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Drinking the French Quarter: The Ramos Fizz

Ramos Fizz, photo © 2013 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.

So I’ve been shaking a Ramos Fizz for ten minutes now, in an effort to find out if the legend is true, that you have to shake this drink for a quarter hour to achieve the required consistency. It seems like a very, very long time. The shaker is really icing up. I’m thinking there may be something to David Wondrich’s speculation about those fifteen minutes, that “…it only seemed that long, especially to the guy who had to do all the work.”

The Ramos Fizz—or “Ramos Gin Fizz,” as Huey Long called his favorite drink—is one of New Orleans’s most famous cocktails. And it’s all about the texture achieved by long shaking.

Henry “Carl” Ramos insisted that his fizz be shaken (and shaken and shaken) to reach the proper milky consistency. It’s hard to believe that any bartender could afford to shake for the purported fifteen minutes in a commercial setting, but it’s well-documented that during the drink’s pre-Prohibition heyday, bars would hire extra “shaker boys” in an effort to achieve just the right texture and body.

Ramos first served his namesake drink in 1888. Only a year earlier, Jerry Thomas’s Bartenders Guide had first recorded the basic “gin fiz” template: a simple gin sour with a splash of seltzer, very similar to the Tom Collins.

But the Ramos Fizz is a far cry from the simplicity of the original.

It’s all about texture

A popular exercise in the late nineteenth century was adding milk, cream, or egg (whites, yolks, or both) to cocktails and sours to change their texture, and texture seems to be what the Ramos Fizz is all about. In the traditional parlance of the day, customers could order, for example, a Cream Fiz, a Silver Fiz (with eggwhite), or perhaps a Diamond Fiz, topped up with champagne (and known for most of the past century as the French 75.) Ramos decided to gild the lily by combining both eggwhite and cream into his version of the Gin Fiz; and, with a typical New Orleans flourish, he topped it off with a dash of orange flower water. The Ramos Fizz was born.

The Ramos Fizz, photo © 2013 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.

The Ramos Fizz

Ramos was very particular about the drink’s texture. Eric Asimov recounts a 1928 interview from the New Orleans Item-Tribune, where Ramos is reported to have declared that you “shake and shake and shake until there is not a bubble left but the drink is smooth and snowy white and of the consistency of good rich milk.”

The Ramos Fizz recipe

We’re lucky to have the recipe—Ramos kept the formula a secret for decades; Prohibition seems to have convinced him to share his creation, perhaps from fear that it would be lost to posterity. Meanwhile, Harry McElhone published a nearly identical recipe called the “New Orleans Gin Fizz” in his 1927 Barflies and Cocktails; Harry Craddock picked that one up in 1930 for The Savoy Cocktail Book.

The Ramos Fizz / New Orleans Gin Fizz

  • 1½ oz Old Tom gin (Ransom, Hayman’s), or Plymouth gin
  • 1 oz heavy cream
  • 1 raw egg white
  • ¾ oz simple syrup (or 1 Tbsp fine sugar)
  • ½ oz fresh lime juice
  • ½ oz fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp (2–3 dashes) orange flower water
  • 1 oz sparkling water

“Dry shake” (no ice) all ingredients—including the water—for two minutes. Add ice, and shake for an additional two minutes, more if you can, or until you can’t stand to shake anymore. Strain into a tall tumbler or Collins glass. Optionally, garnish with a wheel of orange.

Choose a gin that is not too juniper-heavy; sweeter gins are preferable. Ramos’s original recipe called for Old Tom; Plymouth is a pleasant alternative.

The thick richness of the proper cream is one of your best tools in achieving Ramos’s “good rich milk” consistency. Heavy cream is preferable to half-and-half. Low-fat and no-fat dairy just don’t work in this drink.

Orange flower water is the hallmark of this drink, and this is a case where there is no substitute. Without it, the drink you make is not a proper Ramos Fizz.

