May 31, 2013

Happy Hour: La Louisiane

by Fredo Ceraso

Once upon a time in the Crescent City, there was a culinary institution and hotel named the La Louisiane Hotel and Restaurant down Iberville Street in the French Quarter. La Louisiane, as it was know to the locals, was opened in 1881 by Louis and Ann Bezaudun in an old wine merchants space. Their nephew Fernand Jules Alciatore became manager and eventually bought the establishment in 1920. La Louisiane was famous for its traditional French cuisine served with a Creole flare, and remained a New Orleans dining destination until the mid-1950s. Along with the stellar food came the fine wines, the aperitifs, the eau de vies, and cocktails  – including the house Cocktail de la Louisiane.

It is not clear whether La Louisiane’s eponymous libation was developed under Bezaudan or Alciatore. I’ll wager it was Bezaudan given the drink’s ingredients availability pre-Volstead Act. We can also debate whether La Louisiane or the Vieux Carré came first. I consider the drinks cousins but they could have been copycats at a time when New Orleans restaurants battled for the culinary crown. Conjecture aside, La Louisiane is a delightful fusion of the two New Orleans signature cocktails: the Vieux Carré (cognac, rye, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters) and the Sazarac (rye, Peychaud’s, simple syrup, absinthe).

However, the Cocktail de la Louisiane is true original much like its namesake restaurant. Elegant. Unique. Complex. La Louisiane is a quintessential New Orleans cocktail.  While the restaurant closed over fifty years ago, journalist Stanley Clisby Arthur kept the cocktail alive by memorializing La Louisiane in his must read Famous New Orleans Drinks & How to Mix Them (1937).

Cocktail a la Louisiane

As described by S.C Arthur

1/3 jigger (1/2 oz) of rye whiskey
1/3 jigger of Bénédictine
1/3 jigger sweet vermouth
3-4 dashes of absinthe
3-4 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters

Tools: Mixing glass, julep strainer, bar spoon, jigger, cocktail glass

Method: Combine ingredients in mixing glass and add several lumps of ice. Stir until well chilled and strain into a cocktail glass. Add maraschino cherry.

There is no doubt that this classic drink stands on its own using the original specifications. However, I have found an excellent adaptation in bartender Jim Meehan’s The PDT Cocktail Book (2011). Meehan realigns the proportions, upping the rye whiskey to 2 ounces, and squaring off the vermouth and Bénédictine at 3/4 ounces. This creates a well-balanced drink that is more reminiscent to the Manhattan and less like the Vieux Carré. In the spirit of adding a personal twist to the drink, I switched out the French aperitif for sweet vermouth and a bonded straight American Rye.

The Ingredients

Rittenhouse 100 Bottled-In-Bond straight rye (50% ABV) is the way to go for the improved La Louisiane. If you are using the original specs with sweet vermouth, then medium bodied ryes such as Sazarac 6-year straight rye or Bulleit single barrel rye are recommended. Meehan uses Wild Turkey in PDT’s variation. In my adaptation, there are a multitude of strong flavor profiles from Bonal to bonafide Absinthe to the sweet Benedictine, so I opt for my favorite bonded rye, Rittenhouse 100. Peppery spice, oak, cinnamon with a slight hint of clove, Rittenhouse hits all the marks of a stellar American rye. The Heaven Hill Distillery produces Rittenhouse 100 bottled in bond at 6 years in Bardstown, Kentucky.

Bénédictine (40% ABV) is a monastically-produced herbal liqueur comprised of 27 herbs and spices. The liqueur is over five hundred years old and traces its origins to a Bénédictine abbey in the Normandy region of France. The formula has a storied history and its recipe is only known to three brothers of the order at any time. The flavor is on the sweet side but vegetal and plays well with the rye.

Bonal Gentiane-Quina (16%ABV) is a French aperitif wine that has been in production since 1865. Bonal is a fortified red wine infused with gentian, cinchona, and herbs. It is complex with the quinine taste of cinchona pushing forward yet not overwhelming the wine.

Absinthe St. George Verte (60% ABV) is a wonderful absinthe distilled by the St. George Spirits of Alameda, California. St. George Verte boasts being the first legal absinthe produced in the United States since ban was lifted in 2007. Wormwood, tarragon, basil, and star anise, are all present which gives the spirit an overall vegetal flavor.

Peychaud’s Aromatic Cocktail Bitters are gentian-based bitters that have the punch of Angostura, yet the finesse of anise, with floral herbs and slight sweetness standing out. They have a legendary pedigree having been created around 1830 by Antoine Peychaud. The signature red color gives the Sazarac cocktail its complexion, which has made the brand famous. In my adaptation of La Louisiane, Peychaud’s works very well with the Bonal quinine goodness.

La Louisiane

2 oz of Rittenhouse 100 bottled-in-bond straight rye
3/4 oz Bonal Aperitif
3/4 oz Bénédictine
3 dashes of Absinthe St. George Verte
3 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters

Tools: Mixing glass, julep strainer, bar spoon, jigger, cocktail glass

Method: Combine ingredients in mixing glass and add several lumps of ice. Stir until well chilled and strain into a cocktail glass. Add 3 Luxardo maraschino cherries on a cocktail pick.

I think my adaptation would have made the originators proud. All the ingredients bring forward the taste of Nawlins — the French sophistication, the American originality, and Creole charm. La Louisiane is still the best joint in town.

*Got a cocktail question? Reach Fredo on twitter @loungerati, email me at fredo(at)loungerati(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below!

**Fredo Ceraso is the editor-at-large of the lounge lifestyle blog Loungerati.com. Fredo is a member of the USBG New York chapter and rolls drinks at many Lounge, Swing, Jazz Age, & Burlesque events in New York City.

 

One Comment

  • Wendy
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    What a find! Stumbled upon umami mart expecting Japanese and instead found an awesome drink to use up the half kicked bottle of bonal in my fridge. Awesome cocktail (your version) – drank two tonight , and and now I’m left with the timeless debate of absinthe rinse vs. just dump it in your drink. Either way its goes in and since I’m a gal who likes her absinthe, I’ll just dump it in. Thanks much and will follow this site now looking for more of your posts

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