New Orleans, Louisiana (1888)
The Ramos Gin Fizz doesn’t mean to be difficult, really. It’s just that creating a glassful of pillowy heaven does take a bit of work and attention. Even the name – which shouldn’t be difficult – is: the correct Spanish pronunciation is “RAH-mose” but most people I know say this as “RAY-mose.” To make things more confusing, in New Orleans, some say it “RAY-muss.” Whatever. As they say, “Call me anything you want, just don’t call me late for breakfast.”
This drink evolved from the basic Sour 2:1:1 formula (spirit:citrus:sweet) into a Fizz (by adding seltzer, like a Tom Collins but without ice) and from there into a group of fancy Fizzes (egg white makes a Silver Fizz, egg yolk makes a Golden Fizz, whole egg makes a Royal Fizz). Adding cream and orange flower water was the masterstroke by barman Henrico “Henry” Charles Ramos at the now-extinct Imperial Cabinet Saloon in New Orleans back in 1888. The drink became so popular, Ramos employed a line of up to 35 “Shaker Boys” to pass the shaking tins down an assembly line, vigorously shaking each drink in succession for up to 12 minutes total.
125 years of practice and refinement have perfected this little number. Some will tell you removing the spring from a Hawthorne strainer and adding it to the shaker will help whip the drink, but in practice, it actually over-aearates the drink. Some will say you have to shake the drink for ten minutes – that’s bullshit, too. Don’t add the seltzer to the mix, either – the shaker will have a hard enough time staying sealed with the egg white and cream expanding as you go. You may occasionally see a couple drops of vanilla in this drink – which tends to overwhelm the delicate flavors, if you ask me. But good ice does make a key difference here, even though you’ll only be using one cube from a Tovolo 1″ ice tray (unless you’re one of those mad geniuses with a Kold-Draft machine at home). The density of the ice will ensure the drink dilutes, chills, and whips properly. And the right glassware is crucial (an 8-ounce fizz glass like the Libbey 2318 Lexington), to help hold that stasis of booze, air, and protein afloat. Don’t try to make two of these in one shaker – it just won’t work.
This technique was taught to me by 320 Main bartender Shaun Cole, who learned it from bartender, brand ambassador, and consultant Marcos Tello. Word is, Marcos traveled the country gathering techniques from various bartenders and even food scientists, then consolidated the best-of into this recipe. Jason Schiffer, owner of 320 Main, told me this drink “lets bartenders show off their skills like no other drink.” It takes focus and practice to get this one right, but the effort is rewarded. The ideal texture is a tight, dense, almost-meringue-like foam floating atop a creamy, aerated liquid base – not a frothy mass of loose, sloppy bubbles.
If you’re concerned about consuming raw egg whites, try not to be. It’s fine, you won’t die. Just make sure your eggs are cold and fresh, and that you don’t get any chickenshit in your drink.
The Ramos Gin Fizz is perfect for a warm spring or summer brunch, so long as you’re up to the task. Reserve this for a morning that’s not a morning-after!
Hardware: Jigger, Shaker, Eyedropper, Muddler, Tovolo 1″ Ice Cube Tray, Straw, Spoon
Glassware: 8-ounce fizz glass
Ice: Ice cube
Spirit: Old Tom gin (recommended: Hayman’s) or London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater) or Plymouth gin
Mixer: Simple syrup, Seltzer or Tonic water (recommended: Fever-Tree) or sparkling mineral water (recommended: Pellegrino)
Accents & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Lime juice, Orange flower water (look for a French brand, but Middle Eastern will do), Heavy cream (aka “whipping cream” – but not whipped cream), Egg white
Chill a fizz glass in the freezer at least ten minutes. In a cocktail shaker, combine:
1 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz heavy cream
3 drops orange flower water
In a second container (to avoid contamination from a piece of eggshell), separate:
1 egg white
Discard the yolk and the chalazae (the thick, stringy part connected to the yolk) and combine the egg white with the previous ingredients. Seal the shaker very tightly and dry shake for ten to twelve seconds to emulsify the ingredients. Hold the shaker lid firmly while shaking – the egg whites will foam and expand in volume and will create pressure in the shaker.
