The Vieux Carré exemplifies what a cocktail is all about. The drink shares its’ name with the famed French Quarter of New Orleans.
This drink is a classic cocktail, and really does fit the title of cocktail well. Created in the early twentieth century by Walter Bergeron, a famed New Orleans bartender, the drink exhibits characteristics reminiscent of the true definition of a cocktail, and specifically is a variation on a vermouth cocktail archetype (Haigh 280). The vermouth cocktail family came out of efforts to toy with the strange Italian vermouth that was imported into the United States during the 19th century. The simplest form, the aptly named Vermouth cocktail, can be found in Steward and Barkeeper’s Manual published 1869 (Wondrich 235). After which, as Wondrich notes, this family of drinks got into full swing thanks to the Manhattan, and later the Martini / Martinez.
If we look at the recipe for the Vieux Carré, we see it bears a striking resemblance to the Saratoga, a cocktail that bridges the gap between the Manhattan and the Metropolitan by using both brandy and whiskey together (Thomas 24). The difference between the Saratoga and the Vieux Carré is the addition of Peychaud’s bitters and Bénédictine. In other words, the Vieux Carré is a more complicated version of the Saratoga, and it works wonderfully well, pulling out a bit more depth thanks to the extra inclusions (that isn’t to say the Saratoga is by any means a bad cocktail).
Haigh states that the original publication of the drink was in 1937 in Stanley Clisby Arthur’s Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix Them (Haigh 280). The appreciation and rebirth of this drink is thanks mainly due to the efforts of Chuck Taggart. Taggart’s efforts have helped lead many a bartender and cocktail enthusiast to become familiar with this classic cocktail. Thanks Chuck.
Taste wise, this cocktail is very much inclined to balance, and relies heavily upon the spirits (as a drink should) pulling out minute flavors and aroma thanks to the accentuation from variegated other ingredients. Choice of vermouth is critical: a sweet vermouth with far too much bitter component can dominate the drink, so Punt e Mes is out. The best version would use a nice fresh bottle of Carpano Antica which is the “original” Italian vermouth, and flows with extreme complexity and depth.
Vieux Carré:3/4 ounce rye whiskey3/4 ounce Cognac3/4 ounce sweet vermouth1 teaspoon Bénédictine1 dash Angustora bitters1 dash Peychaud’s bittersCombine the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice; stir until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. Optionally garnish with a lemon twist.