Saturday, 22 October 2011

Drinking the Big Easy

Which city has best earned the title of 'the home of the cocktail'? Is it New York, the originator of the great new speakeasies and arguably the modern craft cocktail movement, where Jim Meehan and Audrey Saunders hold court and bar-stools may soon be traded as derivatives on Wall Street? Seattle, its West Coast rival, home to Jamie Boudreau and Murray Stenson - now under the same roof at the magnificent-sounding Canon? Paris, crowned by the Ritz, the world's most esteemed watering hole?  Maybe even foggy old London, with Mark's bar, The Lonsdale and The Hawksmoor bar  (along with the great hotels) offering a truly British drinking tradition?
Hey, but what about New Orleans? The producer of, if not the most cocktails, many of the greatest. The real city of sin, whose louche hedonism and humid suggestiveness leave the tawdry glitz of Vegas seeming pale and watery. Every year, it throws the biggest party in the USA, if not the world. The Big Easy, home of the lethal Sazerac, the ethereal Ramos Fizz, even the potent, sugared Hurricane, would be a pretty good bet for the home of the cocktail: short on the other cities' effortless self-assurance and general glamour, but big on good times. The organisers of Tales of the Cocktail, the annual celebration of the mixed drink and, erm, professional boozing, seem to agree. For a while, there was an industry joke (i.e. a not hugely funny one) that, despite being home to this esteemed and beloved event, it was close to impossible to get a decent drink in the town the rest of the year round. Now with Cure and Arnaud's French 75 bar, the gag no longer rings true.

Now, to my considerable sorrow, I've not yet made the long trip from this rainy Isle to Tales (next year in New Orleans!) But, in honour of the Siren of the South, I've decided to feature a couple of the more obscure great drinks to have come out of the city. Everyone knows the Sazerac (if not apparently how to make it well), but how 'bout the souped up Vieux Carre? An awesome hybrid of Manhattan and Sazerac, the Vieux Carre dances across the tongue like a worn out old chorus girl, before kicking you right in teeth. Strong and powerfully herbal, it's based on the great, classic Cognac-Rye axis, enlivened by a dual charge of bitters.

Vieux Carre

1 shot rye,  Rittenhouse Bonded Rye (you'll need a hefty whiskey to stand up to its partners)
1 shot cognac,  Remy Martin VSOP
1 shot sweet vermouth, Punt e Mes (a bold, spicy vermouth that'll stand up

1 teaspoon Benedictine
3 dash Angostura
3 dash Peychaud's

Stir over ice and serve up or on rocks with a lemon twist

Vieux Pomme
(A little variation I've been making since 2010) 

1 shot rye, Sazerac Rye
1 shot Apple Brandy, Laird's Bonded Applejack
3/4 shot sweet vermouth, Lillet Rouge
1 teaspoon Benedictine
1/2 teaspoon Green Chartreuse
1 dash Angostura
3 dash Peychaud's
2 dash Cinnamon tincture

Stir and serve on rocks with lemon twist

The Cocktail a la Louisiane is a close relation of the Vieux Carre, but with the Benedictine seriously bumped up and the Absinthe taking the role of modifier. Richer and sweeter than , the drink depends on a heavy Rye and a hefty hit of citrus oil from the twist to add some aromatic and flavour tension.

Cocktail a la Louisiane

1 shot rye, Rittenhouse Bonded Rye
1 shot sweet vermouth, Carpano Antica
1 shot Benedictine
1 teaspoon Absinthe, La Fee Absinthe

3 dash Angostura
3 dash Peychaud's

Stir, rocks, 2x lemon twist (one expressed, one placed)

Cocktail a la Mexique
(Another variation, created by the noble art of swapping a few ingredients around until things worked)

1 shot rye, Sazerac Rye
1 shot tequila, Ocho Reposado (or Anejo, if you feel like splashing out)
1 shot dry vermouth Noilly Prat
1/3 shot Cynar
2 dash Peychaud's
1 dash Xocolatl Mole
4 drops Saline solution (salt 1:1 water)

Stir and serve on a rock with an orange twist.

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