Café Royal, London, England, 1937
Drinking seasonally just makes sense, and for my money in the winter months, there’s nothing like a brisk gin cocktail that matches the cold outside. Sure, hot drinks like Hot Buttered Rum, Irish Coffee, or Hot Toddy are comforting, but frosty-cold gin is reality-affirming in a weird way. Like walking through a snowy pine forest in shorts.
As the 19th century turned into the 20th, French aperitif wines known as quinquinas (say it “keen-keen-uz”) or kinas were all the rage. Similar to vermouths, they use cinchona bark (the source of quinine) for the bitter element in lieu of (or in addition to) vermouth’s wormwood. Quinine is the famous anti-malarial agent administered to British troops serving in India via healthy portions of Gin & Tonic (tonic being sparkling water spiked with a syrup of quinine and citrus peel). Although effective, bracing, and refreshing, the Gin & Tonic isn’t the friendliest flavor. Enter the kina: a sweet, citrusy aperitif wine delicious enough to enjoy on its own before dinner – with its sweetness tempered by just enough bitter quinine. The kina brand you choose will affect the sweetness of your finished cocktail: if you like it drier, go with Tempus Fugit’s Kina L’Avion d’Or. For a sweeter drink, try Lillet Blanc. Right down the center is Cocchi Americano. Like vermouths, keep kinas in the refrigerator after opening and use within a couple weeks. Also like vermouths, they’re great on the rocks before dinner.
This cocktail dates from the Café Royal Cocktail Book, published in 1937 – the height of the Art Deco movement. Apparently it was named by its creator, British bartender C.A. Tuck, for the luxurious 20th Century Limited passenger train that operated between New York City and Chicago. I can’t find any evidence the drink was actually served aboard the train as part of its cocktail program (it doesn’t appear on the dining car menus from the period), but it certainly would’ve fit. It’s similar to the Corpse Reviver #2 – sleek and mysterious, with a hint of chocolate on the back. Luxurious and sophisticated, I have yet to serve one to anyone who didn’t love it.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Vegetable peeler
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirit: London Dry Gin (recommended: Beefeater, Tanqueray)
Liqueurs: Kina (recommended: Kina L’Avion D’Or, Cocchi Americano, Lillet Blanc), Crème de Cacao (white) (recommended: Marie Brizard)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Lemon twist
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 (1911)
Here’s a drink that almost went extinct because of Prohibition – in its original form, anyway. Early 20th-century trendsetter Hugo Ensslin‘s Aviation owes its dry, sweet, tart, and floral balance to a key ingredient: crème de violette – a liqueur made by steeping violet flowers in neutral grain spirit with sugar to extract their perfume and color. In the bottle, it’s a deep violet; Mixed in a drink, it adds a pale sky-blue tinge (hence the name “Aviation,” no doubt). When Prohibition came along, many companies stopped importing their products to the US or just went out of business altogether. Such was the case with the original supplier of crème de violette – and that’s why recipes for the Aviation printed after 1920 simply omit this crucial accent. Without the violette, this cocktail just tastes like a Pixy Stix. Not nearly as interesting (or as eye-catching) as it should be. Thankfully, as the craft cocktail movement picked up steam, we started to see a revival of previously-lost ingredients, including crème de violette, reintroduced in 2007 by Rothman & Winter.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Cocktail pick, Hawthorne strainer (if using Boston shaker)
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater, Tanqueray)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Maraschino liqueur (recommended: Luxardo), Crème de violette (recommended: Rothman & Winter)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Maraschino cherry
Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.
In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
1 1/2 oz London Dry gin
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz maraschino liqueur
1/4 oz crème de violette
Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry pierced on a cocktail pick.