Food & Drink | The Ramos Gin Fizz - Cocktail Hour - Apéritif Time
Henry Ramos’s Gin Fizz may be popular with the punters - 20,000 of these cocktails are served in just one bar in New Orleans every year! - but Henry wasn't so popular with the bartenders whom he condemned to a lifetime of muscle-straining cocktail shaking: the original recipe called for more than 12 minutes’ shaking each drink! But - praise the Lord - you can get away with a lot less, as we shall see below. But a little bit of hard labour is well worth it, for the resulting cocktail is a lip-smacking blend of citrusy and sweet with an alcoholic punch provided by the gin and a luxurious creamy foam created by shaking egg whites and cream.
This isn't a cocktail you just throw together from bottles you've got lying around; every part of the formula is vital. And compared to previous cocktails covered in these pages the Ramos Gin Fizz has a much longer list of ingredients, some of which are improbable bed-fellows: for instance, lemon & lime juice and cream are usually regarded as risky territory in the mixology world - due to the chance the curds will separate and give the drink an unappetising look. But this is what you need:
2½ pts Gin. I'm going with the trusty Sapphire from Bombay.
1 pt Cream, liquid but thick. “Double cream” in the UK; “Heavy cream” in the US.
1 pt Lime juice, freshly squeezed
1 pt Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 pt Simple sugar syrup
1 Egg white
1 dessert spoonful of Orange Blossom Water (be careful, this is highly perfumed; adjust amount according to taste)
Sparkling water, e.g. Perrier or soda
Slice of lemon, lime &/or orange to garnish
Put all the ingredients except the ice into a shaker, and shake for 2-3 minutes - this is to emulsify the egg white. 12 minutes remains the hard-core fanatics’ benchmark and some recipes say “until you can't shake any more”, but that's not necessary.
Add the ice and shake some more: a minute is enough; more if you have the stamina.
Pour the drink and its ice into a tall glass (no need to strain) and leave it to rest for a minute; this allows the creamy foamy head to form at the top.
Top up with sparkling water, pouring it slowly into the centre of the glass so that the head rises up above the rim of the glass.
Garnish with a slice of lemon, lime or orange and serve.
The test of the correct consistency is a straw should stand up straight in it and not fall over.
The most important thing is thoroughly ‘dry shaking’ the ingredients (i.e. without ice) first, to properly emulsify them. Then add the ice for the second shake because the drink has to be served cold - no one wants warm egg whites and cream.
The purpose of the long shaking is to combine the fat in the cream with the egg white and other ingredients to form a silky smooth head. However 12 minutes shaking is overkill here. The recipes you find today suggest a minimum of 40 seconds + 20 seconds will do the trick (e.g. on https://www.cocktailchemistrylab.com/) and I can confirm this works, just. So why has the myth of 12 minutes + 1 minute shaking persisted? A gimmick maybe? Bartenders’ hype? A 19th century promotional puff? Surely the basic nature of cream and eggs hasn't changed in the last 130 years... Frustratingly I haven't found an answer to this.
A further labour-saving ploy available to us today is doing the long first shake with a whisk or blender, that is before adding the ice for the second shake.
Bottom line is: is the juice worth the squeeze? Answer: Oh yes! The egg white gives it body, the cream gives it smoothness, the orange blossom water gives it perfume, the citrus provides the bite, the sugar tempers the citrus, and the gin does what gin does best.
Origin & History
The standard Gin Fizz has been around since at least the 1860’s - the first printed reference to a drink called a "Fiz" is in the 1867 edition of Jerry Thomas's Bartender's Guide, which has six such recipes. Originally it couldn't have included the egg white though, because there's no mention of any long-term shaking to emulsify egg white. So it must have been simply a refreshing mix of gin, citrus juice, sugar syrup, topped up with sparkling water.
Having worked in bars in Baton Rouge and Birmingham, Alabama, in 1887 Henry Ramos opened his first bar in the Meyer’s Table d’Hôte Internationale in New Orleans. There, the following year, he took the Gin Fizz to another level by adding cream, the fragrant orange blossom water and especially the egg white which radically changed the appearance of the drink - initially naming it the New Orleans Fizz and intending it to be drunk at breakfast. This concoction proved very successful and enabled him to open the plusher Imperial Cabinet Saloon on Gravier Street, New Orleans, where before Prohibition (1920 to 1933 - see below), the drink's popularity and astonishingly long mixing time had upto 20 bartenders at once working to make nothing but his special Gin Fizz - and still struggling to keep up with demand. To free up the bartenders, and as child labour was cheap, Ramos hired two dozen “shaker boys” and created a sort of assembly line to turn out the cocktails more speedily during parades and festivals. For instance, during the Mardi Gras carnival of 1915, 35 (!) staff members were on duty all at once, just to shake this drink. But the glaring question is why did he go to all this trouble if the same effect can be obtained with a fraction of that shaking time?
One of his obituaries recalls Henry Ramos:
Yet, despite becoming a liquor-vending celebrity, he was a strict teetotaler who took his barkeeping responsibilities very seriously: he closed his saloon at 8pm every evening, opened for only two hours on Sundays, kept a wary eye out for drunkenness and stopped service at the first sign of rowdiness.
After Prohibition ended in 1933, and as Henry Ramos had died five years earlier, it was the Sazerac Bar of the prestigious Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans (where you can still enjoy the cocktail today) that took up the mantle as ground zero for the Ramos Gin Fizz. They trademarked the name in 1935.
