The Vieux Carré is New Orleans in a glass. It is boozy and spicy but sweet. It is also bitter, but oh so smooth! It comes as no surprise that New Orleans is where a bartender first stirred this classic cocktail to life in the 1930s.
Also known as the Crescent City, New Orleans is famous for its vibrant nightlife, Creole cuisine, and classic cocktails, like the Vieux Carré.
Walter Bergeron created this iconic cocktail at a legendary bar called The Carousel at the Hotel Monteleone. Walter was the head bartender at the popular New Orleans bar at the time.
Anything but square
Besides the Vieux Carré, many cocktails were created in New Orleans, including the Ramos Gin Fizz and the Sazerac. The Ramos Gin Fizz is a fragrant, floral concoction fit for a flapper princess, and the Sazerac is a stiff drink made with Sazerac rye whiskey.
The Vieux Carré recipe consists of an interesting (to say the least!) combination of ingredients, including rye whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth, and Bénédictine liqueur, which is an aromatic French liqueur flavored with 27 herbs and spices, six of which are top secret!
Wondering about the Vieux Carre meaning? Translated from French, the name of this complex cocktail, Vieux Carré, means "Old Square." We think that it's anything but square! After a few of them, it may even inspire you to do some 1930s style dancing!
Incidentally, "Old square" refers to the French Quarter neighborhood in New Orleans and doesn't have anything to do with boring people.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, the delectable Vieux Carre drink is pronounced "voh care-eh" in typical Creole and Cajun style.
Cross-continental cocktail magic
Besides its great taste, what makes this drink super special is that it's multi-cultural. Of all the New Orleans cocktails, the Vieux Carre is one of the most interesting cognac drinks. This is because its ingredients come from all over the world.
A typical Vieux Carré recipe includes brandy, usually from France, a French liqueur, and vermouth from Italy. To top off these foreign drinks, you also needed some locally sourced rye whiskey. For all we know, this came floating down the Mississippi!
The eclectic mix of ingredients makes the Vieux Carre an excellent representation of the United States' crosscurrents during the 1930s.
Proceed with caution (or risk furious dancing)
Cognac cocktails generally involve mixing various really strong ingredients in a mixing glass and then straining it over an ice cube or two. Add a twist of something decorative, and you're set! If the flavor balance is just right, you're in for a real treat.
However, no matter how delicious your cognac cocktail is, don't drink too many of them! Mixing drinks can get you tanked in no time. You could end up with beer goggles and bold dance moves you'll regret the next day.
Is the Vieux Carré really that tasty?
Yes, it is! It's a split-based cocktail, which means that it has the complexity of more than one component that shines through in the final flavor. Rye or cognac easily stand on their own in a cocktail, but why limit your profile with only one strong flavor?
The rye whisky gives it a muscular and spicy element, and the cognac balances this out with gentle fruity and floral notes. The sweet vermouth adds the richness of botanicals, and the unique flavor of the Bénédictine liquor gives it an undertone of honey, herbs, and spices.
Even though its ingredients are strong, this cocktail is silky smooth yet multi-layered, sophisticated, and spicy. Each element plays a crucial role in the overall taste of this divine cocktail. What more can the most formidable drink connoisseur want? The recipe, of course!
Vieux Carré recipe
Over the years, Vieux Carré cocktails have made the rounds in upscale bars and restaurants around New Orleans. Naturally, the Crescent City could not contain something as good as this, and it made its way across the US.
Nowadays, these fabulous cocktails are available in bars worldwide, where many variations to the original recipe exist. We love this recipe by the legendary Dale DeGroff, a master bartender also known as King Cocktail.
Dale mostly sticks to tradition with his Vieux Carre recipe but makes some minor changes that may improve an already fantastic drink:
- Dale substitutes the classic combo of Peychaud's and Angostura bitters for his own aromatic bitters brand. This gives the drink a delightful accent of anise.
- Any quality rye whiskey will work, but Dale prefers to use a Tennessee rye called George Dickel.
Dale DeGroff's Vieux Carre recipe
¾ oz George Dickel Tennessee rye whiskey
¼ oz quality French cognac
¾ oz sweet vermouth
2 tsp liqueur
4 Dashes of pimento aromatic bitters by Dale DeGroff (this can be substituted with bitters of your choice if not available)
A lemon twist or maraschino cherry to garnish
- In a mixing glass, add together the rye whiskey, French cognac, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine, and bitters.
- Add ice and stir thoroughly until all the liquid is well-chilled.
- Strain into a glass over ice
- Garnish, and serve.
Top tip: For the best results for looks and taste, use a clear ice maker and serve your Vieux Carre with a crystal-clear ice sphere. This is sure to impress your guests!
Refreshingly different, and oh so delicious!
If you're into cognac mixed drinks, the Vieux Carre is a must-try, especially if you visit The Carousel, where this classic is still a firm favorite. It has a unique flavor profile that will have the toughest cognac connoisseurs coming back for more and more.
If you're not visiting The Carousel, and you can't find a bartender who can make it locally, why not make it at home? Just remember to make sure you get the measurements just right for full flavor. Also, only use the best possible ingredients (including quality ice!)