1 ice cube (1″ square)
Whip the shaker vigorously until you hear the ice cube has completely dissolved. Pour, unstrained, into the chilled fizz glass. Hold the glass in one hand, and, using a muddler, tap on the bottom of the glass for a minute or two. Look for the level of the drink to settle down about 1/8″ or so, and for any large bubbles in the foam to dissipate. You’re looking for a thick, consistent foam texture in the drink. Next, to the surface of the drink, add:
2 drops orange flower water
In the used shaker, add:
2 oz seltzer
Slowly drizzle the seltzer straight down the center of the drink from a height of about an inch or two. If you’ve done everything right, you’ll see the foamy head of the drink rising slowly above the rim of the glass. Keep pouring seltzer down the same spot and keep an eye on the foamy head. If it starts to sag around the edges, stop adding seltzer.
Serve with a straw (and a spoon to scoop out those last bits of meringuey goodness), then congratulate yourself on creating a thing of beauty. Kick back the rest of the day, you’ve earned it.
p.s. You may want to keep a spoon handy for scooping out the last little bit of foamy, citrusy goodness.
New York City (1860s)
Time-travel in a glass, this one. So much so, when you sip it you can almost picture the hazy gaslamp-lit sidewalks and almost smell the horseshit-strewn cobblestone streets. Almost, I said.
New York City in the 1860s was a thick, bubbling, funky melting pot of cultures: Irish, Italian, German, Caribbean, British, Dutch, and beyond. Politically corrupt Tammany Hall ran the show. Manhattan became heavily militarized and fortified against a Confederate attack that never came. And Central Park was an under-construction showcase of wilderness in the middle of the world’s greatest city. This close-quarters assimilation was (and still is) responsible for the cocktail as we now know it: American whiskey mixed with Italian or French vermouth, British gin mixed with fresh-squeezed citrus (originally cultivated in southeast Asia), and the rise of exotic local liqueurs imported from across Europe.
It was in this landscape that Jerry Thomas worked his magic. I can’t cover his influence any better than David Wondrich’s excellent book Imbibe!, but here’s the short version: Thomas was the original rockstar bartender, traveling the country from coast to coast showing off his skills. And a showoff he was: One of his signature drinks, the Blue Blazer, involves tossing flaming Scotch whisky from one metal tankard to another – maybe the original Vegas flair-style bartender. Hell, the guy had a statue of himself in his bar on Broadway and 21st. Jerry loved Jerry.
But his lasting legacy outweighs his ego, thankfully: Thomas wrote the world’s first cocktail book. How to Mix Drinks (or The Bon Vivant’s Companion), published in 1862, was his enforcing of order on a chaotic world in transition: Colonial drinks like Punches, Eggnogs, Juleps, Shrubs, Smashes, and Cobblers were cataloged along with newfangled 19th-century trends like Cocktails (at the time, simply any spirit with sugar, water, and bitters) and Sours. The book is still in print today and offers a fascinating view of Civil War-era drinkmaking culture: Just before the vermouth craze of the 1870s, just before the Industrial Revolution. He did a good thing, getting all this stuff down for posterity before he died of a stroke at age 55, twenty-three years later. Apparently, he was a victim of the changing times: he died deeply in debt and unemployed. His family made exactly squat from his book.
This cocktail, what he called an “Improved Holland Gin Cocktail,” would’ve been popular in his heyday, and is indeed documented in his book. It uses a spirit popular at the time and only recently revived: genever, the Dutch predecessor of British gin (say it “jenn-EE-ver”). Made in Holland of distilled maltwine (corn, rye, wheat, and other grains) and flavored with juniper, genever was originally made as a medicinal drink of crushed juniper berries distilled with brandy. As wine grapes became scarce, malty beer mash was substituted to keep the product rolling – and to great effect. In this way, genever is kind of a weird cousin to both whiskey and gin – similar to both, but like neither. The British enjoyed genever so much, they sought a way to replicate it back home, modifying the base and formula to suit their palates – first as the Old Tom style of gin, then London Dry. The Bols company has recently revived genever as a contemporary product, unavailable since Prohibition (thank you, Bols!).
Where a standard “cocktail” back in the day would’ve been spirit, sugar, water / ice, and bitters, Jerry Thomas specified a category of “Improved” cocktails with a touch of absinthe and Maraschino liqueur. Any spirit can be used in these Improved cocktails – try rum, bourbon, or brandy… but there’s something strange and perfect about the way genever plays with these other flavors.
