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The Cocktail College Podcast: How to Make the Perfect À La Louisiane

On this episode of the “Cocktail College” podcast, host Tim McKirdy sits down with William Elliott, managing partner and executive bar director of New York’s Maison Premiere, to unravel the mysteries and magic of À La Louisiane. Although it doesn’t enjoy as much attention as drinks like the Sazerac, Ramos Gin Fizz, and Vieux Carré, this cocktail is wonderful, and serves as a veritable love letter to the grand city of New Orleans. Tune in for more.

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William Elliott’s À La Louisiane Recipe

(As featured in The Maison Premiere Almanac)

Ingredients

5 dashes absinthe, such as La Muse Verte
5 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
½ ounce Bénédictine
¾ ounce sweet vermouth, such as La Quintinye Rouge
1 ¾ ounces overproof rye whiskey, such as Wild Turkey 101
Garnish: skewered candied cherry

Directions

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice.
Stir rapidly until chilled and strain into a chilled Nick & Nora glass.
Garnish with a skewered candied cherry.

Check Out the Conversation Here

Tim McKirdy: It’s a returning guest, friend of the show, William Elliot, here today in the “Cocktail College” studio. A new studio for you.

William Elliott: Yes.

T: First time in this one?

W: First time. Beautiful digs. I love it.

T: Thank you very much, and welcome. Thanks for joining us.

W: Thanks for having me, Tim. It’s good to be here.

T: Pleasure to have you back. Beautiful conditions out here in New York City. It’s sunny. It’s a little bit brisk. Other than that, nothing really notable going on right now in town as we’re recording.

W: Tim, it’s arraignment day. That’s very notable.

T: Oh, it’s happening?

W: They’re releasing the charges any minute now on the former President of the United States.

T: Donald J. Trump. There we go. It’s happening right now. We’ve taken a little break from that, from watching the coverage, or we’re probably going to get notifications through this. You’ve turned yours off, right?

W: I definitely have, but I have started drinking water, just kidding.

T: Just the water for now, there we go. Anyway, want to kick it off just by saying there’s a wonderful tie-in for today’s show because when you last came and appeared on the “Cocktail College,” we discussed the Daiquiri, which is a drink that’s close to your heart and close to what you do at the bar, but also, I think I mentioned then maybe it’s slightly unexpected for some folks because you have a very strong New Orleans tie over there at Maison Premiere.

W: Correct, yes.

T: Today’s cocktail will correct that, but also, there’s a wonderful tie-in because happy to announce, I mean the news is out there but happy for us to briefly chat about an upcoming book that you’ve been working on, “The Maison Premiere Almanac,” which is releasing April 25 and which today’s cocktail, À La Louisiane, features in.

W: Very true. Yes. We are so excited. It’s been years in the making and obviously, a pandemic plopped right into the middle of the process of writing the book, so we couldn’t be happier. It’s co-authored with Joshua Boissy and Krystof Zizka, who are the co-founders of Maison, and then Jordan Mackay, who’s an author and now a really good friend of ours.

T: Nice.

W: Yes, we’re excited for the release on the 25th.

T: Yes, and what can listeners of this show and hungry readers, if that works, what can they expect?

W: Thirsty readers.

T: Thirsty readers, yes, that’s the one, and works better as an analogy for this show too. Nice reminder there. What can they expect though, to find in this book? Obviously, it’s tied to the bar, but what else? What are we looking at?

W: Yes, so I think it’s a really genre-breaking book, I hope. It’s very different than a lot of cocktail books on the market currently. I think just in the same way that when you experience Maison Premiere, of course, you can experience it a bunch of different meaningful ways. However, Maison Premiere is just inherently different than a lot of cocktail bars. It involves oysters. There’s food, there’s a beautiful back garden. There’s the historic element, there’s the uniforms, so it’s just a very rich and textured book that’s trying to reflect all those items that make up Maison and the DNA of Maison Premiere.

T: Yes, and I’m not just saying this because you’re in the studio. Anyone who knows me or people that listen to this, or anyone that’s maybe reached out in the past and been like, “Hey, Tim, I’m visiting New York, like this show. Have you got any recommendations?” I always send them your way because it’s truly one of my favorite spots to drink in the city.

