Drinking the French Quarter: The Ramos Fizz
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.
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.
“The Ramos Fizz” at cold-glass.com : All text and photos © 2013 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.