There’s something strange about the water in the recipe. Ramos indicates a specific measure of sparkling water, and does not use terms like “splash” or “top up.” His wording, immediately after the ingredient listing, is “Together well shaken and strained.” Every other Fizz gets the splash of bubbly as a finishing touch—the “fizz”—but I infer from his wording is the sparkling water is added before shaking. This flattens the sparkle utterly, but it does help to assure the homogenous creamy texture. (I wish I knew if this is to be taken literally, or if it was a careless shorthand statement of the standard fizz technique.)

So how long  do you shake a Ramos Fizz?

Meanwhile, back to that freezing cocktail shaker…

Don’t tell anyone, but I really did shake that Ramos Fizz for fifteen minutes.

I can tell you that you don’t really need to shake the Ramos Fizz for fifteen minutes. Or even for ten. I recommend a “dry shake,” with no ice, for about two minutes, then a shake with ice for a minimum of two more minutes—a total of four minutes shaking. What I learned from the fifteen-minute shake (and from eight- and ten-minute shakes) is that no magical transformation happens after a special number of minutes; each minute of shaking provides only incremental improvement in texture. A longer shake will always get you closer to Ramos’s “good rich milk”—and that is a gorgeous drink—but you’re most of the way there after four or five minutes.

Labor intensive and time-consuming to prepare, you’ll rarely find a bartender eager to prepare a Ramos Fizz. You’ll have to make it yourself, and it will be work, but it’s a delightful confection, and well worth the effort.

And it doesn’t take fifteen minutes.


56 Responses to “Drinking the French Quarter: The Ramos Fizz”

  1. scomorokh

    Hi Doug! Nice to meet you again :)

    I am a big fan of cocktails with egg white and The Ramos Fizz sounds absolutely great. What you think about Clover Club? Clover Club and Royal Clover Club are my favorites now.

    Reply
    • Doug Ford

      Hi, Scomorokh,

      The Clover Club has been on my list of “drinks to try” for a very long time, but other drinks keep slipping in ahead of it. Now you’ve renewed my interest, and I’ll be making one soon. Thanks!

      Reply
  2. Matty

    We love the Ramos Fizz in this household. Rather than doing the ten-minute shake (or even the dry shake), though, I use one of those milk frother wands for a minute or two before adding ice and shaking. As far as I can tell, that nicely duplicates the effect of the long shake, and it’s much quicker and easier.

    Here’s a question for you. Do you know how Ramos should be pronounced? Is it a Spanish-style “a” (as in “nachos”) or an Americanized long-”a”?

    Reply
    • Doug Ford

      Matty,

      I’ve occasionally pondered those frothers, and shaking (and shaking and shaking) Ramos Fizzes got me to wondering about them again. Now I know. Thanks!

      (That long shake also got me wondering if a standard blender would ease the effort involved; suspecting that I’m not the only person who would consider that, I got out the old Waring and gave it a try. This was a disaster—the blender’s action is far too violent, and churned the solids out of the cream. No. Butter bits in my foam, that’s completely wrong, and quite unappetizing.)

      As for the proper pronunciation of “Ramos,” I had never considered that before. I’ve always heard “Ray-mus,” like when the doomed bartender preps one for Lizabeth Scott in Dead Reckoning, “Good evening, Mrs. Chandler. A Ramos Gin Fizz?” (That Fizz shows up in about 30 seconds—just long enough for Bogart to introduce himself. Ah, the magic of cinema…)

      Reply
      • msilverz

        I had that same blender experience, Doug! The Butter Fizz turned out not to be very enjoyable. The frother — a much more gentle device — was suggested to me by one of the bartenders at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco (right before he used one to make a superb Ramos Fizz).

        Reply
  3. theboolion

    I admire your dedication in testing the times. When I did this drink, I went for 6, but man, my hands were freezing. I also learnt: 1. Don’t overdose the orange flower water. 2. Tanqueray doesn’t work.

    As for pronunciation, I got into an argument with my bartender about this last weekend. He insisted on Rah-mos, which is the most logical, but when I researched it, I was pretty sure it was Ray-mos.