W: Tim, you’re probably one of the best-traveled drinking fellows that I know, so that’s very high praise. Thank you.

T: I appreciate that, but yes, you guys keep up the good work. I’m also really excited today. We’re discussing À La Louisiane, as we mentioned up top there and in the intro, it’s in the title. This is one of those drinks that maybe flies under the radar because of its origin. Do you want to tell us about that?

The History of À La Louisiane

W: Yes. It is a drink that for us was a second- or third-tier New Orleans classic. I have to give credit where it’s due. Maxwell Britten, who’s the opening bar director at Maison Premiere, chose it for the opening menu. That menu was a lot smaller than it is today. It was probably 12 drinks. I think a lot of people in New York — I think it was one of the first places to experience À La Louisiane. I fell in love with it instantly. I had read of it and I had made it once or twice before joining the team. It’s just like a superior Manhattan in my opinion. Right to the punchline.

T: I’m so glad you mentioned that. A) I couldn’t agree with you more, and B) you read my mind because I was going to ask you there, what’s the elevator pitch? How do you describe this cocktail in a couple of words to someone? You really see this as being similar to the Manhattan but improved in various ways?

W: Yes. I say that sitting in New York and loving New York and loving the lure of the Manhattan cocktail. I obviously enjoy the drink, but for me, it just combines all these elements that are very New Orleans, very Maison Premiere. The sum total adds up to being just a much more nuanced rich complex Manhattan.

T: Yes, and I think we’ll get into a little bit later too when we look at those ingredients, improved very much in the literal sense of the term when we’re talking cocktail terminology there.

W: Sure. I agree. That’s actually great. I had never really thought of that, but that very much so is true. You’re referring to improved cocktails where it’s dashes added of things, and yes, this is obviously just with dashes of absinthe and dashes of Peychaud’s bitters, a very cool drink.

T: If the listeners out there will forgive me, I do think if there’s anything that does hold the Manhattan back as a drink, it’s just maybe on the complexity front. It falls a little short of maybe some other top tier, in my opinion purely, cocktails, of which I would rank this one. Here’s another thing I personally love about this drink. That it’s served up, and it’s a spirit-forward boozy cocktail. That’s something I love, but I think in the whiskey realm, beyond the Sazerac, which is another great drink from that wonderful city, oftentimes you’ll see them served either on the rocks or down, but this one classically served up. That’s what I’m looking for from a boozy cocktail.

W: Absolutely. I think especially if the recipe, and I’m sure we’ll get into this later, but if the recipe is tweaked so that it’s not like an all-equal-parts drink, because there’s a lot of debate out there as far as the original recipe for the drink. If it’s not all equal parts and it’s a little bit more whiskey-forward, it really plays well I think with being an up drink.

T: Nice. In terms of history, what do we know about this one? I was trying to do some background on this, didn’t find maybe as much out there as other ones. Also, maybe I’ve lost the art of navigating a large book, but oftentimes one of my first stops is the “Oxford Companion.” I don’t know whether it’s because of the naming of it that it falls under multiple names, right? There’s a number of different ways to describe this drink. I couldn’t find the entry in there. I’m sure it is. I’m sure I just need to spend a little bit more time, but what do we know about the history of this?

W: I’m almost equally unclear as you. I have heard it referred to in so many different names. I think that’s part of the complicating factor. Is it in “New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em?”

T: I would assume so. Yes.

W: I believe that’s where it first caught consciousness at Maison Premiere when we were opening, but like you say, it has as many different versions and recipes as it does origin stories. I think I really like to look at these drinks holistically. There are amazing cocktail historians out there who do this for a full-time job. Of course, we know David Wondrich, a good friend, and just has done so much to unearth information like this. I just like to think of these drinks in a holistic way where these were ingredients at hand and really a part of the local lexicon in New Orleans, and they found their way into the drink.

