Cocktail of the Week #2: The Vieux Carré

The Vieux Carré, named for New Orleans’s French Quarter and literally meaning “Old Square”, is one of New Orleans’s most famous cocktails. Unlike last week’s entry, this is a stirred affair that, as you’ll see, is surprisingly easy to drink (or, as my brother-in-law says, “like Christmas in a cup”).

A Vieux Carré contains Rye, Cognac, Sweet Vermouth, Bénédictine, Angostura Bitters and Peychaud’s Bitters. This being a New Orleans cocktail, Sazerac is a common choice of Rye and as we discussed with the Sidecar, your choice of Cognac will influence the result as well.

The question of which Sweet Vermouth to use is ripe with drama and tragedy. Many people (myself included) swear by Carpano Antica, which is made by the company that supposedly invented vermouth. It’s rich and balanced, with hints of herbs, figs, cinnamon and something that I can only describe as “awesome fruit”.

Unfortunately, it only comes in 1L bottles, costs $30 and, as a fortified wine (like all vermouths), its flavor will diminish over time. Some say that even with refrigeration, its flavor will change within 3 days of opening and will be radically different after a month (though it will never “turn” like wine).

Personally, I refrigerate my Carpano Antica and keep it for more than a month because I’m no Richie Rich. It’s a lot to use and compared to the Martini & Rossi $9 alternative, it ain’t cheap. Only you can decide what’s right for your wallet. Vermouth quandaries aside, here’s the recipe for a Vieux Carré:

  • 1 part Rye
  • 1 part Cognac
  • 1 part Sweet Vermouth
  • 1/4 part Bénédictine
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters
  • 1 dash Peychaud’s Bitters

(for this drink, I almost always take 1 part = 1 ounce)

Build in a pint or other mixing glass, fill with ice and stir for about thirty seconds or so. Strain into a chilled rocks glass over one large cube (if you’ve got a tray that can make them) or over 2-3 smaller cubes.

In our Stock Your Bar: For $100 post, we talked about common ratios for stirred/spiritous drinks, including the following: 2 parts spirit to 1 part fortified wine with 2-3 dashes of aromatic bitters and optional barspoon of liqueur. At first glance, the Vieux Carré may not seem to conform to this ratio, but if you consider the Rye and Cognac coming together as some sort of freakish compound spirit (Ryognac?), then the drink fits the classic ratio perfectly.

This compound ingredient approach shows up a lot in substitutions and variations; keep an eye out for it the next time you’re leafing through recipes from your favorite cocktail book. And aside from substitutions, you can make other tweaks to your Vieux Carré too. For instance, I use 2 dashes of each bitters instead of 1 and I also enjoy a citrus peel garnish (orange if possible, but I’ll settle for lemon too).

However you decide to enjoy it, the Vieux Carré is a terrific drink and perhaps my current favorite. It’s smooth and spiritous, and the rocks element makes it a nice “contemplative” cocktail that you can sip while relaxing after a long day. It’s definitely more of a Fall/Winter tipple, but the Carpano Antica and citrus peel mentioned above do a lot to make the Vieux Carré accessible even when it’s sweaty out.

Here are some things to try out with your own Vieux Carrés:

  1. Observe the effect of melting ice by trying the drink once with 2-3 small cubes and then with 1 large cube.
  2. Try a citrus peel as a garnish such as Orange, Lemon or Grapefruit.
  3. Find another cocktail recipe that uses a compound ingredient approach to conform to a classic ratio.

Questions? Comments? Discoveries you need to share before you go to bed half-drunk? Let us know.

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One thought on “Cocktail of the Week #2: The Vieux Carré

  1. […] of them. This potion of Whiskey, Cognac, Benedictine and Orange Liqueur is sort of like a brighter Vieux Carre, perfect for those looking to step into the world of whiskey-based, stirred drinks without taking […]

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