In Praise of Difficult Drinks, Part I: The Ramos Gin Fizz

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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30 Responses to In Praise of Difficult Drinks, Part I: The Ramos Gin Fizz

  1. c says:

    I’ve been a fan of the Ramos Gin Fizz for years … it’s something of a family tradition, and (for readers who are thinking otherwise) I second the motion that it’s well worth the effort of the shaking required. Don’t know that I’ve ever tried blending one… the thought of liquifying that much ice into the drink puts me off.

    Much of the time, I make what I suppose is a Royal Ramos, not bothering to separate out the yolk, and often with a slug of Campari for a little something extra and a lovely peachy hue. Oh, and always served in goblets, so that the orange flower water’s aroma hits your nose.

    Do you happen to have the phonetic word from on high re: pronunciation? I’ve heard both Rah-mose and Ray-mose, and while the former is certainly how I’d read it, Louisiana does strange things with vowels sometimes. Been meaning to poll eGullet on the subject but never get around to it.

  2. paul says:

    Thanks for the note–when serving them, I typically stray from orthodoxy myself and use double old-fashioned glasses or those kinds of wide-mouth tumblers like they serve Sazeracs in (though the larger version of the glass). I know it probably lets the fizz out faster etc etc, but they seem appropriate in a way. Plus, I once saw a photo in Saveur of a tray of Ramos fizzes in those tumblers–I think the story was on New Orleans cuisine–and I got all misty-eyed and swoony. Love, you might say.

    No clue on the Ray-mose vs. Rah-mose–I usually use the latter, myself, but what the hell do I know.

  3. Anna says:

    this drink sounds absolutely great.

    this is exactly the kind of cocktail i would adore.

    and lucky for me orangeflower water is pretty easy to find in australia.

  4. Sharon says:

    I have been a fan of this drink for years. I was first served this drink by a gourmand friend for Christmas brunch along with Eggs Sardou. Yum.

  5. Brooks says:

    I was born in New Orleans in 1951. My parents and grandparents all said “RAY-moss.” In fact, except for one small variant (“-mose” instead of “-moss’), I’ve never heard a native New Orleanian pronounce it any other way.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Mr. Ramos pronounced his name differently, since pronunciations change over time — especially in New Orleans!

  6. Kurt Niernberger says:

    We are from New Orleans and now live in Dallas. Does anyone
    know where to find orange flower water?

    Thanks

  7. HI,
    “Ramos” has spanish origins. At least in Spanish it is pronounced “Ra” as the same of “RApid” and “MOS” as
    the supermodel Kate moss.
    (now say it alltogether!!)

    Kurt, I guess you candfind orangeflower water at the ames hsops you buy stuff for cooking birthday cakes or similar

    By the way, I beleive tatmineral water should be palced at first, since it will mixbetterand easierjustwith 1 stir and kkepthe fizziness

    Cheers!
    LR

  8. Ups! I think I need to write more slowly and press the “space bar” harder!
    Sorry for the letters at wrong places, it seemed that they were having RGFs!
    LR

  9. miriam says:

    Wow, is all I can say after trying a few of these!

    Well worth buying nice shakers (nice, so they don’t LEAK), chilling the glasses, and all the measuring, squeezing and shaking. And practice. Especially practice, so not to leave out an ingredient or a step!

    I use simple syrup instead of bar sugar, though I’d like to try muddling a lemon twist with the sugar before pouring in the drink. Lemon twists are a really nice in this drink in any case, though.

    Some recipes don’t call for soda at all. Amazingly enough, the drink still seems “fizzy” without it. Chemistry? If I do use soda at all, I add it to the shaker & shake it up into the drink rather than stirring it into the glass after the drink is poured in. Otherwise, the egg whites separate & float on top in a foamy head. Some might that white moustache, but I don’t. Plus, I like the drink to have the creamy consistency and look of whole milk.

    Keep threatening to buy some swizzle sticks, and intending to try pieces of fresh Lemon Grass instead.

    Ramos Gin Fizz has to be the most refreshing and delicious hot weather drink I’ve ever had.

    Thanks for putting it up on this website!

  10. miriam says:

    Oh, and down here in the veritable Heartland of Cocktails, far as I know, it’s pronounced only one way: RAY-mus.

    Yeah, I know. It’s of Spanish origin and should be RAH-mos.

    Must be a New Orleans thing.

  11. Les says:

    If you want the easy way out: Use Ice Mist (MPK Foods) instead of all those ingredients. Still tastes great. Ice mist has powdered egg white in it. And orange juice is a valid substitute for for orange water.

  12. Total Blam says:

    Would you say that orange bitters is a suitable substitute for orange flower water?