A couple notes: You’ll be serving this up, like a Martini – stirred (even though Jerry said to shake, we know better now). You can use a cocktail glass or a small rocks glass. I like the latter – it feels right since it’s an offshoot of the Old Fashioned and cousin to the Sazerac. Also – if you have a demerara syrup on hand, you’ll get a more authentic idea of the drink’s history. But regular old simple syrup will certainly work. And if you’re lucky to have Berg & Hauck’s formulation of “Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter” bitters in your arsenal, now is the time to get them out.
A toast to Jerry Thomas, the original.
Hardware: Jigger, Barspoon, Mixing glass, Hawthorne strainer, Vegetable peeler or sharp knife
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Rocks glass or cocktail glass
Spirits: Genever (recommended: Bols)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Absinthe (recommended: Pernod, St. George, Herbsaint), Maraschino liqueur (recommended: Luxardo), Demerara syrup or simple syrup
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Bitters (recommended: Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter, Angostura), Lemon twist
Using a vegetable peeler or a sharp knife, cut a strip of lemon peel to make:
1 lemon twist
Don’t include too much of the bitter white pith, if any.
In a mixing glass about one-third full with ice cubes and cracked ice, add:
2 dashes bitters
1/4 oz demerara or turbinado syrup (2:1)
1 barspoon maraschino
1/2 barspoon absinthe
2 oz genever
Stir briskly to blend and chill. Holding the twist with the outside facing down over a rocks (or cocktail) glass, pinch to express lemon oil into the glass and brush lightly around the glass exterior. Reserve the twist for a garnish.
Double-strain the drink (to catch small bits of ice) into the prepared, chilled glass. Garnish with the lemon zest either resting atop the glass or dropped in.
Foynes, Ireland (1942)
There’s few things more satisfying and comforting than a well-made Irish Coffee. The cool cream blends with the hot coffee as you take that first sip, backed up by the mellow nip of Irish whiskey and sweet rich sugar. Perfect for a rainy afternoon pick-me-up or for a turbo-charged dessert.
To make this really special, you’ll want to pay attention to the details, starting with the whiskey. Irish whiskey is mellow, the softer predecessor to wild country Scotch whisky. I prefer Redbreast in this – it’s an old-style whiskey made in pot stills that give spirits more body and funk than column stills (those make for cleaner, crisper spirits). That extra bit of character stands up well when mixed with bold coffee.
For the coffee, go for the best you can produce at home. Use a medium roast (darker if you prefer) and grind your beans fresh. Use a French Press or a pour-over kit to make the coffee (drip coffee makers generally don’t get the water hot enough to extract the best flavor). Make it on the strong side since you’ll be diluting it with whiskey. For the sugar, go with demerara or turbinado sugar – that extra bit of molasses softens and unifies the coffee and whiskey where white sugar would be cutting and sharp. If you don’t have the right sugar on hand, mix half white sugar and half brown sugar – that’ll get you close enough. And for the whipped cream: sorry to say, but you gotta whip it fresh. Premade and presweetened whipped cream isn’t the right texture, won’t float on top, and has sweetness that will nuke your beautiful drink.
This is an example where specific glassware makes a difference: Many places use a larger handled 8.5-ounce glass that encourages a bit too much coffee in the mix. To do this drink proper, buy a set of the 6-ounce Libbey “Georgian” glasses they used in the original (made during World War II at a coastal seaplane port) and at The Buena Vista in San Francisco (where they make up to 2,000 Irish Coffees a day).
Hardware: Jigger, Plastic Measuring Cup, Teaspoon measure, Kettle, French Press (or pour-over kit), Standing mixer (or whisk), Barspoon
Glassware: 6-ounce Irish Coffee glass
Spirit: Irish whiskey (recommended: Redbreast, Jameson, Tullamore DEW)
Accents & Garnishes: Demerara sugar, Freshly-whipped heavy cream
Boil enough water to prepare your coffee, plus a bit extra. When boiled, fill your Irish Coffee glass with boiling water to preheat, then prepare your coffee. While the coffee is brewing, in a standing mixer (or by hand using a whisk), whip 1/4 cup of heavy cream to thicken. Stop before you get to soft peaks – the cream should be thick but still pourable. When the coffee is ready, pour out the boiling water that was added to the Irish Coffee glass.
In the glass, combine:
2 teaspoons demerara sugar
1 1/2 oz Irish whiskey
scant 1/2 cup coffee
Stir well to mix and dissolve sugar, then slowly ladle the cold whipped cream over the top to float – just enough to fill the glass, no more. Distribute and level the whipped cream with the back of a barspoon.