A New Orleans original
Vieux Carré means “old square” in French. It also happens to be what they called New Orleans’ French Quarter back in the day. So when Walter Bergeron invented this cocktail in the 1930s (while tending bar at a hotel in the French Quarter), it was a no-brainer to name it after the Big Easy’s oldest and most famous neighborhood.
The watering hole where Bergeron worked is now called the Carousel Bar. And yes, it resembles (and revolves like) a carnival carousel.
If you’d like to ride the painted ponies, but can’t make it to Nawlins right now, no worries. Just mix up a Vieux Carré Cocktail—and take your palate for a spin.
Recipe: The Vieux Carré Cocktail
The Vieux Carré is an enticing blend of rye whiskey, cognac, and sweet vermouth, livened up with a splash of Bénédictine liqueur and dashes of two different kinds of bitters. It rather resembles a Manhattan Cocktail—but may be even better.
You won’t find the Vieux Carré Cocktail listed in many cocktail books these days, alas. But thanks to Chuck Taggart at The Gumbo Pages, word is getting out. My recipe is very slightly adapted from his.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to make, and serves one.
- 1 ounce rye whiskey (for this drink, I prefer Rittenhouse 100 Proof Bottled in Bond or Wild Turkey 101 proof, although any good rye will work; see Notes)
- 1 ounce cognac or brandy (nothing too expensive; a moderately priced brand like St. Remy, Raynal, or Korbel works pretty well)
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth (the red stuff; Martini and Rossi is widely available, and of good quality)
- ½ teaspoon Bénédictine liqueur (if you prefer a sweeter drink, increase this to 1 teaspoon, which is what Taggart recommends)
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
- lemon twist for garnish (optional; some people prefer a maraschino cherry)
- Add all ingredients (except garnish) to a mixing glass half filled with ice. Stir with a long spoon until chilled.
- Strain into an old-fashioned (rocks) glass filled with ice. (Or use a cocktail glass—sans ice—if you prefer.) Garnish with a twist of lemon, and serve.
- Why stir this drinking instead of shaking it? Because all the ingredients are clear—and stirring keeps them that way. When you shake a cocktail, you introduce oxygen into the mix, which clouds the drink. That’s OK when the ingredients are opaque anyway (like citrus juice), but less desirable when they’re see-through. Of course, if some cloudiness doesn’t bother you, feel free to shake away.
- When using rye in mixed drinks, I prefer a fairly high-proof version that can stand up to the other ingredients. Both Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond and Wild Turkey 101 work wonderfully well in almost any cocktail. Old Overholt, while not as high-proof, also is a good mixer (and easier on the wallet).
- There are many great boutique ryes on the market these days that are wonderful over ice or sipped neat, but I don’t like them as well in cocktails. Your mileage may vary, of course.
- You can use either brandy or cognac when you make this drink. Brandy is what happens when you distill wine; cognac is brandy that is produced in the Cognac region of France. I tend to prefer the flavor profile of cognac, so that’s what I usually buy. But there are some great American brandies available at moderate prices.
- People often think of cognac as expensive stuff served in a snifter, to be enjoyed after dinner. Although you can buy very expensive cognac that is ideal in that role, you wouldn’t want to waste it on cocktails.
- Bénédictine is an aromatic herbal liqueur. Based on the name, you might assume that it’s produced by Benedictine monks. In fact, it was invented in 1863 by Alexandre Le Grand, a French wine merchant and industrialist. Le Grand did, however, boost sales by claiming that monks at a Benedictine Abbey in Normandy had developed the beverage.
- You’re probably familiar with Angostura bitters (they’re the one brand of bitters that every liquor store stocks), but Peychaud’s Bitters may be new to you. These bright-red bitters are anise flavored, with hints of clove and nutmeg. Any high-end liquor store should carry them. If yours doesn’t, maybe it’s time to find another liquor store—or order them online. This drink just isn’t the same without them.
- The Vieux Carré Cocktail isn’t the only New Orleans original we’ve written about. There’s also the Sazerac and the Hurricane. And although not native to the city, the Pimm’s Cup, the Old-Fashioned, and the Mint Julep are also popular in New Orleans.
- The creator of this drink also isn’t the only barkeep named Bergeron we’ve written about. There’s also Victor Bergeron (better known as Trader Vic), who invented the Mai Tai, that greatest of all Tiki drinks. Were Walter and Victor related? We have no idea, but it’s an interesting coincidence.
- The bar where Walter Bergeron mixed up the Vieux Carré (in the Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street in New Orleans) originally was called the Swan Room. The hotel later decked out its bar as a carousel and renamed it. The Carousel Piano Bar & Lounge (to use its full name) rotates once every 15 minutes.
- Programming Note: For the past couple of years, we’ve regularly published two posts a week on Kitchen Riffs, every Sunday and Wednesday. Going forward, we’ll be posting regularly only on Wednesday (once a week). There will still be plenty of weeks with multiple posts, but not as many as in the past. If you’re worried about missing a post, you can find links on this page for subscribing to Kitchen Riffs by email or RSS feed, and for following us on Twitter and Facebook. Just point your cursor to the top of the sidebar on the right, and click on your choice.
Dizzy Days at the Carousel Bar
“Wonderful drink,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “And I love the name. Did you know that Tennessee Williams wrote a play called Vieux Carré? It was set in New Orleans, of course.”
“Yes, though I’ve never seen it,” I said. “He named it after the French Quarter—just like this drink.”
“The play is autobiographical,” said Mrs K R. “Which makes me wonder if Williams ever had one of these. He lived in New Orleans around the time the drink was invented.”
“I suspect he did,” I replied. “I know he enjoyed having a sip at the Carousel Bar.”
“William Faulkner and Truman Capote also visited the Carousel Bar,” said Mrs K R. “Or so I’ve read.”
“Other heavyweight authors, too,” I said. “Including Ernest Hemingway. I’ll bet they all sampled a Vieux Carré Cocktail or two.”
“Or in Hemingway’s case, three or four,” said Mrs K R. “Is there any famous bar that Hemingway didn’t visit?”
Well, if not, it wasn’t for lack of trying.
You may also enjoy reading about:
the Mint Julep
Or check out the index for more