T: As we will explore too, yes, but spoiler alert, many of those ingredients intrinsic to that city, we’re talking absinthe, various bitters, rye whiskey, a lot of different components that found their way into other classic cocktails from there. What are you looking for personally from a perfectly executed version of this drink and where does the profile land for you?

W: I have demoed it. Obviously, back when we opened, we were all trying to make the best version we possibly could and coalesce upon a recipe, and where we eventually landed — should I say the recipe now?

T: Yes, feel free to. Feel free.

The Ingredients Used in William Elliott’s À La Louisiane

W: Okay. I think it’s a great one to make it home. It’s not super complicated. You’re not using a shaker or mint or anything like that, so it’s a very doable home drink I think. Between four and five dashes of Peychaud’s bitters. I always start small ingredients to largest, by the way, just the way I work. Five dashes of absinthe, a good verte [green] absinthe. Pernod, of course, is very well known. La Muse Verte, Vieux Pontarlier, all very excellent absinthes for this application. About half an ounce, not about, a half ounce of Bénédictine, which sometimes historically I think went a little larger and could overly sweeten the drink. Three-quarters of an ounce of a nice Torino-style sweet vermouth. Obviously, Carpano Antica is ubiquitous, but we really love Bordiga Rosso, a very nice vermouth from Italy. Then an ounce and three quarter of overproof, ideally overproof rye whiskey. I say overproof because of course, it’s fighting back against all these other rather viscous, sweeter components.

T: Wonderful drink right there. I think the other way, you spoke earlier about this being linked in certain ways to the Manhattan, other ways people have described this drink as a riff on the Vieux Carré, which is totally accurate, but also maybe not something that everyone has a reference for, so it’s like yes, that doesn’t help me.

W: Sure, yes. Vieux Carré shares all the same ingredients except the dashes of absinthe and adds some Cognac or brandy, so yes, very tied at the hip but achieves a totally different mood.

T: 100 percent, yes.

W: There’s something very focused and there’s like a viscosity and a silkiness of texture that you get when you have a perfectly cold chilled-up drink. On the flip side, Vieux Carré is a very relaxed, expansive self diluting version of a lot of the same flavors, but just very different vibe.

T: Even if we’re coming in at probably roughly the same proof there, I do feel like a Vieux Carré is one I could enjoy a couple of over an afternoon, maybe a nice, lovely afternoon in the garden there at Maison Premiere, but À La Louisiane, maybe sticking with one or two max.

W: Yes. It’s really punctuating almost. It feels very much like the brown equivalent to a nice Martini to me. Obviously, it’s a lot more viscous and there’s more sugar content, but it’s equally brisk.

T: When is the perfect occasion in your mind for drinking this? I like to think of this as a nice after-dinner cocktail. I don’t generally return to Martinis after dinner, even though I want to, and this feels like a good, logical next step. Or maybe I might go for a Sazerac, but again, we’re in that wheelhouse.

W: Yes, I agree, Tim. As somebody who does frequently drink a Martini before a nice dinner and who ends with perhaps nice, neat spirits, this is a great alternative to neat spirits. I think it’s just as brooding and forceful of a profile as drinking an Armagnac or a Cognac after dinner, but you have that elevated luxury of it being a cocktail.

T: So, yes, after dinner drink. Nice. That’s wonderful. Also, just to maybe rather than going down the neat spirits route, this is going to be slightly lower improved, but also just still pack that punch when it comes to flavor, concentration, and complexity.

W: Absolutely. Yes, and then I love a reason to garnish something with brandy cherry occasionally. I’m not drinking a lot of Manhattans these days, and I don’t put cherries in my last word particularly, so it’s a nice excuse to chew on a nice cherry.

T: Again, brilliant thing to do after a lovely meal. Going back to that idea of the Vieux Carré and the similarities there, too. One thing that does stand out about this drink for me and the recipe that you mentioned there, you had half an ounce of Bénédictine. You said maybe traditionally, that might have been higher even. Whereas Vieux Carré, unless I’m misremembering, we’re talking just like a couple of teaspoons or bar spoons. I think the interesting thing about that is that that in that drink really does have a massive effect on the final cocktail. So where does half an ounce take us? Or even and maybe some people who are using more, what does that do to the drink? What does Bénédictine bring?

