This classic New Orleans cocktail is a close relative to the Manhattan, only with more levels and more decadence. Vieux Carré (pronounced View, or Voo, ka-Ray and translating literally to “Old Square”) is another name for the French Quarter, the popular tourist attraction and oldest part of the Crescent City.
The traditional recipe calls for equal parts whiskey, Cognac and sweet vermouth, which to me comes off a little sweet. For this reason, I often found I like the idea of a Vieux Carré more than I actually like drinking one, after a few sips I usually wish it was a Manhattan. This is largely because Cognac is on the softer side, so while it adds nuance, the whiskey’s spice is diminished and the dash of Benedictine ends up piling on sweetness.
To even things out, I like to bump up the whiskey and pull back a touch on the vermouth. I also use 2 dashes of each of the bitters (recipes often call for 1). The result is a more balanced Vieux Carré that retains all of its trademark elegance and richness. With this recipe, it’s a cocktail I’d never trade in.
1¼ oz rye whiskey
1 oz Cognac
scant 1 oz sweet vermouth (about ⅞ oz)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
lemon peel for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a chilled mixing glass. Fill with ice, stir for 15-25 seconds and strain into a chilled rocks glass over ice, preferably one large cube. Express the oils from the lemon peel and garnish.
Alternative preparation: Combine all ingredients in a chilled rocks glass, add ice, stir, and garnish.
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About the Bitters...
Typically, I’d think four dashes of bitters in a drink was overkill, but the Peychaud’s, which are also a key component in the Sazerac, another NOLA classic, are lighter and not as earthy as Angostura. So the bitters dry out the drink and add complexity but with no lingering astringency.
Origin of the Vieux Carré
The first printed recipe for the Vieux Carré appears in Stanley Clisby Arthur’s 1938 “New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em. He credits bartender Walter Bergeron as its inventor, who was the head bartender of the cocktail lounge at the Hotel Monteleone, a classic fixture of the French Quarter. The hotel is still there and grand as ever. Today the bar is the iconic revolving Carousel bar which is in constant rotation. The circular bar moves at a pleasantly leisurely pace, completing 1 full revelation every 15 minutes.