I’ve never had the opportunity to go to New Orleans, although it’s on my list of places that I’d really love to visit. I’m drawn to it for a number of reasons: the history and culture, the fact that it’s the birthplace of jazz music, the incredible food (including beignets, of course) and, most importantly, because it inspired 3 classic cocktails. And let’s not forget that it’s also the setting for several of Anne Rice’s novels, including Interview with the Vampire and The Witching Hour. I could go on about that forever – let’s get back to the cocktails! The first is called The Vieux Carré, which I’m covering today, and the others are La Louisiane and the Sazerac, which I’ll feature over the next 2 Mondays.
One of the places where I would love to have a cocktail in New Orleans is the Hotel Monteleone, located in the French Quarter, but a few blocks away from the craziness of Bourbon Street. I’m intrigued by the hotel’s history, and by the fact that quite a few notable literary figures, including William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, spent so much time there. I’m also obsessed with the circular bar at the Hotel Monteleone that’s actually a 25-seat carousel, rotating completely every 15 minutes and providing a perfect place for people watching on Royal Street. It is appropriately named the Carousel Bar. The history of The Vieux Carré cocktail goes back to 1938 when Walter Bergeron, a bartender at the hotel’s original Swan Bar, created the drink and named it after the Vieux Carré, or “Old Square,” which is the official name for the French Quarter. The original recipe for the cocktail calls for 4 different spirits, as well as Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters. The Hotel Monteleone describes the ingredients of the cocktail as being “a tribute to the different ethnic groups of the city: the Benedictine and cognac to the French influence, the rye as a tribute to the American influence, the sweet vermouth to the Italian, and the bitters as a tribute to the Caribbean.”
The Vieux Carré is quite the boozy cocktail that many people, myself included, might be reluctant to try at first. Once you muster up the courage to take that first sip, however, an amazing thing happens. The sweetness of the vermouth, the cognac, and the Benedictine really temper the bite that Rye whiskey can have, making this drink extremely smooth and surprisingly enjoyable. I tasted it first without the bitters, as I do with most cocktails so I can understand their impact. I found that they add just the right amount of spice back in; without them you’ll find yourself with a drink that’s right on the edge of becoming too sweet and cloying especially as it warms up. This is a cocktail that’s meant to be sipped, so a large ice cube works perfectly here. Finish it up with a lemon twist and you can pretend you’re at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, post-Prohibition, chatting it up at the bar with William Faulkner…
Vieux Carré (adapted from Death & Co. Modern Classic Cocktails)
1 oz Rye (I used Dad’s Hat, a local Philadelphia spirit)
1 oz Cognac (Pierre Ferrand Ambre)
1 oz Sweet Vermouth (Carpano Antica)
1 tsp Benedictine
1 dash Scrappy’s aromatic bitters
1 dash Scrappy’s Orleans bitters
Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass. Fill ⅔ full with ice and stir 30 seconds or until well chilled. Strain into an old-fashioned glass over 1 large cube. Garnish with a lemon twist. Enjoy!