I am in possession of old newsreel footage from the event I mentioned in my last blog, the day Huey Long taught New York how to make a Ramos Gin Fizz. The “deer-in-the-headlights” expression of the resident bartender, while being schooled by Huey and New Orleans bartender Sam Guarino, is priceless. Some excerpts from Huey:
”I’m, uh, strictly on the water wagon, I don’t drink anymore, I quit. But of course I’m going to sample this drink to see if you’ve made it right. That’s the only purpose I’m doing it is to help you out. (here, Huey flashes a sincere look into the camera) I wouldn’t touch a drop of it (wagging his finger) if I wasn’t trying to help you, to find out if you’ve mixed it right. (Huey takes a long pull on the drink) That seems like all right (another long pull) But I won’t take except enough to sample it…, but, better be sure about it, I’ll try it a little further. (another long pull) I believe that’s all right. (another long pull) I think it’s perfectly all right (another long pull, followed by a dramatic blinking of both eyes) I’m sure it’s all right!” (finishing the drink, slamming down the glass, the crowd erupting in applause).
Afterward, Huey addressed the reporters present. “An old family custom, my grandfather devoted his first day in Louisiana, spending it in the barroom teaching the young men how to mix drinks, and handing them back until he’d finally mastered the proposition.” When a reporter asked, “Are you sure he handed them back,” Huey retorted with a chuckle, “Well, handed the glass back.” Huey’s older brother, Julius Tyler Long, a Shreveport attorney, was highly indignant upon hearing this tale. "John D. Long, our grandfather, was a farmer, a religious man who never saw or made a Ramos Gin Fizz...”
I’ll close with one final Ramos anecdote, provided by legendary New Orleans writer and historian Lyle Saxon. Saxon lived in the French Quarter along with Joe Gilmore, his valet, bartender, and all-around man (picture an Orleanian Jack Benny and his creole Rochester). One sultry afternoon, Saxon and a friend were enjoying drinks in his French Quarter courtyard. From Saxon’s The Friends of Joe Gilmore:
Tomlinson said, “This is the best gin fizz I ever tasted; how do you make it?”
And I, remembering that I taught Joe how to make it, said, “Well, I’ll tell you,” and I began to count off the ingredients; but as I counted them off, I realized that I had forgotten one. I could not think what it was, so I called to Joe.
He came, barefooted and carrying the enormous cocktail shaker in his hand. He poured out the dividends in our glasses.
“You remember I taught you how to make a gin fizz?”
“Well, I have forgotten one of the ingredients,” and I named to him the ones I remembered.
He stood grinning at me. I said, “Tell Mr. Tomlinson what it is; I’ve forgotten.”
And Joe said, “Nosuh, Boss; if you is forgotten, that is all the better for me, and I ain’t goin’ to tell you, Suh, because the making of drinks is a strictly confidential secret.”
Well, I’ll tell you how:
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
3-4 drops orange flower water
Juice of 1/2 lime
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1.5 oz dry gin
1 egg white (to be safe, use pasteurized eggs)
1.5 oz. milk, half and half or cream
1 -2 oz seltzer water
2 drops vanilla extract (optional)
Add all ingredients to shaker along with some large lumps of ice. If it’s a large shaker, add the seltzer now, if smaller, do so later (or the effervescence will foam over). Shake like hell for at least 3 minutes (in my cocktail seminars, we shake for the duration of Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up,” but Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” will also do). Serve in a small high-ball or Delmonico glass.
To sample one firsthand, and to celebrate New Orleans’ rich cocktail history (and aid in its renaissance), please come to Tales of the Cocktail, July 18-23d in the French Quarter, where legendary New Orleans bar man Chris McMillian and I will conduct a seminar on this and other Crescent City classics.