This drink is more commonly known as the a la Louisiane or just la Louisiane these days. That is, of course, if you can find a bartender who has even heard of it. When a friend recently took me to Tavern Road, the terrific craft bar in Boston, the bartender suggested I try this based on the fact that I told him about my preference for Sazeracs and Old Fashioned(s – what is the plural for Old Fashioned anyway?). Let’s just say I was blown away. The recipe is straightforward enough, but is also very sensitive to the type of rye and sweet vermouth you use, so I did a lot of playing with it before I settled on my final recipe. More on this later.
It’s not only that most bartenders will not know about this drink, it’s so obscure, it isn’t even documented in many places. Apparently, one of the few places that one can find the original recipe is in the classic, Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, written in 1937. Clearly, a semi-forgotten classic cocktail and a hidden gem. This drink is fabulous.
The drink uses rye, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, Absinthe (finding actual Absinthe is almost impossible, so substitute your favorite anise-flavored liqueur – Pastis – here) and Peychaud’s bitters. The rye, Absinthe and Peychaud’s combo is clearly reminiscent of the Sazerac, but the twist of using smooth and herbal sweet vermouth and a good dose of Benedictine makes this a drink that really tastes substantially different from the Sazerac.
- 1 oz Rye (I used Bulleit)
- 1 oz Sweet Vermouth (I used Carpano Antica)
- 1 oz Benedictine
- 3-4 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
- Absinthe rinse (I used Herbsaint)
- Maraschino Cherry for Garnish (I used Luxardo)
Pour the rye, vermouth, Benedictine and Peychaud’s into a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until very cold. Let this mixture sit and chill for a bit while you pour about 1/4 oz of Absinthe into your cocktail glass – the one you’ll drink from – and coat the sides of the glass as well as possible. Discard any remaining Absinthe from the glass (for complete instructions on how to do an Absinthe wash, see the link in the ingredients list above). Strain your now chilled rye mixture into the cocktail glass and add the cherry. You can, of course, shake the ingredients in a cocktail shaker if you prefer. I like the still, foamless surface of a stirred drink for this cocktail.
A word about variations . . .
I was trying to make this drink work with a higher-proof rye (Whistlepig – 100 proof) and just couldn’t make it taste as good as what I had made for me by professionals. I added more vermouth and Benedictine to try to compensate, but it just lost its outstanding balance. I asked a bartender who told me that the high-proof rye was just too strong. I was skeptical, but tried a lower proof rye (Bulleit – 80 proof) and found that he was right. Note to self, brands may not matter in many cocktails, but percentage of alcohol does.
I had made this drink originally with Martini and Rossi Sweet Vermouth. The taste was rich and creamy, different from how I wanted it to taste. I substituted Carpano Antica and liked the taste much better. The spicey rye taste came through more clearly and the drink tasted lighter. That’s not to say it was less boozy or alcoholic, just not as rich.
I also made the drink using Punt e Mes instead of a standard sweet vermouth. Punt e Mes is a sweet vermouth of course, but it has a more bitter taste than other variations. To me, it’s much more akin to an amaro than it is to a vermouth. Let’s just call it somewhere in the middle. Using the Punt e Mes, the drink takes on a bitter taste, although not overwhelmingly so. It’s actually quite good, although different enough to not qualify for the drink’s original moniker. Worth a try, though.
In the end, I think this drink works best with the Carpani Antica. If you don’t have any, though, don’t be scared away. Mix it up with the sweet vermouth you have on hand (see our guideline on using fresh vermouth on our Bartending Tidbits page). It will be a terrific drink in any case.
The final variation is the garnish. At another craft bar where I ordered this cocktail, the bartender garnished it with a lemon – just cutting the lemon over the drink and twisting it to get the zest from the lemon peel coating the top of the cocktail. He then discarded the lemon peel. I liked the taste of the drink this way, but default to the highly addictive Luxardo Maraschinos when I make it myself.
The cocktail is easy to make at home, but it’s best consumed at a good bar where you will be invited into some secret cocktail society for merely knowing that it exists. Bar patrons will sit in awe and the bartender will bow to your superior mixological knowledge. Or, more likely, you will just have a great drink.