In a world of drinks populated by bottles of cheap lager, vodka and Red Bull and anything-and-Coke, it would seem that the Ramos Gin Fizz is destined for extinction. With its long list of ingredients–including cream and raw egg white, plus the difficult-to-find orange flower water–and the physical effort involved in its mixing–most bar manuals recommend it be shaken vigorously for anywhere between two and twelve minutes–the Ramos Gin Fizz harks back to a day before instant messaging–hell, before telephones. Given the strikes against this drink, one could be forgiven the notion that the Ramos Gin Fizz is perpetually perched at the edge of the abyss, ready to follow other libations of its vintage, such as the sherry cobbler and the brandy flip, into the realm of deceased and near-forgotten cocktails, documented only in dusty bar manuals and recalled only as a mixological oddity.
But while it may seem at first blush that this drink is long overdue to take its place alongside the dodo and $2 gas, the Ramos Gin Fizz has managed to outlast every drink fad for the past 117 years, ever since it was first presented to an appreciative public by Henry C. Ramos back in 1888. Ramos debuted this drink at his Imperial Cabinet saloon, located on the corner of Fravier and Carondelet streets in New Orleans, but the drink cemented its reputation at the bar Ramos purchased in 1907, The Stag, opposite the Gravier Street entrance to the St. Charles Hotel. At The Stag, the drink quickly become an emblematic New Orleans cocktail, one that gained particular fame during that city’s legendary festivals. In Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, Stanley Clisby Arthur writes that at The Stag, “the corps of busy shaker boys behind the bar was one of the sights of the town during Carnival, and in the 1915 Mardi Gras, 35 shaker boys nearly shook their arms off, but were still unable to keep up with the demand.”
With a following such as this, it’s not surprising that Ramos kept the recipe for his fizz a closely guarded secret. But legend has it that upon the enactment of Prohibition, Ramos decided to freely distribute his recipe. Perhaps, as Charles H. Baker, Jr., speculates in The Gentleman’s Companion, Ramos did this because he was “thinking that the formula, like any history dealing with the dead arts, should be engraved on the tablets of history;” or, as has also been suggested, Ramos released his recipe as an act of civil disobedience in an effort to subvert the Volstead Act, hoping that the curious masses would seek to sidestep the law in order to create this legendary drink for themselves.
Whatever the reason, Ramos deserves a big star on the Cocktail Walk of Fame. The Ramos Gin Fizz is a luxurious drink: The prolonged shaking aerates the cream and egg white and creates a mix of silky texture, and the combination of juices and botanicals makes for a complex layer of flavor.
Of course, it’s still a pain to make. Almost every bar manual from Baker on down calls for making this drink in a blender, which greatly reduces the effort involved. But here’s where I wear my cocktail purist heart on my sleeve: To enjoy a spectacular drink such as a Mint Julep or a Ramos Gin Fizz, sometimes a bit of effort should be required. The Ramos Gin Fizz contains the essence of a particular time and place, and while modern innovations may make things easier for the home bartender, the full character of the drink is missed if one simply pours the ingredients into a glass canister and pushes a button.
In Arthur’s book, he notes that experienced bartenders shake the drink until the mix achieves a certain body, at which point it feels “ropy” in the mixing tin. At a recent dinner party I mixed up several batches of these by hand, shaking vigorously until I detected this “ropy” character inside my shaker. While I was sweating and swearing by the time the drinks were all served, I found a certain satisfaction in sitting down and enjoying a cocktail that refuses to be hurried. Briefly, memorably, life slowed down.
Ramos Gin Fizz (recipe from David Wondrich’s Esquire Drinks)*
Combine in a cocktail shaker:
- 2 ounces gin
- 1 ounce heavy cream
- 1 egg white
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- juice of 1/2 lime
- 2 teaspoons bar sugar
- 2 to 3 drops orange flower water
Add plenty of cracked ice and shake vigorously for a minimum of one minute, preferably two. Strain into a chilled Collins glass, and add chilled club soda until an inch or so from the top.
* some recipes also call for 1 or 2 drops of vanilla extract per drink. This touch is unnecessary, in my opinion, but try it both ways to see what you prefer.
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