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Making cocktails in Paris is fun. I love French and French-inspired drinks and spirits and featured many of them in my book, Drinking French. Recently, I wanted to make a Vieux Carré which is supposed to have Peychaud’s bitters in it. I had rye whiskey in spades, as well as the other ingredients, but the classic bitters eluded me in Paris.

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.
Servings 1 cocktail
  • 1 ounce rye whiskey
  • 1 ounce cognac
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 3/4 teaspoon Benedictine or Yellow Chartreuse
  • 1 dash Peychaud's or similar-flavored and colored bitters, such as Creole bitters
  • 1 dash aromatic bitters, such as Angostura
  • lemon twist
  • candied or Maraschino cherry
  • Pour the whiskey into a cocktail mixing glass along with the Cognac, vermouth, and bitters. Fill with ice cubes and stir until well-chilled, then strain into an ice-filled cocktail tumbler. Garnish 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.)

Related Links

The Scofflaw

Sidecar Cocktails

Whiskey versus Whisky (Eric Asimov, The New York Times)


    • mabel

    liquid amber…it looks lovely against the sunlight
    what is the floaty thing?

    • Claire

    David, all the classic cocktails were invented by people who were experimenting! If someone is so rigid that they can’t tolerate a little bit of substitution and experimentation, then they are just too sad. Beautiful pictures and, as is more often than not, I’ve learned something new from you today. I’ve never heard of aged cocktails. Very interesting. And what a beautiful aging bottle. What is that item that’s in the bottle?

    • Samantha Angela

    Love the Canadian Club shout out. That’s my hometown’s brew.

    • Olga guess – it’s a piece of perforated (for fun) oak … Anyone?
    David, you remind me silly me running around a city in a search of some exotic, sometimes expensive, recipe elements. Good luck with your aged cocktail – it sounds very interesting.

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    mabel & Claire: It’s a piece of American oak from a barrel stave, which is supposed to give the liquor/cocktail an aged flavor. I like the idea but was surprised when I saw how small the bottle was. If you’re going to age something for 6 weeks, it should make more than 6 cocktails for all that patience! : )

    Samantha: When Forest came over last time to make Scofflaws, she had me taste drinks made with Hudson’s Manhattan rye (which is great, but is also €65/$85 bottle in Paris) and Canadian Club. The Hudson’s was great but I bought a few bottles of Canadian Club on a “flash” shopping site here in France and thought I’d try it. Hey, if it’s good enough for Don Draper…it’s good enough for me.

    Olga: It’s odd that it’s always one specific thing, the thing that I am desperately searching for, that eludes me. The store where they had all the bitters, including the cardamom one, they had a cabinet-full of them – except Peychaud’s, which I think is pretty widely used by cocktail folks.

    • naomi

    You come to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail. There are usually several bitters vendors there, along with lots of other items I know I need. Fortunately I won’t need to stumble far searching. Let me know if you want me to pick anything up and send it on.

    • Tori

    A baby seal walks into a bar. The bartender says, “What’ll you have?”
    The seal replies, “Anything but the Canadian Club!”

    Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

    • MD Smith

    What’s the name of the bitters you are looking for? If I can find it in Washington DC, I’ll bring it to FBC5 (assuming I can get it past TSA).

    • Alain Harvey

    David, I’ll be happy to provide you with a bottle or two of Peychaud’s bitters if you wish. I’ll be staying in Paris for a couple of weeks beginning June 10th. Let ,e know if there are any other hard to find ingredients that I might be able to help you with as well.

    Best wishes,


    • A fan in New Jersey

    What is the last item on your shopping list? Creders? Crackers?

    • Holly Jennings

    What a great experiment. I’d never heard of aging a cocktail (beyond aged eggnog, that is). I can’t wait to hear how the aged version compares. Are you ironically going to call the aged version the Nouveau Carré? I have some Peychaud bitters. Wish I could drop by and lend you my bottle. But Vermont is a little far.

