In early 2021, Nick Jarrett, a bartender in New Orleans, was setting out to create the cocktail program at Peychaud’s, a new French Quarter bar that would be dedicated to classic New Orleans cocktails. As he did this, he was confronted with two conflicting realities. One, because of the pandemic, it was likely that staffing would be limited. Two, he would have to put a Ramos Gin Fizz on the menu because, if you’re a bar dedicated to Crescent City drink classics, you kind of have no choice. The Ramos, which dates to the 19th century and was invented by bar owner Henry Ramos, is one of the two most famous cocktails the city has ever produced, the other being the Sazerac.
The problem with the Ramos Gin Fizz is it’s a pain to make. It is arguably the most labor-intensive drink in the cocktail canon. Aside from having multiple ingredients, including cream and egg white, it must be shaken thoroughly to ensure a good result. How could a potentially under-staffed Peychaud’s ensure a consistently excellent Ramos?
Jarrett’s solution: a blender.
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“I didn’t want the orders to bog down service for everyone else in the bar,” he says. “Knowing that a blender prep provides an accurate, consistent, and — perhaps most importantly — faster Ramos, it seemed like a no-brainer to bake it into the program.”
And so, the 19th-century cocktail was introduced to 20th-century technology.
‘A Much More Consistent Project’
Jarrett isn’t the only person to have had this eureka moment recently. St. John Frizell, who lived for a time in New Orleans, had long served a Ramos Gin Fizz at his Brooklyn bar Fort Defiance. When he recently reopened it at a new location in the same neighborhood, he decided to start making his Ramos in a blender. Richard Boccato, the owner of Dutch Kills in Queens, made the same decision when he opened his new bar and restaurant The Gem in Bolton Landing, off Lake George in upstate New York, this past summer.
“It’s just a much more consistent project,” says Frizell. “In the past, there was a lot of room for error. The drink wasn’t always perfect, whereas with the Hamilton Beach, it always is.”
Such words might have been considered cocktail blasphemy just five years ago. The Ramos Gin Fizz is one of the most venerated cocktails of all time, and a great mythology surrounds it. There are stories from the late 19th century of the drink taking 10 to 15 minutes to make, with lines of “shaker boys” at Henry Ramos’s bar, the Imperial Cabinet Saloon, passing the drink from one man to the next. The standard thinking, still today, is that it is a difficult drink to make well, but that the effort is worth it and, more importantly, necessary. Jarrett, Frizell, and Boccato are all veterans of the cocktail renaissance. They came up in the industry exposed to that mindset. But their view has evolved.
“I’ve gotten more accepting of new ways of doing things,” says Frizell. “When I opened, I really was an Audrey Saunders purist.” Saunders, a cocktail bartender famously exacting in her standards, was the founder of the influential Manhattan cocktail bar Pegu Club, where Frizell worked before opening Fort Defiance.
Jarrett is blunt about the advantages of making a blender Ramos: “Speed, consistency, cleanliness, morale.” That last item is not a small concern. If you’re looking for a surefire way to ruin a bartender’s shift, walk into a bar and order a bunch of Ramos Gin Fizzes. The barkeep’s face will fall and mumbled curses will start to flow from their lips.
At the old Fort Defiance, Frizell used to price the Ramos a little higher to discourage people from ordering them. “They were a pain in the neck to make,” he says. “It’s messy, it’s really messy, hard to keep together. It’s just really annoying.”
Now, faced with only a blender build, and no soul-crushing arm ache, the folks behind the bar at Peychaud’s are happy to make them. “The bartenders don’t have the same reaction to an order for a round of Ramos coming in when the bar is busy,” says Jarrett.
Customers are happy, too, as their drink order arrives more swiftly.
Boccato first encountered the concept of a blender Ramos back in 2010, when he was working a party at Tales of the Cocktail, the New Orleans cocktail convention. The event was sponsored by Plymouth Gin and a Ramos was on the menu. Making the fizz for 300 thirsty guests was a daunting proposition, so a blender was employed.
Boccato already had blenders installed in the countertop of The Gem before the idea of serving a Ramos even occurred to him. “I was wondering how that could happen,” he says. “It would be busy in summer. The kids training would not appreciate the shaking.” The blenders proved useful.
A Different Kind of Ramos
To make a Ramos work in a blender, Boccato had to make some adjustments in his standard recipe. Powdered egg white is used instead of real egg, and he puts in a pinch of charcoal salt. Then he adds the right amount of ice to the blender to make sure the volume of the cocktail reaches the top of the glass. But, otherwise, the recipe is fairly in keeping with any Ramos you might encounter: Old Tom Gin, orange flower water, heavy cream, lime and lemon juice.
The biggest difference between a regular Ramos and a blender specimen is in the texture. A classic Ramos sports a clear demarcation between the liquid bottom and the thick, foamy head — a head bartenders strive to perfect. For many mixologists, it’s a point of pride to get your Ramos head to rise above the rim of its Collins glass. A blender Ramos has no head. It looks and drinks like a milkshake. But this difference doesn’t bother Frizell or Boccato.
“I’m not sure that head makes for superior flavor,” says Frizell. “I was never obsessed with it.”
Boccato does Frizell one better. He claims the separation of the Ramos proves it is a flawed drink. “A cocktail with a head on top and liquid on the bottom is not a balanced cocktail in my opinion,” he says.
There are, of course, detractors of this new style of Ramos. When Boccato demonstrated the drink to his colleagues at Dutch Kills, some were unconvinced. And Jarrett (who is no longer with Peychaud’s) used to get a few grousers at the bar.
“Once or twice, there’s been a disappointed guest who was really into watching the bartender work up a sweat,” he says, “but they usually get over it once the drink hits the bar.”
Boccato says the customers at The Gem enjoy his Ramos thoroughly. And nobody seems troubled whether the memory of Henry Ramos and his shaker boys are being properly honored.
“This may not be the standard,” says Boccato, “but it becomes their standard.”