Cocktail a la Louisiane – The Best Classic Drink You’ve Never Heard Of

Cocktail a la LouisianeThis 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.

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About Will Herman (99 Posts)

I don't know what it takes to become a professional mixologist, but I'm going to night school at my own home bar to achieve that status. For now, I'm an amateur cocktail creator who enjoys learning about new drinks and rediscovering the classics.

Comments

  1. Will, this is liquid porn. I don’t even drink mixed drinks, and I’m longing for it.

  2. Will Herman says:

    Ty, It’s a great drink made even better by it’s rarity. Not that frequency of consumption should change the taste?

  3. Dave Jilk says:

    Tried one tonight. Exquisite. Used 92 proof high rye bourbon and Dolin’s vermouth. Not sure why you say Absinthe is hard to get; Pernod is readily available.

    • Will Herman says:

      Pernod is not Absinthe. It is an anise-flavored liqueur or pastis. It is different from Absinthe though. No wormwood in Pernod and it has a lower alcohol content. No matter, as I mention in the text, it does the job quite nicely 🙂

  4. Been playing with this and when using 81 proof Wild Turkey Rye, we were dialing back the Benedictine from 1 oz. to 3/4 of an oz. It’s not that it was “too sweet” with the full ounce, but rather that the flavors seemed more balanced with that sweet beast reigned in a bit. Will and I discussed this and the working assumption is that your base whisky is a big driver of this. A high proof solution (e.g., Whistlepig) will presumably hold up to the sugar better while a run-of-the-mill solution like the WT I was using doesn’t require as much. Worth experimenting with if you love this drink like I do!!!!

    • Will Herman says:

      Yeah, I totally agree with Shawn here. The Bulleit I used is 90 proof. I made this drink the other day with Bulleit and thought it was a bit too sweet. I then made with Whistle Pig (100 proof) and it seemed fine. An 80 proof Rye makes this drink very sweet, IMO. It’s interesting how sensitive the balance is here.

      Thanks for the comment, Shawn!

  5. Two comments on this recipe for y’all.

    1. Pull back the Benedictine from 1 oz. to 3/4 oz. IMHO, it really makes the other ingredients shine more. YMMV of course, and the type of Rye one uses probably impacts this.

    2. I love Luxardo cherries as much as the next guy, but this drink doesn’t need ‘sweet’ as a garnish. Lemon rind, twisted and dropped in is the best play here IMO.

    Xoxo,

    • Will Herman says:

      I just made one tonight to test your hypothesis. I completely agree with dropping the Benedictine. In fact, the drink now still tastes too sweet for me. Next, I’m going to take the vermouth down to 3/4 to see what that does. Or, just use a higher proof Rye. If you give one of these a try, please re-comment.

      As for the Luxardo . . . I agree that the lemon zest does give this drink a nice, complex fragrance, Especially in combination with the Absinthe (just like my favorite, the Saz). That said, this drink is crying out for a Luxardo. No reason that both can’t be done, though. Not like a lemon peel takes up any room. That’s the way I’m goin’ – fruit salad in my drink 🙂

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. This looks like a Vieux Care with an absinth rinse, except for the lack of cognac. I think I would drop the Benedictine to 1/4 oz. I agree that the lemon twist is much more effective as a garnish. Have you been able to find real absinth?…seems to be much easier to locate now.

    • Will Herman says:

      Hey Keith, yeah, the drink is similar in construction to other house of Peychaud drinks like the Vieux Carre. I’d say the Absinthe/Cognac swap plus the change in dosages of Benedictine/Sweet vermouth make it different enough. Then again, the fact that so few bartenders serve it is probably an indication that the Vieux Carre and similar meet the drinker’s needs.

      Drop the Benedictine down to 1/4 oz . . . I’ll have to give that a try. Seems like a big change, but always worth experimenting. What kind of vermouth are you using? A sweeter vermouth might be making the difference. Antica is a bit less sweet than other vermouths. It may also be worth trying it with a higher proof Rye. Perhaps a Bonded Rye (100 proof) to see if that balances the sweeter side more.

      I have not found real Absinthe, but I don’t look very hard. Herbsaint, apparently, follows the original methods and is probably close enough. Or maybe that’s a cop out 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!

