Before New Orleans’ French Quarter was called “The French Quarter” – in other words, back when it was still French – it was known as “le Vieux Carré” or “the Old Square.” Along with New York, New Orleans is probably responsible for more classic cocktails than any other American city. The best known are likely the Sazerac and of course the Hurricane, but those are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
1 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. cognac
1 ounce Italian (sweet) vermouth
1/2 tsp. Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Shake with ice, strain into an old-fashioned class filled with ice, and garnish with a lemon twist.
This is not a cocktail for the casual drinker. First off, it’s quite strong, in that you’ll have a decent buzz by the time you finish it. But more importantly, its alcohol notes sit right up front, and proudly. The rye and cognac seem to battle for dominance, the rye providing a fair amount of bite and the cognac a smoother undertone that tasted quite grape-like to me. Or maybe that was the wine in the vermouth. Either way. There’s also just enough sweetness from the vermouth to counter the rye and the bitters. Like many rye-and-bitters drinks, the overall experience of the Vieux Carré falls roughly in the neighborhood of an Old-Fashioned, yet with some unique elements all its own. It’s a challenging drink for the palate, and, in the end, a rewarding one. Four livers, and another reminder that the cocktail heritage of the Crescent City is perhaps second to none.