We’re in the home stretch now. Welcome to Part 6 of 7 of the seemingly interminable series I began featuring the “Drinks We Drank at Drink.” The Vieux Carré was my first cocktail at Drink and was made for me based on my preference for rye and amari. What’s that? Italian amaro isn’t an ingredient of the Vieux Carré? What the hell, Drink? What the hell?! Is this amateur hour? Did making me a cocktail without amaro amuse you? Am I a clown? Do I amuse you? Do I make you laugh?! I’m here to amuse you?! … Just kidding. Although the bartender did not include an Italian bitter liqueur, the Vieux Carré just happens to be one of my favorite cocktails. I mean, it does incorporate a French herbal liqueur alongside Italian sweet vermouth, so… close enough.
The Vieux Carré is one of the drinks that makes up the New Orléans classic cocktails triumvirate, which also includes the Sazerac and the Ramos Gin Fizz. According to Stanley Clisby Arthur’s 1937 cocktail book “Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em”, the drink was invented by the head bartender at the Hotel Monteleone, Walter Bergeron, sometime in the early to mid-30s.
The Quarter is New Orléans’ oldest neighborhood and was the nucleus of the City throughout its growth and development from 1718 to present. Hotel Monteleone rises up above Rue Royal with all its Beaux-Arts splendor and eclectic flair and serves as the annual site for the Tales of the Cocktail festival. The hotel has also been the home to the illustrious Carousel Piano Bar & Lounge for the past 65 years.
The Vieux Carré is a salute to the amalgamation of the many cultural identities that make up New Orléans: the drinks starts with America’s original spirit – glorious rye whiskey. From there, Cognac and Bénédictine, representing the French ancestry of the Cajun peoples, is thrown into the mix. Sweet vermouth pays tribute to the thousands of Sicilians who emigrated to the city in the late 1800s (the founder of the hotel, Antonio Monteleone, hailed from Sicily, landing around 1880 or so) . With regards to the bitters, Angostura is a nod to the Creole/Caribbean influence and Peychaud’s represents the City of New Orléans herself. A bit of a Cayoodle then. Lovely.
Laissez les bons temps mélanger.
Add everything to a mixing glass. I like my Vieux Carrés with a bit more spice so I tend to add a couple extra dashes of bitters for lagniappe. Faîtes comme il vous plaira. Add a pile of ice and stir for 20 seconds or so, then strain over ice into a chilled Old-Fashioned glass. Garnish with large swathe of lemon peel, twisted smartly. I realize a cherry is the traditional garnish for this cocktail; however, I prefer lemon oils to cherries ten times out of ten. In a manner of speaking, a lemon twist is the John Shaft of cocktail garnishes.
Soc au’ lait, this cocktail is a delight! Given the combination of rye/brandy and Angostura/Peychaud’s bitters, this cocktail isn’t drastically dissimilar from the Sazerac I featured not that long ago. Where the Sazerac I made employed sugar and absinthe for a sweet/herbal component, the Vieux Carré uses Bénédictine to the same end.
Now, the ratio of rye-to-brandy in the Vieux Carré is much higher than in the Sazerac (1:1 versus 1:3), so the dark chocolate, rye, and clove spiciness of the whiskey has more of a chance to shine through. It helps that Rittenhouse clocks in at a wonderful 50% abv., which provides the necessary oomph to stand up to the brandy and vermouth. Where the Sazerac delivers an atmosphere of anise-ladden aromas and flavours, the Vieux Carré balances out the spice and buttery wood flavours of the rye and Cognac with herbal notes of cardamom and cloves alongside some dried fruit and honey-like sweetness. This thing is rich and decadent. As I mentioned in the intro, this cocktail ranks high on my list of favorites.
I use the biggest cubes I can manage; however, they pale in comparison to Drink’s hand-cut wonders. I hope to up my ice game once Studio Neat’s Ice Kit is available for non-Kickstarter backers. Huge, crystal clear ice at home….oh, yes. Oh yes, indeed. My “Cocktail Geek Rating” will go through the roof. Then y’all motherfuckers better recognize.This PD shit is for real, yo.
If you’re fixin’ to make yourself yet another Manhattan (or Saratoga), I recommend abandoning that course of action and instead mix yourself a Vieux Carré – ça vaut le détour.