In Good Spirits

Shaken,
Not Stirred

Story and photography by Cheré Coen

The famous Ramos Gin Fizz requires several minutes of shaking to produce its beautiful frothy head.

One of the most popular cocktails hailing from the spirited city of New Orleans is the Ramos Gin Fizz, made popular by Henry “Carl” Ramos at his turn-of-the-20th-century bar, The Imperial Cabinet Saloon. There’s some argument as to whether Ramos created the drink or it was the brainchild of friend Philip Machet, who owned a package liquor store in Baton Rouge.

“Machet was an enterprising sort, and as a way to encourage business, he created a new drink from gin, cream, egg white, lemon juice, and soda water,” writes Elizabeth M. Williams and Chris McMillian in “Lift Your Spirits: A Celebratory History of Cocktail Culture in New Orleans.”

Machet offered this unique mixture to customers and soon the demand for the drink outpaced the sales of his store’s liquor, not to mention his ability to serve the drink to so many customers, the authors attest. So, Machet sold the recipe to Ramos.

When Ramos opened the Imperial in New Orleans, he sold the original gin cocktail but added his own ingredients. Because of the cream and egg whites, intense shaking for several minutes is required for the drink to produce a frothy head. Ramos hired “shaker boys” to vibrate cocktail canisters for eight minutes per drink to produce the required result.

The drink became a sensation — sometimes selling up to 5,000 in a week. During one Mardi Gras, there were 32 bartenders behind Ramos’ bar.

Ramos served his last Gin Fizz in 1919, when Prohibition began and bars and saloons were forced to close. The moment Prohibition started, Ramos published his secret recipe in the New Orleans Item-Tribune, according to the Bourbon O Bar at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, which serves the Ramos Gin Fizz.

Ramos died in 1928, his drink so renown his obituary was published in TIME magazine.

Today, the Bourbon O Bar continues the tradition, not only serving the drink but shaking the concoction for six minutes via a shaker machine.

“It’s (the machine) the only one of its kind in the French Quarter,” says Camille Harley, the Bourbon O Bar mixologist. “‘The Joy of Mixology’ says to blend the Gin Fizz in a blender, but it doesn’t quite get as frothy.”

The prolonged shaking makes all the difference, Harley insists. “When you shake it this long, it forms a meringue. It’s very frothy, very fresh.”

Harley offers one last piece of advice for the perfect Ramos Gin Fizz.

“The biggest thing is to add soda water last,” she says.

According to the owners of the Bourbon O Bar, the following recipe is the exact recipe Ramos published in the New Orleans Item-Tribune with one exception. The bar uses simple syrup instead of Ramos’ use of powdered sugar.

Ramos Gin Fizz

1/2-ounce gin
1 tablespoon simple syrup (1:1)
1/2-ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2-ounce fresh lime juice
1 fresh egg white
1-ounce heavy cream
3 drops orange flower water
1-ounce club soda, chilled
Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: 8-ounce juice glass 

Directions: Combine the first six ingredients in a shaker with one square cube of ice or three regular pieces of ice. Shake vigorously for at least six minutes. Pour the soda water into the glass, then strain the shaken mixture on top.

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