  7. Michael Meyers says:

    One of my favorites, as long as the right adjustments are made. I think there’s a reason this drink is “obscure” and “semi-forgotten”, and that’s that the original proportions weren’t correct. If you take a close look at it, it is, traditionally speaking, a true cocktail… spirit, sugar, water, bitters. Because a traditional cocktail is supposed to be a slightly sweetened and slightly diluted presentation of the base spirit, it is easy to see that this drink in it’s original proportions (2/3 sweet ingredients) doesn’t adhere to that paradigm. It is simply far too sweet. If you look further at the types of ingredients, without considering proportions, it is easy to see that this is a Manhattan Cocktail variation. From there, it’s not hard to redistribute these ingredients for a much more acceptable outcome. Whenever I have tutored someone about making drinks, one of the first principles I try to get them to buy into is that to make a drink it’s best, you have to understand what it’s trying to be.

    I’m sure that is what Jim Meehan did when he developed these proportions that later found their way into the book “A Taste for Absinthe”.

    2 oz Rye Whiskey
    .75 oz Sweet Vermouth
    .75 oz Bennedictine
    3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
    3 dashes Absinthe
    Garnish with brandied cherries

    I can tell you that I have put this drink in front of a lot of people in these proportions, and it almost always garners rave reviews. Because this drink is all about layers and complexities, if I really want to blow someone’s face off, I’ll split the rye between two complementary offerings (Rittenhouse and Michter’s is very successful) to bring even further complexity. And if you really want to have ’em floating up in the air like the dog after he get’s the Milkbone, get those Luxardo’s off the syrup and give them an appropriate treatment of kirsch, Cognac, amaretto, and Maraschino liqueur.

    While I get the idea that a lemon twist will work in this (I actually prefer a twist in a Manhattan), I think the cherries are absolutely integral here. I can think of only a few cocktails where the traditional garnish is as perfect as good brandied cherries are in this drink. That’s why I always garnish it with three… so you can have one early, one in the middle, and one toward the end.

    Happy Mixing,

    m2

    • Michael, thanks for the comment!

      The recipe you present makes a lot of sense. As you can see in the previous comments, I was using high-proof rye in order to get the drink to taste right. Your recipe does this in a better way. I’ll try it tonight.

      Excellent description, BTW. Thanks again.

      • Michael Meyers says:

        Will, I hope you’ve found the time to take this drink for a spin at something closer to this ratio. It really is a winner when the rye can come to the fore, as it should.

        When I said in my comments “almost always garners rave reviews”, I did so because, almost always, if someone has reservations about that recipe, it it usually because they find the drink too sweet. And it is still quite a sweet drink, especially to the modern palate. We’re talking a 4:3 ratio of base liquor to sweet ingredients here. I recently spun one of these up using 2oz, .5oz, .5oz and I liked it very much. That’s a 2:1 ratio and, interestingly, just about as sweet as I’d want to do a Manhattan Cocktail. My personal “thereabouts” preferred ratio for Manhattan-like drinks is usually in the 3:1 area. If you want to make this drink at that ratio, easy… it’s 2oz, 1/3oz, 1/3oz. I would argue that none of these adjustments make it a different drink. It’s the same drink adjusted to the preferences of the drinker.

        I personally find all these kind of trials to be easier and more logical and understandable when one “understands what it’s (the drink) trying to be”. Recently, I was tasting through all the winter drinks a friend concocted for a recent menu. He’s quite talented and I really liked all but one of them. I didn’t think that one was a loser. In fact, I liked the idea. I just didn’t like that the base spirit was lost in the drink. After a couple of unsuccessful adjustments, I said to my friend, let’s take a deconstructed look at this and see what type of drink we have here. Then let’s make it to typical ratios for the type and adjust from there. A couple more trials was all it took to dial it right in, and he agreed with the outcome. So the point here is that it really pays to understand drink genres and their composition. You’ll usually get to a successful outcome much more quickly, and with far less wasted product than when trying to adjust from a fundamentally flawed recipe. And whenever I’m in developmental mode, if the drink is in the Sling family (which includes true Cocktails), I use the pre-prohibition standard of 2oz total booze just to limit waste. You can always scale the drink up later if that is your preference.

        All that said, it’s only booze. Let’s remember to have fun, enjoy your drink, enjoy your company.

        Mix On,

        m2

        • Michael, that recipe is good and certainly emphasizes the base liquor, as you say – which I like. That said, I’d call this a different drink, not an a la louisiane any longer. I guess this might be a semantic thing – if a drink has the same ingredients as another, is it the same drink? In my world as an amateur mixer, it isn’t necessarily. I think of drink genres as representing a basic flavor and consistency profile. In this case, 2:.5:.5 is a lot different from 1:1:1. Still, mighty tasty 🙂

          Will

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