I’m ashamed to admit it, but I have to come clean: As a cocktail-minded bartender, there are more than a few classic cocktails I really don’t care for. The Death in the Afternoon is one of them. The Aviation Cocktail is another. And I’ve always had a hard time with that venerable old classic, the Vieux Carré.
The drink was created in the 1930s—supposedly sometime after Prohibition—at the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans. It’s sort of a hybrid between the Louisiane and a Manhattan, named after the French Quarter. And on paper, it should be an amazing drink. After all, what could be wrong with Cognac, rye whiskey, vermouth, Benedictine, and bitters? But for me it’s a tough one; employ the wrong ingredients or balance them incorrectly, and the whole thing is a sad, muddy mess. And don’t get me started with the classic proportions, which result in a weird, two- and a quarter-oz. cocktail.
Fortunately, if there’s one thing I like, it’s a challenge. I’ve been playing with the drink for the better part of the last decade, and I’ve learned a few tricks than can help keep the whole thing together. The drink is a morass of ingredients, so using higher alcohol content will help cut through the quagmire. I also found that bigger vermouths like Carpano Antica Formula and Punt e Mes have a habit of taking over this cocktail, so I stick with a lighter style sweet vermouth. And finally, you’ll see that I’ve scaled up the recipe from the original, somewhat paltry proportions.
• 1 oz. Cognac (I use Pierre Ferrand 1840 for the higher proof)
• 1 oz. rye whiskey (Knob Creek rye works well here)
• 1 oz. sweet vermouth (something lean and mean, like Cinzano rosso)
• ½ oz. Benedictine
• 2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
• 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine ingredients with ice and stir until cold. Strain over fresh ice in a chilled Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with orange peel.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Pépé le Moko and Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He is also author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.
MORE ADVICE FROM BARTENDERS