W: Sure. I think, especially when Maison Premiere opened 12 years ago and a lot of people were really pushing back against sweet ingredients, there was just decades upon decades of mis-made drinks that were too sweet and unpalatable. While we were trying to fight back, I actually started to almost 180 on that trend and start to really want to include and highlight some of these sweeter ingredients, but in a nuanced way. The way I think we achieve that in À La Louisiane is by using overproof whiskey. That really helps claw back balance and you’re really also highlighting the beautiful herbal and spice complexity of Bénédictine. Bénédictine, of course, for those who don’t know, made by Bénédictine monks historically, very old French liqueur, a lot of baking spice notes, a very somber rich, it pairs well with brown spirits specifically in my opinion. I really wanted to bump the Bénédictine up to a place where you could actually acknowledge it as a flavor component in the drink without, of course, taking over the drink and oversweetening it. With the Vieux Carré, I really almost see that like you’re improving it with the Bénédictine so it’s almost an inversion of the concept.

T: Yes, and I think we spoke about that when we covered that drink on this show quite a while ago now, but the interesting thing there, like I said, such a small quantity does have a marked impact on the drink. It doesn’t hijack things, but it’s prominent there so, a wonderful ingredient.

W: Yes. I think it’s highly underutilized.

T: Beyond this drink and the Vieux Carré, what might be some other uses for that or well-known ones? Might be catching you off guard with this one because it’s not very often the Bénédictine comes up.

W: You saw my thousand-yard gaze. No, I do have one top of mind. It is obscure. I can’t even remember the last time I had it, but it’s called the Rolls Royce, which is a Martini variation with Bénédictine. After saying that it pairs uniquely well with brown spirits, I’m going to return back and say it’s actually very delicious with gin as well, but to that point, try a Rolls Royce with a barrel-aged gin and Bénédictine.

T: Oh, that sounds nice. Might you go down the perfect route there too, where you’re splitting that with maybe some dry vermouth or what’s the thinking there?

W: Potentially, yes. I mean, I think that’s getting out of the original spec or recipe for the Rolls Royce, but yes, that would be a technique that would be a very smarty-pants bartender move.

T: You heard it here. You also mentioned the wonderful Torino-style vermouth that you use there. Does that also help to temper the sweetness here of the drink? Because obviously, we’re looking for a sweet vermouth, but one where the other components of that drink maybe have equal prominence, so we get more of that herbaceous notes.

W: Yes, that’s a great point, Tim. Sweet vermouth can be a little bit of a misnomer, as can amari, almost in an opposite sense. There can be Amari that are very, very sweet, and there can be vermouths that are very, very — sweet vermouths that are very, very bitter. I think that with the onslaught of new vermouths available in the U.S., not necessarily new, but classic historic houses of vermouth producers that are finally distributed, imported into the U.S., there’s a lot more range. It used to just be Carpano Antica and Punt e Mes, and it was either or. Now, you have just a vast array. Dozens of equally historic, equally heritage brands and producers that are now available in the U.S. Some of them are very bitter. Some of them are more sweet. I really like — I think I’m all about flavor, so it’s about combining more sweet, more bitter. It’s not about balance at a low level. It’s about amping up everything to a high level.

T: Nice. That’s wonderful. One of the great things about having you on to talk about this drink and another ingredient here, absinthe. First one you might have added up top there. The second one you added during your preparation. Talk about, first of all, the relationship of Maison Premiere as a bar and that category of spirit there.

W: Sure. Yes. When Joshua and Krystof started Maison Premiere, and I was one of the very first hires there before we were even open, it was already in play. It was elemental in their concept for what they envisioned the bar to be. They were smart enough to understand that absinthe was never going to be a fearsome huge category. However, it was a distinguishing characteristic that we could add to the concept. It was also a very historic element that tied in the history of Paris, New York, and New Orleans, altogether. Maison, I think, self-identifies as an absinthe bar fully. The nice thing is that throughout the years, we’ve evolved in the sense that we don’t only have to be restricted to that. I think a lot of people identify us as a Martini bar. Great place to get a Martini. I think a lot of people identify us as a great place to experience classic tiki cocktails. Perhaps, we’re definitely not a tiki bar, but I think, undeniably the Mai Tai is a crowd pleaser and a fan favorite, and the Piña Colada, and the jungle bird and all these things. Absinthe is really key to our DNA, and I think when you see it appear in drinks on the menu, it does come from a very special place, for sure.

