The De La Louisiane

Proposed by: David20131013_174451

Reviewed by: Jonathan

The De La Louisiane cocktail served as the signature drink of the Restaurant de la Louisiane, once described as “the rendezvous of those who appreciate the best in Creole cuisine.” The recipe might have disappeared from cocktailian lore if not for Stanley Clisby Arthur’s Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, published in 1937.

I’m sure that makes me sound quite savvy, but I got it all off the web. For a cocktail that reportedly—and reportedly and reportedly—nearly disappeared from the earth, it sure is everywhere in cyberspace.

Truth is, I chose this cocktail because I have all the ingredients and, knowing how busy weekends are, hoped for something a little easier than usual. Silly me, I didn’t read the recipe carefully enough, as it called for a brandied cherry garnish. One can’t simply buy brandied cherries (one must make them) and, because it’s October, you won’t find many cherries about. My wife and I found some maraschino cherries—not the lurid, Campari colored ones, but really dark ones—and I also made some brandied figs, which I thought might make a good substitute.

This is a potent drink that calls for equal parts of its main ingredients:

photo-41¾ oz. Rye

¾ oz. Sweet Vermouth

¾ oz. Benedictine

a dash of Peychaud Bitters

a dash of Absinthe (or substitute—many asked for Herbsainte)

Our savvy readers may recognize this drink as similar to the Sazarac, sharing as it does New Orleans and two ingredients (rye and absinthe), but the absinthe is much more subtle in the De La Louisiane, a shade instead of a shadow, and the sweetness provided by Benedictine is botanical, not neutral like the simple syrup in a Sazarac.

Steve&LoriMy wife and I were headed to a house warming and invited a couple of friends to share the De Le Louisiane with us as part of what—my guest told me—F. Scott Fitzgerald would call “A Dressing Drink” and my children would call “Pre-gaming.” Whatever you want to call the event, it was fun to have company in our weekly cocktailian adventure.

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

This theme has come up a number of times already – that many of these cocktails are situation and setting appropriate. Obviously, the aperitif and digestif are intended for before and after dinner respectively but we have also proposed drinks suitable for a summer evening, sitting beachside and in the case of this week’s drink and the Sazerac for quietly sipping at a dark bar or by the fire.

Certainly an enhanced experience based on setting is not exclusive to cocktails. This week marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi. I heard a story on NPR marking the date and talking about his many great operas. I have never fully appreciated opera, but as they played pieces it was not a stretch to think that sitting in an ornate theatre, or sipping a simple wine in Italy, the music would be transcendent.

The La Louisiane Cocktail offered a broader range of tastes than the Sazerac to which it is so similar. In particular, the interplay between the herbal Benedictine, the sweet vermouth and the rye whiskey was noticeable and welcome. It is odd, considering that licorice is not a favored taste for me, that the background absinthe was also very much forward in this cocktail and really added to it. I took the opportunity this week to make my own brandied cherries to use as a garnish. Not sure they added to the drink, but it was a nice snack at the end.

Jonathan’s take: Cocktails like these make me feel like warming my feet by a fire and singing like Robert Goulet. Excuse me while I do just that.

David’s Take: A truly enjoyable cocktail–perhaps it was the company, but this drink seemed a great start to any evening.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

The time has come in this project to propose a drink of my own creation. We started with the nostalgic Tallulah, someone else’s nostalgia, and my proposal will reach back to a non-alcoholic drink from childhood. The only hint I’ll give is that anyone wishing to try it should make a batch of homemade grenadine this week.

The Fall Gimlet

Proposed by: DavidGimlet

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Even the name “Gimlet” has an interesting history. The word used as a description of a drink appears first in 1928, and many people associate it with a tool for drilling tiny holes with piercing, penetrating precision. Others say the cocktail commemorates the British navy surgeon Thomas Gimlette (active 1879-1913), who developed the lime-centered drink as an anti-scurvy measure. These theories may or may not be true, but the drink itself has been around long enough to make tracing it back challenging.

I read somewhere that, in the current surge of cocktail drinking, the Gimlet has largely been left behind. Why isn’t clear, but I have my own theory. Rose’s Gimlet is a dusty choice, a bartender’s friend, automatic and easy. It was a staple of your father’s generation, more cloying than sweet, more like a can of cocktail than the fresh, sophisticated, and often exotic mixed drinks popular now.

Fresh lime juice restores some of the drink’s vitality, but the recipe I proposed for this week, the Fall Gimlet, also adds warmth in the form of a trendy cocktail sweetener, maple syrup. Any gimlet requires a sweet element—simple syrup or sugar—but the idea behind this drink is to balance the sharp citrusy attack of fresh lime with the amber and mellow complexity of the woody syrup. I suppose it’s called a Fall Gimlet because we’re closer now to harvesting maple syrup, but the color is also perfect for the name, the same yellow ochre of some of the leaves turning on a tree outside my window now.

As I had trouble imagining limes in Vermont, I was a little worried proposing such an odd combination, but I thought it might be worth a try and enjoyed the direct and refreshing promise of this cocktail. Here’s the recipe, which requires no elaborate preparation:

1.5 oz. Gin

1 oz. Fresh Lime Juice

¾ oz Maple Syrup

Add Gin, Lime, and Maple syrup to an empty glass or shaker, add ice, shake and strain.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Jonathan's GimletsCropt

This has been said before (in fact it is the basis of this blog), but I am a neophyte when it comes to cocktails. The closest I have come to a mixed drink most of my adult life has been a margarita or mojito.

