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It’s Not Over ‘til the Vieux Carré Sings
I have announced the drink of the season - a toast to our ancestors
I am declaring a beverage for this dark autumn: The Season of the Vieux Carré.
We have many loved ones we are grieving. We are in a time of war, and a time of loss. We are thinking of our ancestors, and wondering if they knew it would be like this. (Spoiler: Yes).
Like many, I am inviting my friends to mourn and celebrate this time with our family. I am cooking and pouring some potent remembrances.
I think drink makes us remember, as well as forget.
The “Vieux Carré” is a drink of New Orleans, a very old drink that wasn’t even published until the 1930s, but likely originates far before that.
In NOLA, you would pronounce it, VOO-Car-ay. —Just like that.
It means, the “old neighborhood,” and in this instance, the French Quarter, where so much of New Orleans music and community and feast and ecstasy occurs. No matter what you may read in a tourist brochure, the Quarter is older and deeper than any contemporary cliché. Look for the ancient and near-extinction; that’s where you’ll find its origin.
The Vieux Carré in New Orleans, is as common a drink as a screwdriver. Outside of the Quarter, not so much. You now have a chance to remedy that.
Strictly on the mixologist level, this is a beverage that is fantastically more than the sum of its parts. It tastes like its own perfectly unique brew, not easily disassembled. It is truly unique.
Below I will reveal the recipe, and how to multiple it for an orgy. (Another spoiler: Ice).
But I would like to offer a challenge, as you take your first sip. At first, you will be gobsmacked by the taste, the je ne sais quois. With your second sip, think of someone you miss dearly, who no longer can pay a physical visit. Imagine sharing this with them. Imagine their eyes lighting up, in recognition or surprise.
The Vieux de Carré Recipe
1 ounce rye
1 ounce cognac
1 ounce sweet vermouth
½ teaspoon Benedictine
2 dashes Peychauds
2 dashes Angostura
Lemon peel garnish
Shake the rye, cognac, vermouth, Benedictine, and both the bitters, in an icy shaker with ice. Pour over fresh ice in an old-fashioned whiskey glass. (The squat tumblers). Garnish with exquisitely-pressed lemon peel.
Practical and Literary Notes on Benedictine
Buy one bottle and share among friends, since the small amounts needed will last you forever. I put a small portion of Benedictine into an empty bitters bottle, so I could pour out a dash or two with ease.
Yes, this liqueur is related to the Benedictine monks. And if you want to read the best novel that includes Benedictine as a hilarious side note, look no further than Charles Portis’ Dog of the South:
“[Doctor Symes] sat rigid in the seat and watched and listened. He complained about the dog smell on the seat and the dust that came up from the floor. He drank from a bottle of B and B liqueur. He said he had the chronic bronchitis of a singer and had used this liqueur for his throat ever since the government had barred the use of codeine in cough syrup. “Pure baloney,” he said. “I’ve seen every kind of addict there is and I’ve never known one person who was addicted to codeine. I’ve taken fifty gallons of the stuff myself.”
Note on Bitters
You need Peychauds in your bitters cabinet. It is a cut above. I know there are a million bitters available, but the only ones you truly need are: Angostura and Peychauds. Next level would be Orange Bitters and Aztec Chocolate.
The Main Liquors
I would not sweat it on the choice of brand, when it comes to the rye, cognac, and vermouth. Something decent is fine. No need for the toppest of the shelf-ist. Imagine what a dive bar in New Orleans serving, right? Done.
You shake it with one shaker of ice. Fine.
But then, you POUR it on new fresh ice that hasn’t been shaken yet.
Got it? Good.
Multiplying for Parties - Batch Cocktails
When you’re planning for a crowd, please do not think about serving each person a bespoke cocktail. Good grief, no. You are going to make a “Punch” out of the cocktail recipe.
Multiple the drink recipe by the number of people you want to serve. Make sure you have enough bottles to begin.
Assemble the drink WITHOUT ICE, all the ingredients. Put this in whatever ugly pitcher or bowl you have to work with, this is just your “working container.”
Whatever amount you end up with, add 25% more COLD water. So, for example, a “gallon” is 128 ounces. 25% of a gallon is 32 ounces. So add 32 ounces of ice water.
This is your working punch, what a normal cocktail would taste like after it’s shaken thoroughly with ice.
Stash the whole thing in the fridge. When ready to serve, put it in the nice-looking punch bowl or pitcher.
Then, put out an ice bucket, and tell your guests to pour their drink over fresh ice, so it will be perfectly chilly.
Learning All the Tricks
My favorite crash course cocktail book for the quick learner is Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: From the 1920 Pick-Me-Up to the Zombie and Beyond.
I’ve learned so much from its author, Mr. Ted Haigh. Get the “spiral” version as well as the Kindle version. Ted gives tremendous historical context, which lends so much flavor. I’ve actually been through (2) copies, because I wrecked the first one from overuse!
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