    • Vidiot

    If Bitter Truth bitters are easier to find for you (I believe the company is in Germany), their Creole Bitters are patterned after Peychaud’s. Peychaud’s are brilliant red and have a pronounced anise note.

    Or we can send you some.

    The aging bottle comes from Tuthilltown Spirits near New Paltz, NY, I believe — they sell those in their gift shop at the distillery. They make that Hudson bourbon you had. The “honeycomb stave” is from one of their barrels, and it’s how they try to increase the surface area exposed to the spirit in the wood. They sell small (3 or 5 gal) used barrels as well, but there’s a little bit of a waiting list and international shipping may be hefty. I’ve found lots of places online who’ll sell you a small charred unused gallon-size (or other sizes) barrel, too.

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    Vidiot: Where did you find those barrels in France?! I looked far-and-wide. I did get in touch with a Cognac distiller that had barrels, but they were quite large.

    Alain: I am going to London in a few months and will stock up there, but thanks. (Have considered making my own, since I’ve seen instructions in various places for making bitters. But probably easier to buy them, and faster. Um, well..)

    • patricia michelson

    I’ve just seen the bitters listed on Amazon! Going to give it a go! I’ve made the Vin d’Orange which will be ready in about 3 weeks – can’t wait – made enough to serve right through the summer! Just to say that I so enjoy reading your posts.

    • Vidiot


    I should clarify — I’m in NYC and Tuthilltown isn’t far from me, so it wasn’t that hard to source a small barrel. I’m guessing most distillers around you work with the big 50gal or similar sizes. I bet these places I found online (or the Tuthilltown folks) would ship you a barrel, new or used, from the States, but costs may be prohibitive as it’s basically heavy oak wood.

    The folks at one of the Experimental Cocktail Club bars in Paris may be able to help you find Peychaud’s, too, or have a line on a barrel. I met ECC’s Nico de Soto not long after the NYC branch opened and he was very friendly and approachable.

    Also, one of our coauthors at Cocktailians will be in Paris starting next week, and I might be able to persuade him to tuck a bottle of bitters into his luggage.

    good luck!

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    patricia: Enjoy the wine! : )

    kay: Yes, as mentioned in the comment just above, I’ve seen recipes for making your own bitters. But it’d be quite a chore to track down some of those ingredients here. So I’m a-ok buying a bottle. Am still considering that cardamom one..

    Vidiot: I know the owners of Le Mary Celeste/Candelaria/Glass, and they might have had some. And I probably could have brought my little bottle there for a few drops, I suppose. As for the barrel, getting things shipped here can be a major challenge (and with customs, shipping, and duty, it all adds up.) Lucky you to live close to Tuthilltown. Their rye is amazing..and I’m sure their other liquors are as well.

    • sarahb1313

    I stumbled upon a bottle of Kina L’avion D’or (gorgeous label, couldn’t resist even though I didn’t really know what it was) and on the back were a few recipes for old cocktails. The actual product was very hard to locate and I ended up ordering it to be shipped.
    The scent was mesmerizing.
    I made Vespers…. aside from being very potent, the flavors were unique and interesting.
    Good enough for friends to now request I make them again.

    I think you would like it- very aromatic.

    • John K

    You may know Corti Brothers in Sacramento, California has a fine selection of gourmet items including a great selection of bitters and they do mail order. I have been using them for over 30 years with fantastic results.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I know Darrell Corti and his shop is great..if you live in the US. Overseas shipping is a whole ‘nother beast as there are shipping charges, as well as a host of taxes, customs and duties, plus the problem with getting packages delivered, which can be a real challenge.

    • kathy

    That sounds like a Manhattan to me. A very uptown drink. Except, I have never known a Manhattan to contain Cognac. What does that give it? Funny, the bitters I have always used is Angostura Bitters. Have no idea even what it gives the drink, but every recipe calls for it, so, I have always added it. BTW, those candied cherries are the worst. I was just served a Manhattan at a friends house who had soaked fresh cherries in Brandy and sugar for 6 weeks in the fridge. A fabulous addition to the drink, and so much better than those god-awful candied cherries you buy.