There was a time though when I tried a few cocktails in hope of being more sophisticated. I have always been inclined towards alternative music, but thanks to my Dad I had an understanding and appreciation for jazz and the classics. There came a point in young adulthood that I began listening to Sinatra and Billie Holiday. About that same time I thought martinis were the sophisticated drink and that would be my cocktail of choice. The only problem is that I didn’t like them, other than as a marinade for olives or cocktail onions. When the olives began to out crowd the Gin, I decided I needed a new option. That was when I discovered the Gimlet.

A simple mix of sweet Rose’s Lime Juice and Gin shaken with ice yielded an accessible drink that gave an air of sophistication. My love of beer won out though, and the Gimlet was left behind. Now I am wondering why.

This drink, especially with the fresh lime juice and sweetened by maple syrup is, to me, the best of the drinks we have had so far. The tartness of the lime is perfect with the Gin botanicals and the maple sweetness acts to soften those flavors and accentuate them at the same time. I also have to admit that as the first drink of Fall the maple syrup makes perfect sense.

Just to push the point I decided to try a variation of the recipe David proposed called the Old Vermont. That drink alters the proportions and adds orange juice and a couple of dashes of bitters (I used Peychauds) to the mix. I liked this variation just as much although my fellow taste tasters liked the simple Gimlet better. Those fellow tasters included old friends who I first met as a freshman in college in 1979 and my neighbors the next day. Just wanted to point that for anyone worried about consumption level.

David’s Take: I enjoyed the combination of flavors in this drink–the botanical gin, the mellow maple syrup, and the fresh and tart lime. They played surprisingly well together.

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Jonathan’s take: An old friend revisited was the theme of the weekend and this classic fit that perfectly. I could go back to this any time.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

We haven’t used much Rum yet so next week’s drink will feature that with a tiny variation. I have already let David know that the drink of choice will need to be enjoyed on a beach which is slightly unfair since he is in Chicago and I will be in South Carolina, but he can pay me back with some winter classic later.

The Sazerac

Proposed by: David-1

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Okay, I probably should have known that when my college-age son suggests a drink, it will knock me on my ass. A beer drinker usually, I’m unaccustomed to anything as potent as a Sazerac. Mind you, I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, just that the Mad Men generation must be much more inured to inebriation and much more accustomed to the fundamental shift in attitude accompanying such a drink.

The recipe is simple, easy enough to describe:

2 oz. Rye

dash Angostura bitters

dash Peychaud’s bitters

Absinthe (or anise substitute)

simple syrup (or sugar cube)

lemon twist

Prepare two highball glasses. Chill the first (one recipe suggested filling it with ice water in preparation). In the second highball glass, muddle a sugar cube with a little water or add simple syrup, then combine the ice with rye and bitters. Take the chilled glass and, pouring out the ice water (if that was your method) swirl the absinthe to coat the glass. Discard excess. Rub the lemon peel on the edge of the absinthe glass and add it to the bottom. Then strain the contents of the rye glass into the absinthed glass, leaving ice behind.

The end result is lovely, golden and inviting. I added a sugar cube to the bottom of the glass, perhaps gilding the lily, but the added sweetness seemed much welcomed, especially with the edgy taste of the 95% rye I chose. Something exotic lies behind this drink, a licorice undertone that marks it as celebratory, colorful. I enjoyed it.

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

It’s been my experience that when something is considered a “classic” there’s good reason for it. Suggesting that it might, in fact, be the first true cocktail gives this drink a lot of reputation to which it must live up. I probably added a bit of importance by making the taste testing a group affair at a gathering of four couples. We are long-time friends and had gotten together to celebrate each couple being married in 1988 and marking (or will be) a 25th anniversary this year.

The four men in the group are made up of two predominant beer drinkers and two Scotch drinkers. The Sazerac is a strong drink the bite of which is not lessened by the addition of simple syrup (I used a brown sugar simple syrup for this drink) or the twist of lemon. The Scotch drinkers were more inclined to the taste even if the distilled grain of choice was rye instead of barley, and decided, as long as I was in charge of the making, they would be happy to do the drinking. The beer drinkers (like David, that would describe me) sipped on their drinks much longer. That could be a sign that we were discriminating and savoring, but it also could be interpreted that this one may be too sophisticated for us. I don’t want to give our wives short shrift. They tried the drink also, but there was no great clamor for me whip up some more for them.

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Two things to add about Absinthe. Considering the addition to the drink is just a swirl in a cold glass and then pouring the rest out, it is very distinctive. The other is that, now that I have a whole bottle of the stuff, I would welcome suggestions as to what I should do with the rest. Okay three things really: celebrating multiple 25th anniversaries leaves the pun “absinthe makes the heart grow fonder” impossible to leave unsaid.

Jonathan’s take: I will try it again, if for no other reason than to use the absinthe, but, unless I find myself in New Orleans, probably would never order it.

David’s take: I’m not sure I’d order this drink too often. As much as I enjoyed the Sazerac, it’s a little like a martini to me, too much for the humble mind of this cocktailian.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

Someone has to end the brown liquor theme and I am going to do it. I’m also breaking from the classics theme and suggesting a variation on the Mojito. The Pink Mojito recipe I have found falls squarely into the trendy category and seems like a good choice for the end of summer that Labor Day marks.