mixture cook about 8 to 10 seconds. Cool. Add vanilla, almond and coloring. Makes about 1 pint.

3 cups sugar
6 cups water
1 can sweetened condensed milk
4 tablespoons vanilla extract
4 tablespoons almond essence
2 teaspoons red food coloring

Over low heat dissolve sugar and water. Bring to a boil. Cool. Add the condensed milk, vanilla extract, almond essence and red coloring. Stir well. Store in refrigerator. Makes about 1-1/2 quart.

NECTAR SYRUP III (quick and dirty)
1 bottle Torani vanilla syrup
1 bottle Torani almond syrup.
2 teaspoons red food coloring.

Combine both syrups. Add coloring. Rebottle.
Makes 2 bottles. (This actually isn’t half-bad.)

Nectar syrup
Sparkling/carbonated water or seltzer (NO sodium!).

Pour an inch or so of nectar syrup into a tall glass. Fill with sparkling water and ice. Stir to mix.

Nectar syrup
Vanilla ice cream
Sparkling/carbonated water or seltzer (NO sodium!)

Pour an inch of nectar syrup into a tall glass. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and sparkling water. Stir to mix. Serve with a scoop of ice cream on top or whipped cream and a cherry.

2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup nectar syrup (homemade or purchased New Orleans Nectar®)
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar, or to taste.

(For this recipe you may want to experiment with the amount of sugar.)

In a heavy saucepan bring whole milk and heavy cream to a boil, reduce to a simmer and then remove from heat. Stir in nectar syrup and put the milk mixture to the side.

In a separate bowl whisk egg yolks with sugar until smooth. Return milk mixture to heat and bring to simmer again, slowly whisking in the egg yolk mixture. Strain the combined mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and cool. Proceed according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

Makes 1 quart.

That oughta keep you busy for a while. Happy Thanksgiving!

Cocktail à la Louisiane

I first came across this one in Stanley Clisby Arthur’s Famous New Orleans Drinks and How To Mix ‘Em (1937); it’s a close relative of Walter Bergeron’s fabulous Vieux Carré cocktail, created at the Monteleone Hotel in the 1930s. We really liked it and added it to our in-house cocktail menu but for some strange reason forgot about it and haven’t been going out of our way to offer it to guests.

Fortunately, Robert Hess reminded me of this one in email, having had one himself recently and being struck by how damn good it is. It’s also barely two ounces, a quite civilized size and perfect for an apéritif, and will fit beautifully in your spiffy Riedel cocktail glasses.

Stanley says, “This is the special cocktail served at Restaurant de la Louisiane, one of the famous French restaurants of New Orleans, long the rendezvous of those who appreciate the best in Creole cuisine. La Louisiane cocktail is as out-of-the-ordinary as the many distinctive dishes that grace its menu.” That restaurant is, sadly, long gone, but fortunately we can still quaff its signature drink.

Cocktail à la Louisiane

3/4 ounce rye whiskey.
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth.
3/4 ounce Bénédictine.
3 dashes Herbsaint, pastis or absinthe.
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters.

Mix in barglass with lumps of ice. Strain into a cocktail glass
in which has been placed a maraschino cherry. Savor.

By the way, those Riedel “Martini” glasses are the most perfect, elegant cocktail glasses I’ve ever had. You can usually find them for arond $11 each if you look hard enough, and they’re just superb — perfect weight and balance, thin but strong, no lip and they’re small. Three-ounce cocktails, max. That way you can finish your cocktail while it’s still ice-cold and, as Harry Craddock said, “while it’s still laughing at you.” (Thanks, Robert!)

Cocktail of the day: The Vieux Carré

One of my favorite bars in New Orleans is the Carousel Bar at the Monteleone Hotel. There’s a piano bar in the back with comfy booths, and a faux-starlit sky on the ceiling — very nice atmosphere. My favorite spot in here is actually at the bar, which is built from parts of an actual old carousel (or “flying horses”, as we used to call them as kids in New Orleans) and the barstools revolve around the circular bar. Not to worry, it’s slow enough that you won’t get dizzy, unless you have way too much to drink.

As I think every good bar should, this bar has a signature cocktail. I always find it amusing that the last several times I went to the Carousel, the cocktail waitresses seem not to be familiar with the drink, but all the bartenders know how to make it, and one said that he gets at least a half-dozen orders for it every shift. It was invented in 1938 by the man who was then their head bartender, Mr. Walter Bergeron (11 years before this particular bar was built), and he named the drink for the French name for the French Quarter. In New Orleans you say “French Quarter” if you’re speaking English, but if you’re speaking French it’s not “le Quartier Français”, it’s called “le Vieux Carré” (the Old Square). In New Orleans we say “VOO ka-RAY.”


1 ounce rye whiskey.
1 ounce Cognac.
1 ounce sweet vermouth.
1 teaspoon Bénédictine D.O.M.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters.

Half-fill a double Old Fashioned glass with ice, add ingredients
and stir to mix. Garnish with a stemless cherry.

It’s mighty, mighty good. If you can’t find Peychaud’s Bitters in your area, order some (click “Food,” then “Mixes”) — they’re cheap. If you’re serious about cocktails, your bar is not complete without them.

Cocktail of the day: Clover Club

This one’s another old classic that I’d never thought to try until relatively recently. My becoming a born-again gin drinker has helped, along with my fascination with cocktails that contain eggs. The final push was having it pointed out to Wes and me by Michael and Arturo, the two bartenders-from-Heaven at the Petrossian Bar, who like cocktails from 75-100 years ago as we do.

I’ve started using a pasteurized egg white product from the refrigerated section of the supermarket instead of fresh egg white, and it works just as well, plus no worries of pesky salmonella. You can’t get pasteurized yolks, so if I’m going to be making any flips or golden fizzes we’ll just have to take the leap. The “classic” recipe calls for grenadine, but this ingredient is so ubiquitous (and usually such poor quality, mostly artificially-flavored) that I took a cue from the Bellagio bartenders and used raspberry syrup instead. This drink is a deep pink with a thick frothy head, and is delicious.

Clover Club

1-1/2 ounces gin.
3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice.
2 teaspoons raspberry syrup.
1 egg white.

Place all ingredients into a tall cocktail shaker with lots of ice and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. This one’s pretty enough not to require a garnish.

UPDATE: Clover Club correction! Almost had some nice alliteration going there … kinda did anyway, but no “cl” sound to start the third word. Anyway, I digress.

In flipping through Stanley Clisby Arthur I saw his recipe for the Clover Club, which I like much better than the old traditional one. It’s almost exactly the same, but with a New Orleans touch that I love. Here’s his version with some of his comments excerpted.

Clover Club
(New Orleans version)

1-1/2 ounces dry gin.
Juice of 1/2 lime.
1 pony (1 ounce) raspberry syrup.
1 egg white.
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters.

Pour the ingredients into the shaker over ice in order given. Set yourself for a good shaking, for this is a cocktail that must be well frappéd. To give chic to the final result, decorate your cocktail glasses with sprigs of mint after straining into them the delightful liquid from your shaker.

We have always admired the added ummph the dash of Peychaud bitters gives this deservedly popular concoction.

So have I, Mr. Arthur, so have I.

A whole ounce of raspberry syrup’s a bit much for me, so I’d recommend the former recipe, but with the addition of that dash of Peychaud’s. The magic of bitters is not to be discounted.