On the back cover of the 1937 bartending manual Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, by Stanley Clisby Arthur, there’s a bit of drinking-related doggerel attributed to George C. Wailes, entitled Longevity. After two days of television images depicting rising flood waters, devastated cityscapes and a complete breakdown in civil order, this piece caught my attention, making me think of New Orleans, in its own way.
The horse and mule live thirty years
And nothing know of wines and beers;
The goat and sheep at twenty die
And never taste of Scotch or Rye;
The cow drinks water by the ton
And at eighteen is mostly done;
The dog at fifteen cashes in
And without the aid of rum or gin;
The cat in milk and water soaks
And then in twelve short years it croaks;
The modest, sober, bone-dry hen
Lays eggs for nogs, then dies at ten.
All animals are strictly dry,
They sinless live and early die.
But sinful, ginful, rum-soaked men–
Survive for three-score years and ten!
New Orleans is the most unabashedly sin-drenched place I’ve ever encountered (and I lived in Manhattan for ten years), so it’s not surprising that the city’s connection with the cocktail is long, rich and deep. Now that much of New Orleans is underwater, and the last survivors are being plucked from rooftops and the governor is ordering the city to be abandoned, New Orleans will always be linked in our minds with tragedy and sadness; but undoubtedly, due to its own inimitable spirit and limitless character, New Orleans will survive, and will blossom once more. As with the rum-soaked men in Longevity, who outlive the virtuous beasts, New Orleans has a long future still ahead of it.
Tonight, in addition to making a donation to the Red Cross for Hurricane Katrina disaster relief, I’m raising a glass to New Orleans, filled with a drink originating in that city: the Vieux Carre. In his book, Arthur credits Walter Bergeron, head bartender of the Hotel Monteleone cocktail lounge, with creation of this drink. The name is from the old French term for the French Quarter, la Vieux Carre–“the Old Square.” Containing rye whiskey, cognac and Peychaud’s bitters, the Vieux Carre is a classic New Orleans cocktail.
Vieux Carre Cocktail (recipe from Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em)
- 1/2 teaspoon benedictine
- 1 dash Peychaud bitters
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- 1/3 jigger rye whiskey
- 1/3 jigger cognac brandy
- 1/3 jigger Italian vermouth
The benedictine is used as a base and also for sweetening the cocktail. Dash on the bitters, then add the rye, brandy, and vermouth. Put several lumps of ice in the barglass. Stir. Twist a slice of lemon peel over the mixture. Drop in a slice of pineapple and a cherry if you wish and serve in mixing glass.
By the late 1990’s the Vieux Carre was on the path to cocktail extinction, but thanks in no small part to Chuck Taggart, another New Orleans treasure (though he now spends his days in Los Angeles), bartenders at the Monteleone have revived this classic concoction. Last year, Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh included the drink in his Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails, though he did double both the booze and the bitters in his recipe (only the 1/2 teaspoon of Benedictine remains the same). I’ve tried it both ways, and I think I like the early recipe the best.
But don’t take my word for it–explore it for yourself. Before you do, though, break out your credit card and head to the Red Cross–New Orleans needs more than just our best wishes right now.
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