By popular request we’ll be looking at the Vieux Carré cocktail today. While another famous New Orleans cocktail that we looked at recently, the Sazerac, forces us to choose between Cognac or rye the Vieux Carré solves our dilemma by using both at once. It’s an extremely skillfully crafted cocktail that blends some assertive and contradictory spirits into a rather sophisticated and well behaved ensemble. Either that or it’s a cleverly messed up Manhattan served on the rocks. Something of a rediscovered classic the Vieux Carré might have suffered somewhat because non-French speakers were scared to order it for fear of mispronunciation. To set the record straight it’s Vee-you Car-ray and means “old square” which was what the French Quarter of New Orleans was called when it was still French. It’s not entirely clear to me whether this drink died out completely or was gradually debased over the years like so many others. In either case the saviour of the Vieux Carré (as well as a host of other drinks) is a gentleman called Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh. His book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails is a handy spiral bound tome (in other words it doesn’t slam itself shut just as you’re trying to assemble a drink) that as well as some intriguing old recipes and illustrations, contains a wealth of information for those interested in the old school of bartending. It is people like Ted who made the cocktail revival possible as it has been precisely this mining of the golden days of the cocktail that has given us the foundation needed to forever banish The Dark Ages and move forward.
The Vieux Carré isn’t a drink for the sweet of tooth and I find Ted’s recipe a little on the dry side with just half a teaspoon of Benedictine. I’ve bumped it up to a full teaspoon and, as other recipes call for even more, let’s assume you should adjust the quantity of the Benny to taste. The good Doctor also calls for it to be shaken but it’s clearly a drink that wants to be stirred. Don’t be put off by the need for two different bitters – they are the two that should be at the top of your shopping list anyway.
1oz Cognac (I used Courvoisier VS)
1oz rye whiskey (I used Rittenhouse 100 proof)
1oz sweet vermouth (I used Dolin)
1 teaspoon Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a DOF glass with a big block of clear ice.
Garnish with a lemon twist.
Toast Walter Bergeron for creating it in the 30s and Ted Haigh for bringing it back to life in the naughties.