From the lustrous counter of the Roosevelt’s Sazerac Bar, hundreds of Ramos Gin Fizzes would continue to be churned out. One of their best and most regular customers was the former Louisiana Guvernor but at that time US Senator Huey P. Long, a larger-than-life, white suited southern Guvernor straight out of Central Casting, who used a 12th-floor suite at the Roosevelt as his Louisiana headquarters and effectively his New Orleans residence. Long was such a committed imbiber of Ramos Gin Fizzes in the Sazerac Bar that in July 1935 he pulled a political publicity stunt* using his beloved southern cocktail: he shipped a bartender named Sam Guarino from the Sazerac Bar up to the New Yorker Hotel in New York City ostensibly just to teach its staff how to make this milkshake of a cocktail, so he could enjoy 8 oz. of New Orleans when he was up in NYC. This of course helped to popularise the drink among New York’s fashionable set.
Some even suggested that Long was so keen on the building of Airline Highway - a motorway connecting Baton Rouge to New Orleans featuring, naturally, the Huey P. Long Bridge - because it would enable him to get to The Big Easy to enjoy a Ramos Gin Fizz 40 minutes quicker! Sadly, only two months after the New Yorker Hotel stunt, Long was assassinated at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge by the son-in-law of a political opponent: his bodyguards failed to prevent him being shot but did manage to shoot the assassin more than sixty times, an autopsy found.
[* If you're only interested in the cocktail stuff, skip this bit; but I think it's interesting. Huey P. Long is an intriguing character. His 1935 political publicity stunt was curious because apparently he staged this New Orleans coup in the heart of New York City to bad-mouth sitting US President Franklin D. Roosevelt… But weren't they both Democrats? Despite his Boss Hogg image, Long was not only a Democrat but way more socialist than FDR; he felt Roosevelt's "New Deal" policies didn’t do enough for the poor. Rival politicians and the right-wing press didn't mince their words: a former Louisiana Guvernor called Long "the ultra Socialist whose views outreached Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky.” Wow. In 1935, the New York American (a daily newspaper) accused Long's flagship “Share the Wealth” programme of being "molded in the criminal brains of the leaders of the Paris Commune“! For their part, American communists strongly criticised Long's views on race, the corruption of his political machine, and his “rampant abuse of power”.]
A word about Prohibition
In several recent articles we have seen how “Prohibition” in the US was a major obstacle to the development of alcoholic cocktails in the first half of the 20th century - and it certainly caused Henry Ramos’s barroom business to nosedive during the 1920s. Prohibition was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, import, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages in America from 1920 to 1933. It was introduced because during the late 19th century and early 20th, alcoholism, family violence, and saloon-based political corruption had caused ‘prohibitionists’, lead by ardent Protestants, to call for an end to the alcoholic beverage trade to cure the ills of society. It did partly succeed in this aim by reducing overall alcohol consumption by half during the 1920s, but it also resulted in criminal gangs gaining control of the illicit beer and liquor supply to many cities.
By the late-1920s a new opposition mobilised across America and the anti-prohibitionist “Wets” attacked the policy for causing crime, hamstringing local and rural economies, and reducing tax revenue that the federal government needed when the Great Depression struck in 1929. The Prohibition legislation was finally repealed in December 1933, though alcohol consumption remained below pre-Prohibition levels until the 1940s.
The Ramos Gin Fizz in the movies
By the time the Humphrey Bogart movie DEAD RECKONING was released in 1947, the post-Prohibition popularity of Ramos Gin Fizzes was on the wane, but the film-going audiences would still have recognised it as a refined, classy cocktail favoured by high society people. Having Coral (Lizabeth Scott) being a Ramos connoisseur was code for her having taste, experience, and money.
Golden Fizz : Made from gin, lime juice & lemon juice, simple syrup, an egg yolk instead of the egg white, soda water and Angostura bitters. Method: shake the first 5 ingredients well with ice; pour into a tall glass and top up with soda water. Garnish with a dash of Angostura.
French 75 : Gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and using champagne instead of soda water. The drink dates from World War I, and was created in 1915 at the New York Bar on Rue Danou in Paris - later Harry's New York Bar - by legendary barman Harry MacElhone. The combination was said to have such a kick that it felt like being shelled by the powerful French 75mm field gun!
Danger Zone : Created at Brooklyn’s racing-themed bar OTB (= Off Track Betting), it's the weird love child of a Gin Fizz and an Eggnog:
2 pts Rum
1 pt Frangelico (Hazelnut liqueur)
1 pt Orange juice, freshly squeezed
½ pt Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
½ pt Simple syrup
1 whole egg
Same mix method as for the Ramos Gin Fizz.
Phantom Drift : Invented at the Whitechapel in San Francisco. A couple of dashes of Pink Peppercorn Bitters lend a refreshing, zingy, savory touch to this creamy aperitivo fizz.
1 pt Gin
1 pt Aperol
½ pt Lemon juice
½ pt Simple syrup
¼ pt Amaro vermouth, e.g. Campari
2 dashes Pink Peppercorn Bitters
2 pts Prosecco
Method : Put all ingredients except the Prosecco into a shaker without ice, and shake well. Add ice and shake again to chill. Add the Prosecco, and serve garnished with cracked pink peppercorns.
One of very few bartenders to have given his name to a cocktail that was famous both during his lifetime and way beyond, Henry Ramos’s Gin Fizz from New Orleans may be bit of a faff to make, but we are happy this creamy, frothy milkshake of a fizz has lived on as his legacy.
Next week : We stay with a creamy head but change the spirit: the classic Whiskey Sour. Join us for another drink.
The delicious clubby Whiskey (or Whisky) Sour
Newt week on Chrystal.eu