    • Paula @ Vintage Kitchen

    I never aged at home or used hard to find bitters, but that paragraph `I lie awake at night…´ that I can relate to. Is it because food blogs give us an audience? It baffles me sometimes how many hours are spent thinking about an ingredient or recipe, but enjoy every second

    • bill

    David, i was looking for small oak barrels recently and found them advertised as vinegar barrels. many of the ones i found came from france.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks – I was looking for them in a 1–2 liter size, and there are a couple of words in French for them – include barrique, fût and tonnelet (and tonneaux, and I’m not sure what the difference between all of them is!) so it was a chore to wade through all the websites, etc, looking for them. Interestingly, a lot of French things people get in the US aren’t available in France, such as those “French” butter keepers (which I’ve never seen anyone use, or even sold, in France!) Someone who is a Cognac distiller did have some he said he perhaps could sell me, but they were larger than I wanted – I mean, I’d love to have 50 liters of cocktails aging in my apartment. Although I don’t think it would do all that much for my productivity!

    • simone

    Cardamom Bitters!!! Oh my that sounds great will have to try to and see if it is available in the USA. I am on a cardamom hit right now after a recent trip to Stockholm and going crazy over their cardamom buns!

    • anna

    No, a Vieux Carré is a non-defunct (and THANK GOODNESS IT IS) trashy bar in West Des Moines, Iowa. They had no right even *thinking* of naming that place after such a delicious sounding beverage!

    • anna

    now-defunct…. must be their cheap liquor getting to me.

    • leslie bacon

    Did you realise that both Wednesday (end of war, victory in Europe) and Thursday (Ascension) were holidays this week? The French seem to take both seriously, though there was more for Victory in my village. Every town has a monument to the lost soldiers of both wars, and wreaths were everywhere on Wednesday. So maybe that is why your store was closed….

    • Seba

    For what it is worth, the Peychaud’s produced today are a far cry from what they once were when the drink was originally concocted, being artificially flavoured and coloured. Being forced to use an alternative is a blessing in disguise!

    • J.S. @ Sun Diego Eats

    Had a similar experience trying to track down tamarind concentrate recently. You’d think it’d be easier to find given its used in Thai and Mexican cooking. I wanted to avoid going all the way to 99 Ranch and instead ended up visiting a Whole Foods, a Ralphs and a Vons plus coming home empty handed….fail.

    • Linda Sapp

    I’d like to make a suggestion, David. Download Grocery IQ. It’s a paperless way to keep your grocery lists plus anything else you want lists of. I also use it for hardware and plants. Very convenient and so easy to use. My phone stays with me and so do all my lists. They’re ever so easy to delete what you have bought and also add things you need to buy. Try it; you’ll love it!

    • Poornima

    “muttering about bitters under his breath, and scaling fire hydrants.”… are so funny….!

    • Kaylie Magestro

    Sounds to me like you could use a stiff cocktail after this adventure!!

    • deedee

    Maybe u can try Gamme Vert or truffaut ? They are specialize in gardening and a friend bought a barrel at Gamme Vert.

    • Linda

    I made my own lemoncello once and it was delicious but it tasted exactly the same as the one I could buy in the store and it was very labor intensive not to mention the waiting time. So, after that, I decided to just buy it-about the same price surprisingly.

    • Elena @MTJW

    I’m always surprised when I see Canadian Club abroad. I thought it was more of a local thing but I recently saw it in Peru! In Canada “Rye and Ginger” is a popular hi-ball bar drink (just Canada Dry and Canadian Club!). If I found that abroad I’d be very surprised!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I believe that Canadian whisky became popular in France during the years of prohibition in the US, and it’s still available, although not really widely. The French love whisky, but have taken to Scotch and primarily drink that, and rye-based whisky is hard to find.