    Anyway, it’s a really nice drink (and a nice way to piss off a bartender.

    Reply
    • Doug Ford

      Shaking the Ramos Fizz will give you frostbite, that’s for sure. I had to start wrapping the shaker in a towel to survive.

      Good point on the orange flower water, I forgot to emphasize how easy it is to use too much. (My bride would not have forgotten—even one drop is too much for her.)

      Reply
    • Doug Ford

      If this was Harrison’s favorite drink, he certainly was aware of fashion—the Ramos Fizz would have been brand new as he came into office. Good for him!

      The other interesting thing in that link is that apparently the Willard Hotel claims the first soda fountain in DC.

      Reply
  4. Nerd With Taste

    This is actually a really interesting background on a drink! I had no idea that people would actually shake anything for longer than ten seconds! Haha! Congrats on FP! ~nerdwithtaste.wordpress.com

    Reply
  5. D. A. Hartley

    The Ramos Fizz, what memories it brings back. It used to be my New Years Day, official drink. I just copied your recipe, and can’t wait to try it.
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Doug Ford

      It’s pleasing you should mention the Ramos Fizz as a New Year’s ritual. The impetus for this article was a conversation with a friend, who reminded me that he has long had the same family ritual; he learned the Ramos Fizz from his parents, who always welcomed New Year’s Day with one or two (or so.)

      Reply
  6. Shawn

    wow, never read such a complete history on a cocktail before. gives me something to think about for my next fizz so thanks!

    Reply
  7. Soulchristen

    Just wanted to offer thanks on a new gin protocol to add to my ‘I’m out of tonic water’ collection! Also, two-penny thoughts on the pronunciation – having grown up inside the border of the NOLA patois, I’d wager that RAY-mus would be a common (if not correct) pronunciation. Cheers!

    Reply
  8. jimceastman

    I’ve tried this one before but I couldn’t make it perfectly. :-) Thanks for sharing your version. I will definitely try this out! BTW. Congrats for being on FP. I enjoyed stopping by your blog!

    Reply
  9. barelypoppins

    This sounds exhausting. I’m a little concerned about trying to drink it with a jelly arm after all that shaking but does sound like one to try on a 4-5 min regime. Thanks for all your ‘testing’.

    Reply
    • Doug Ford

      The long shake is exhausting for sure—”jelly arm,” that’s a good description, and it doesn’t do much for the back and shoulders, either. The 4-5 minute shake is just fine.

      Reply
  10. Mitzi McColley Sorensen

    The Ramos Fizz is my favorite brunch drink. I first tried it twenty years ago in Lake Tahoe, California. But now I can’t get a bartender in California to make one because of the raw egg. Even the promise of a big tip doesn’t seem to help.

    Reply
    • Doug Ford

      I see the bartenders’s point—they have to protect their business, and if they don’t trust their egg supply, they can’t put themselves on the line with raw egg. I guess that’s one of the good things about making these drinks at home—you can use ingredients as you see fit. One of the things I like about Minnesota is that the egg supply seems to be very low risk so far, and I can use egg in these classic drinks fearlessly.

      Reply
    • Doug Ford

      A very interesting list—sort of like a survey class in college! Congratulations to you for working your way through.

      Reply
  11. champagne

    This is a wonderful, wonderful post. It makes me want to return to New Orleans so badly. You reminded me of sitting at Muriel’s, waiting for my first Ramos Gin Fizz, feeling adventurous. I. Loved. It.

    Other great drinks I’ve had are French75′s “French 75s” or a Napoleon Houses’ “Pimm’s Cup”… or Bayona’s “Stormy Morning”… or a Commander’s “Whiskey Smash” … the Ritz’ “Papa Doble”… a g&t at the Spotted Cat… I’ve left out a bunch others, there are so many great 1920s classic options.

    I love that you did the scientific (and culinary) experiments for us, too! And I’m glad it doesn’t require a full 15 minutes, either!!

    Loved this entry!

    Reply

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