I know, I know. A Vieux Carré is supposed to have Peychaud’s bitters in it. As you can see, it was at the tippy top of my shopping list.
But I went to four liquor stores that specialize in cocktail liquors and spirits and three didn’t have it. And the fourth, when I showed up, was inexplicably closed for some sort of fermeture exceptionnelle. There was no sign, no nuthin’, so I don’t know. I tried peering through the darkened window to see if they had the bitters but couldn’t tell and didn’t want to use up another precious day of my life since I had already spent three days on the “Peychaud’s Project”, and needed to move on with my life. Plus passers-by were starting to look at me funny as I began hoisting myself up on a fire hydrant and a drainpipe on the building, hoping to get a better look inside the closed shop.
I will confess that at one of the shops there was a bottle of cardamom bitters which was absolutely wonderful smelling and likely would have been good.
But it was €29, or – gulp – $38, and as much as I love cardamom, and spending money on things I’ll only use a few times in my life…and I have cabinet-loads of various foods and other items to prove it…I passed.
Then I remember yet another store, one that specializes in whisky, and only whiskey. (Yes, I spelled it the two different ways to give them equal time.) Since I’m nothing if not tenacious (and don’t want to stir up trouble between French and English), I mapped out the route. Luckily it only took me half a day to head over there…only to find the whole place boarded up. By that point, I had no choice but to accept defeat. Or devote the rest of my life to finding a little brown bottle of bitters with an eyedropper in it, which would be fine, although I’d be forever known as the crazy person in Paris wandering around the streets, muttering about bitters under his breath, and scaling fire hydrants.
And what did I need those elusive bitters for? I wanted to make that classic Vieux Carré, which I’d had at a cocktail bar around a year ago and loved it. Although it has a French name, it 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 try barrel-aging the cocktail, and tried to track down a small oak barrel in Paris.
I’m not going to tell you how that turned out, but I was beginning to think that the six weeks or so that it took to barrel-age a cocktail was going to be about 5 weeks, and 23 1/2 hours too long. Fortunately my friend Forest lent me her aging bottle, which worked well, although the little fella is tiny – it seems a shame to make and age a cocktail, only to end up with just a couple of drinks. But good rewards come to those who wait – right?
Rye whiskey is the classic, but I ended up using Canadian Club, which isn’t as intense as the other rye whiskey that I had on hand. But I watched a video on aged cocktails with Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who is considered the “pioneer” of barrel-aged cocktails, and he said that it was perhaps better not to start with something very strong or aged; since you’re aging it yourself and it kind of defeats the purpose of aging something yourself – which I could certainly relate to as I seem to be aging faster than this cocktail.
So Mr. Morgenthaler, if you ever come to Paris, let’s use some of that pioneering spirit and help me find those bitters, and a barrel. Believe me, I can wait.
(Actually, I don’t seem to have a choice.)
Vieux Carré / Nouveau Carré
Makes 6 cocktails
I lie awake at night, not only wondering where I’ll find bitters and barrels, but fearing the wrath of – well, everyone – if I take liberties with, well…anything. Believe me, I know every inch of my bedroom ceiling. And I recognize that this isn’t a classic Vieux Carré. So feel free to put a bit of white-out over your screen, covering up that name, and going with Nouveau Carré.
I’m in the process of barrel-aging my cocktail for six weeks and will report back. Am not sure how you can replicate the aging process at home (and if anyone has any other ideas for me, I’m all ears), but you can make these and drink them right away. If doing so, I would use rye whiskey. Canadian Club is made with rye, but does not label itself as rye whiskey and is not as strong as those that are labeled as such.
- 4 ounces rye or rye-based whiskey
- 4 ounces Cognac
- 4 ounces sweet vermouth
- 1/4 teaspoon Amaro bitters, or 4 dashes of bitters
Pour the whiskey into a cocktail shaker or pitcher, along with the Cognac, vermouth, and bitters. Fill with ice cubes and stir until well-chilled, then strain into ice-filled cocktail tumblers. Garnish each with a twist of lemon or perhaps a candied cherry – or both. You can also serve it up, without pouring it over ice, if that’s your thing. Because you’re an adult, which means that you can do whatever you want. (And if you’re not an adult, you shouldn’t be drinking cocktails in the first place.)
Whiskey versus Whisky (Eric Asimov, The New York Times)