Drinking New Orleans, Part 2: Cocktail à la Louisiane
Following on the heels of the Vieux Carré is a drink with remarkably similar ingredients but a drastically different taste: the Cocktail à la Louisiane. Like the VC, it was salvaged from the pages of S.C. Arthur’s Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, deservedly brought back from the edge of the unknown by fellow cocktail geeks:
Cocktail à la Louisiane
3/4 ounce Rye Whiskey
3/4 ounce Sweet Vermouth
3/4 ounce Bénédictine
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes of Absinthe or Herbsaint, or a heavy absinthe rinse
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Alternatively, stir all ingredients except the absinthe/pastis, using it to rinse a cocktail glass, then strain the stirred mixture into the absinthe-rinsed glass. Garnish with a cherry.
Sure, it shares rye whiskey, Bénédictine, and Peychaud’s bitters with the Vieux Carré, plus it uses an “equal-parts” formula, but it’s there that the similarities end. In fact, I’d compare the Louisiane to the Widow’s Kiss, though not nearly as sweet; it’s a fairly liqueur-heavy drink, ideal as an herbal after-dinner cocktail. Here I definitely suggest a heavy-hitting rye whiskey (you can’t go wrong with bonded Rittenhouse) lest it be lost in the hefty dose of vermouth (I used Carpano Antica) and Bénédictine. As others have mentioned, the drink should be stirred for quite a while — at least 30 seconds — and poured into a frosty glass to guarantee a nice chill: any warmer and it starts to get a bit syrupy. As with the Vieux Carré, you can vary the strength of the base spirits here, depending on what you’re shooting for: Paul Clarke suggests Sazerac rye (“downright bosomy”), an apropos choice, but be sure to dial back the vermouth a bit, perhaps with Cinzano or Martini.
Additionally, I really recommend true absinthe for the Louisiane and almost any other drink calling for either it or a pastis: it’s the only way you’ll get a heavy enough punch of beautiful anise flavor without over-sweetening a cocktail. Keep in mind that Arthur was writing about the Louisiane after the absinthe ban — the subject of absinthe in New Orleans occupies an entire chapter of his book — and he dutifully recommends absinthe substitutes, going so far as to name half a dozen or so. Go the historical, pre-ban route and get a real bottle for use in your drinks…absinthe is expensive, but it’ll last forever if you’re using small dashes and spritzes and you can keep yourself from drinking goblets of it. Doug Ford’s recommendation of an absinthe rinse, rather than an inclusionary dash, really wakes up the botanicals in the Louisiane, so load up the atomizer! Oh, and like Mr. Ford, I first heard of the Louisiane by watching Mr. Hess.
In front of the Restaurant à la Louisiane, circa 1903. I hope he’s transporting booze!
Photo by historicamerica.net
Finally, S.C. Arthur offers up only the following description: this is “the special cocktail served at Restaurant de la Louisiane…long the rendezvous of those who appreciate the best in Creole cuisine…La Louisiane cocktail is as out-of-the-ordinary as the many distinctive dishes that grace its menu.” The restaurant may no longer be with us (Arthur was writing in 1937), but at least we can enjoy its signature cocktail.
Drink Photo by IJL.