T: For those of who maybe own a bar or because they have it for classic cocktails like this, maybe they’re not drinking it with the lush and in a classical way to do that. What advice would you give them when it comes to treating this as an ingredient and considering it from brand to brand? Tasting that? I think it can be quite a, imposing isn’t the right word maybe.

W: Intimidating.

T: Intimidating.

W: Absolutely.

T: I think it can be an intimidating category to approach, so what advice would you give to folks there?

W: Start small and be kind to yourself. Don’t pour 2 ounces in a glass and taste it at room temperature undiluted. That should be common sense. Absinthe you can really think of as an extract. Almost like Chartreuse just released Elixir Vegetal in the U.S., finally available after all these years. For those who don’t know, it’s this little tiny, probably 200-milliliter bottle that historically you would find in drug stores and apothecaries in France, and perhaps you would dash it into your soda water or it was just seen as an all-around remedy. Absinthe really comes from that historic culture, so it should always be diluted if you’re drinking it by itself. If you’re using it as an ingredient, of course, a little goes a long way, that goes without saying. I think having it in a dasher bottle is a great idea at home. If you don’t have it in a dasher bottle, it’s really easy to just maybe go to a drug store and get those little dropper bottles or something like that. You could use that in a pinch. I think one of my personal favorite ways to drink it at home is just shaken with some ice, crushed ice, shaken really hard and long so that it fully, fully dilutes. We call that Absinthe Frappé. That’s a traditional method of drinking, preparing absinthe. When using it as an ingredient, it obviously is a tremendously complex herbal profile itself, so it obviously plays well with other herbal things. Gin, it’s amazing. A dash or two of absinthe in a Martini is fantastic, but as we can tell from La Louisiane, it also adds this herbal element to something that would be really devoid of anything herbal; whiskey or brandy, or whatever the case may be.

T: Obviously, you have a fantastic stock of absinthe there at the bar, but when it comes to using cocktails, do you go for one and that’s your well absinthe, or do you switch it up depending on the drink? Obviously, that’s not a luxury for most bars, but is it horses for courses, like this absinthe works better in this drink, or you’re settling on one that’s like, we love the profile, the price is right, it ticks all the boxes.

W: Absolutely the former, not the latter.

T: Really?

W: Yes. Now, within reason, right? There are some absinthes that are maybe price-prohibitive to put on a cocktail, and then others are just maybe so historic and beautiful that you just would want to experience it on its own. A perfect example of this might be in the absinthe piña colada, which I think a lot of, hopefully, listeners might even know the drink at Maison Premiere. We use a little bit of Germain-Robin absinthe. Now, I guess I should call it Mendocino Distillers, they changed their name, but they were forever distilling this blanche absinthe, the Germain-Robin, which is a California distillery, sort of the first like micro brandy and UDV producer in the U.S. back in the ’80s. We have loved that absinthe since the day we opened the doors at Maison Premiere. It’s very minty. It almost suggests rose or rose hips. It has this beautiful floral soft quality. It’s 50 percent alcohol, I believe, so it’s lower than a lot of other absinthes. It’s a tremendously welcoming entry point for absinthe. I think it really conveys that in the Absinthe Piña Colada. The mintiness pairs with the coconut and that’s just — Honestly, I’m giving away state secrets here. That specific profile, it’s the only way we could achieve that. We couldn’t do that with just a regular verte, classic traditional French absinthe. Also, that absinthe plays by the rules of absinthe production, so it’s legitimate absinthe. It doesn’t have sugar added. It has the Holy Trinity of herbs, which is necessary in order to call something absinthe, so it fits the bill on that. Now, the other end of the spectrum, we have a cocktail called the Inverness, which is this tall crushed-ice cocktail. It has layers to it if you look, it’s topped with this hand-whipped cassis cream. We combine heavy cream with Crème de cassis, really nice Crème de cassis, and just shake it in a shaker tin until it whips. That is a drink that we really wanted a bold, burly, traditional French verte absinthe, and for that, we use La Muse Verte. There’s a lot more perceptive bitterness in it, which is great because it, again, claws back at the cream, sinking down into the drink and sweetening it eventually, so it adds a balance by way of its sort of burliness.

