This post was originally published in 2013, which I updated and revised. It’s part of an online “L’heure d’apéro” or Happy Hour that I’ve been doing on Instagram Live on my IGTV channel most evenings at 6pm Paris time (which currently is 1pm ET, 10am PT) where I’m making a favorite cocktail live in my kitchen and responding to reader’s comments while I mix and shake. (The videos get archived on my Instagram page in my Stories, which are available to watch up to 24 hours afterward, and in my Feed, which are there indefinitely.
In the live videos I’m also talking about French spirits, a few of which are used in this cocktail, the Vieux Carré. I’ve brought this cocktail post up to the top here on the blog, and I’ll be bringing others up others, as well as sharing other types of recipes that I hope you’ll find helpful during this time when many of us are housebound. (Tonight, March 26th, I’ll be making the Jasmin Cocktail if you want to tune in. Thanks! – David
A Vieux Carré is supposed to have Peychaud’s bitters in it. It was at the tippy top of my shopping list when I wanted to make this cocktail. I had the rye whiskey in spades, as well as the other ingredients, but the bitters eluded me.
But I went to four liquor stores that specialize in cocktail liquors and spirits in Paris and three didn’t have it. And the fourth was inexplicably closed for some sort of fermeture exceptionnelle. There was no sign, no nothing, so I don’t know. I peered through the darkened windows to see if they had the bitters on any of the shelves but couldn’t get a glimpse of the bitters selection, so went home empty-handed.
I will confess that at one of the shops there was a bottle of cardamom bitters, which is likely a flavor that would have worked well, but it was €29, or – gulp – $38 (at the exchange rate at the time), and as much as I love cardamom, I passed.
Then I remember yet another store, one that specializes in whisky, and only whisky. I mapped out the route. It was on the other side of the city so I spent half a day getting over there, only to find the whole place boarded up. Closed forever. Fermeture définitive. By that point, I had no choice but to accept defeat. The odds were against me.
The Vieux Carré may have a French name, but was invented in New Orleans, not in France. (Hence the hard-to-obtain bitters I suppose.) But because I can’t leave well enough alone, or am a masochist for punishment, I wanted to also barrel-aging the cocktail and set about trying to track down a small oak barrel in Paris.
I’m not going to tell you how that turned out, but that was another expedition that took me to the far ends of France, and the internet. (Update: I eventually found one and used it to age Negronis.) Fortunately, my friend Forest lent me her aging bottle (above), which worked well, although the little fella is tiny – it seems a shame to age a cocktail, only to end up with just a few drinks. But good rewards come to those who wait – right?
But you don’t need to age this cocktail; you can drink it right away. The Vieux Carré packs a bit of a punch. This potent blend of rye whiskey, cognac, and sweet (red) vermouth result gets a rosy hue from Peychaud’s bitters, which I eventually substituted with slightly spicy Creole bitters from The Bitter Truth. Aromatic bitters, such as Angostura, are easier to find, available in many supermarkets, and round out the other flavors nicely. After all that running around, I could have used a good drink. Thankfully, I found one.
|Vieux Carre cocktail||
Traditionally this drink has Benedictine in it, a liqueur made in Normandy, France, from herbs, spices, and saffron. If you don’t have it, as I didn’t, use yellow Chartreuse or Izarra, a Basque herbal liqueur. Although untraditional, you can also leave it out if it’s unavailable. You could also add 1/4 teaspoon of a favorite amaro in its place.
1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce cognac
1 ounce sweet vermouth
3/4 teaspoon Benedictine or Yellow Chartreuse
1 dash aromatic bitters, such as Angostura
candied or Maraschino cherry
Whiskey versus Whisky (Eric Asimov, The New York Times)