  13. Paul says:

    Two things:

    * No, orange juice is not a valid substitute for orange flower water. They don’t taste anything alike.

    * Ditto for orange bitters.

    As its name suggests, orange flower water is from the blossoms of the plant, not the fruit or its peel, and as a result smells and tastes light and floral, not bitter, sweet or citrusy in any way.

  14. Brooks says:

    Middle Eastern orange flower water, while easier to find than French orange flower water, is not as good. One good French brand is A. Monteux. If you can’t find it locally, it’s available through Amazon.

  15. Kevin says:

    I recently tried my first Ramos Gin Fizz, and loved I loved it! Not sure which brand of orange flower water I used, but it’s the one in the small blue bottle. I also used one ounce of simple syrup in place of sugar.

    I was willing to put in 3 minutes worth of shaking. Does shaking it longer really yield any discernible advantages?

  16. [...] the time and effort. It’s a great-tasting cocktail with a wonderful history (read Paul Clarke’s article from way back when to read up on all that and more). So if you’re feeling ambitious this weekend and can get your [...]

  17. [...] would have it I’ve blogged about most all of them over the years (how’s it goin’, Ramos Fizz? Hey, Tom & Jerry, see you at Christmas). Open the category to eggs, and okay, now you’re [...]

  18. Kait says:

    I have looked back at this link for years as the Ramos is my favorite drink. Whatever heaven may be, it surely is is in a glass of of a well made Ramos!
    They are impossible to come by here in Portland Oregon. I was working at a bar and spent weeks at home perfecting the Ramos before introducing it to be sold. The bar was brand new and I was only working two days a week. I left, and so did the Ramos as I was the only one able to make it.
    I am a natural perfumer on the side and have created a perfume in tribute to the Ramos though it has other floral notes. I thought I would let you and your readers know you can buy Orange Blossom and the Water Absolute. It is an amazing find. They have samples for just 2 dollars at Eden Botanicals on-line. I just thought I would let you know. if you are into smelling or experiencing pure aromas.

  19. [...] in the glass, and smooths out the texture of the drink. One of the major classic cocktails, the Ramos Gin Fizz, is renowned in large part for its characteristic egg-white-and-cream foam, and the trouble it [...]

  20. [...] end of the bar. Plus, I got to experience the awkwardness of watching Romdall douse a big round of Ramos Fizzes with the smoky violence of [...]

  21. [...] identical the the one given above. Check out Jay Hepburn’s post, Paul Clarke’s post and article, Darcy O’Neil’s post, and David Wondrich’s Esquire article for more, [...]

  22. [...] there are some grand morning drinks out there — think the Ramos Fizz, the French 75 or the Milk Punch – as well as the old standbys (the Bloody Mary, of course, [...]

  23. Steve Day in the UK says:

    I just made my first one but without soda water and with at least 20 drops of orange flower water (no dripper on bottle!)
    Have to say it is delicious, the most gorgeous cocktail ever!
    Will try next time including soda water but as previous poster said, there is a clear fizz anyway!

  24. Brad says:

    I couldn’t imagine making this thing with a blender. The blades would chop up a ton of ice, and end up making an over-watered mess. Part of the real perk of this drink was that it was thicker and silkier, and still had a juicy flavour and a fizzy texture.

    Use BIG ICE. Get yourself the biggest ice cubes that you can find, and use that. Shake the hell out of it. Shake it until your arms are tired, and then switch grips and shake it some more. I never made 12 minutes, but after 3 and a bit, it tasted pretty good.

    Lemongrass might just be worth putting in here, muddled in the bottom of the shaker with some coarse sugar, in favour of my current simple syrup. I’m off to experiment.

  25. [...] I thought what better format to get the idea of the Thai Iced tea cocktail across than as a Ramos Gin Fizz, in my opinion the king of cocktails, hence the convent play on words, fitting the Thai theme. In [...]

  26. Awesome! says:

    I read about RGF in a novel decades ago and finally got to try one in NO at the Roosevelt Hotel in 1995 and have loved it since. I have not found a good one outside of NO but I keep trying.

  27. WMD says:

    It is RAY-mus in pronounciation, and should be shaken to Hell and back, with ice added only on the way back.

  28. TR says:

    Here’s my version, for those who like their cocktails a bit sweeter. Since I didn’t have cream on hand, I added thick yogurt with vanilla flavor instead. Still, this cocktail tasted too sour to me. So, I added a little bit of Grenadine. My cocktail has pretty pink color and is so sour sweet yummy. Love it!

  29. There is nothing quite like the enjoyment of a Ramos Gin Fizz at the Carousel Bar in the historic Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans. Good luck to you asking for this drink in Morristown, NJ (where I live)…. you’ll be greeted with a blank stare or worse!

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