Friday, November 22, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Vieux Carré

Pity, if you will, the poor Vieux Carré. Not that the cocktail is poor, of course. Au contraire, it’s rich in all the ways that matter. Had it been born anywhere else it would surely, by popular acclamation, be declared the official cocktail of that metropole and receive all the deference due.

Instead it’s the hard luck drink of New Orleans. No matter that it was birthed in the Big Easy and christened after the French Quarter – the name means “old square” – it will never be the Crescent City’s signature libation. Not when the Sazerac got there first.

Still, this cocktail-in-waiting ably rewards the attentions of any caller. Walter Bergeron, bartender at the still-standing Hotel Monteleone, created it, the recipe first appearing in print in 1937. It’s a dandy down home spin on the Manhattan, or more precisely on a variation of that classic called the Saratoga (one of several drinks laying claim to that up-north appellation), which adds cognac to the usual combination of whiskey, rosso vermouth and Angostura bitters. The cocktail’s Southern heritage comes marching in via the additional complexity provided by New Orleans’ own Peychaud’s bitters, as well as the soupçon of luxuriant sweetness courtesy of Bénédictine.

With its subtle interplay of flavors including a hint of decadence, the Vieux Carré has long been a go-to request of mine in craft cocktail bars. Now that I’ve finally ponied up for a bottle of Bénédictine, I can make them myself. Before preparing my maiden effort, though, I had to decide how I wanted to serve it. The first few times I ordered the drink it was presented up in a cocktail glass. The standard, though, is in a tumbler over ice, and that’s what I opted for here. In either case, don’t be stingy with the lemon peel. That final burst of citrus is the coup de grâce.

The Vieux Carré

1 oz. rye
1 oz. Cognac
1 oz. sweet vermouth
¼ oz. Bénédictine
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
2 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters

Stir. Strain. Garnish with a lemon peel.

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