        • Bill

        Yes. Canadian Club was originally made by Hiram Walker ltd. in Windsor, Ontario CANADA. HW made his fortune and established/expanded his business during prohibition. During the 60s & 70s Walker also owned Courvoisier Cognac (among other things). There was a lot of interchange Can-Fr as you can imagine. I believe both are now owned by Ricard (the pastis people).

    • Paula @ Vintage Kitchen

    Btw, made the egg curry. Left you a comment

    • Bebe

    The bottles of Angostura bitters that many Americans have in their liquor cabinets have usually been there for years. That is the only name I’ve ever heard connected with bitters. (A tiny sip is supposed to be very good for an upset stomach!) I think I still have my late parents’ bottle. Supposedly it lasts forever.

    I saw a mention of Carrefours as a French source. Also the internet. Nothing else tastes like it.

    • latafiolesucree

    Why don’t you make your own yogurt? It takes less work than walking to the store.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      By the time I age my own whiskey, candy my own cherries, and hunt down recipes for making my own bitters, not sure I have any time left for making yogurt!

    • Sylvia

    By A fan in New Jersey on May 10, 2013 4:58 PM
    What is the last item on your shopping list? Creders? Crackers?

    I think it says “meat crackers” which is making me giggle for some reasonl

    • Jeffrey Morgenthaler

    The next time I’m in Paris, I’ll remember to pack a few bottles of bitters in my bag for you, David!

    • Jen Norfolk

    I so enjoy this blog (and your books!). And now, my Pimm’s on the back porch Victoria Day weekend will have to include a few more selections. So many cocktails, so little time…

    • ENH

    Whisky store boarded up? A sadder sentence I have never read.
    I hope it wasnt Maison du Whisky. I fell in love with that beautiful store my last trip.

    • parisbreakfast

    Gotta wonder how much the renewed popularity of cocktails is due to the world watching Mad Men?

    • Michael Duffy

    Meat crackers? Now don’t those sound yummy? Really David, you have to start writing more legibly if you want us to continue looking over your shoulder!

    • Denise

    Ahhh, so I’m not the only one to show up at random stores looking for xyz to find them closed for a week or two, or just for the day I show up. Thanks David! I’m sure your Nouveau Carre cocktail will be fantastic.

    • SK

    You need to add some Benedictine in there! Aside from being true to the original, it rounds out the cocktail and gives it an herbal je ne sais quoi. Of course, it might take you another 4-6 weeks to find it there…

    Good recipe:

    • nbm

    David, you slacker. Obviously you have to craft your own barrels. (From WP: “Examples of a cooper’s work include but are not limited to casks, barrels, buckets, tubs, butter churns, hogsheads, firkins, tierces, rundlets, puncheons, pipes, tuns, butts, pins and breakers.”)

    • Sandra Larsen

    The glass at the top and bottom of the post is an antique pattern that I have. I have wine glasses and sherbets. The pattern is called “Tatting” by I believe Fostoria. How did you happen to show them in your post?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Hi Sandra: Glad you have good taste, too! ;)

      I did look the pattern up online and saw that there is a similarity with Tatting by Heisey. (From Ohio!) There’s no mark on the bottom of my glass but I think they’re lovely, and the thinness of the glass makes them nice for drinking cocktails – à santé!

    • Toni McCormick

    I posted on FB, but to clarify, I’m N.OT requesting any Rhum St. James. I would (after all this horrid virus is over) be happy to mail to you Peychaud Bitters. If possible, I’d like to include some other for Cedric (Le Tiki Lounge in the 11th. We tried to send him a package but it was returned as address unable to find

    • Gavrielle

    Sadly your l’apero is at six a.m. in my time zone, which is definitely a no drinking (or waking) zone, but I very much enjoyed it later. So nice to see you and Romain together! And how dare that woman say you weren’t being healthy? THERE WERE TOMATOES!!!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Yes…and fruit (lemon juice) too! :)

    • Angela

    Thanks for making this crazy time a little more manageable by sharing these tasty concoctions!

    I substituted St Germain for chartreuse because I had some on hand.



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