T: That’s so interesting to hear. A) you talk about the difference in like, use case scenarios for different absinthes, but you’re talking about using cassis and we mentioned Bénédictine earlier and absinthe. I think that’s one of the many things I do love about Maison Premiere. It’s like you’re rather than doing ultramodern spirits that maybe don’t have a definite category that are cool and fun to play with, or rather than not going down like a clarification route or whatever, you’re like, these are the ingredients we have at hand that maybe a lot of people know for one specific drink that’s probably old and a classic, and you’re maybe like, maybe it wouldn’t be a classic if it was invented today, but you’re using those ingredients for modern drinks. I love it.

W: Absolutely, yes. I feel like everything you need to make great cocktails has been around for a hundred years. It’s not that I’m not welcoming to new producers and there’s so many of them out there that we love, but especially at a place like Maison which is really a historic narrative-driven concept, I really love to find, unearth those categories and feature them prominently, especially things that people might overlook or might just assume that they don’t like, and cassis is a perfect example. Believe it or not, I can’t believe I’m sitting here on a podcast saying this, but I love a Kir Royale. A well-made Kir Royale, fantastic. Well-made Kir, fantastic, and the story behind it, incredible. Even better. I think when you use these things that a lot of people let fall by the wayside, it also causes you to dig into the story behind them. The mayor of Dijon in France, his name, his last name was Kir. That’s where that’s from.

T: Nice Notably, we haven’t really spoke too much about rye yet. You mentioned overproof before, that that helps drive the drink or helps balance out maybe the sweetness there too. You have in the book, which I’ve been able to see an advanced copy of, thank you for that. You have Wild Turkey one-on-one as the rye cold out there. Beyond the proof for this cocktail, what are you looking for from the rye? Because obviously, we have a lot of Kentucky-made ryes these days where their mash bill probably falls at just like the legal lower limit of 51 percent. Then on the other end of the spectrum, we’re seeing 100 percent, or whether that’s 95.5 percent, things like that. What profile of rye do you want for this drink?

W: I want it to not play nicely I guess with the rest of the ingredients. I think it needs a certain level of assertiveness. I guess on a tasting note level, I would say spice.

T: Spice, yes.

W: I hate to be reductive, but that’s — I don’t think it needs to be a lot more complicated than that. You just wouldn’t want the rye to disappear or to shrivel or shrink away from the rest of the flavors. I think that whether some ryes are really outspoken at 47 percent or 48 percent or 49 percent, doesn’t need to be 101 percent or 100 percent or whatever. It just needs to be assertive and spice forward.

T: I think yes, spice is that catch-all term we use for rye, right, when we’re describing it, but I think that does very much incorporate or encapsulate herbaceousness and savory notes as well. Caraway sometimes comes into it too, and when I think about all of those different notes and then I think of the other ingredients in this drink, I’m like, yes, that’s why it works so well with Bénédictine, with absinthe-

W: Totally.

T: -and sweet vermouth as well. It works with every single one of the other ones.

W: Yes, absolutely. Rye is funny because a lot of people just talk and think about it and conceptualize about drinking it on its own. The world of cocktailing, I think it totally changes the game, changes what you’re after.

T: Yes, definitely.

W: For instance, I’m sorry to cut you off, Tim, it just occurred to me, Old Overholt, for instance — totally the other end of the spectrum to me, for my palate, very cereal driven. I don’t know another word to describe it other than cereal, which can be a really cool thing. There’s this drink on the menu at Maison that’s a Julep that uses Old Overholt and manzanilla sherry, and a little bit of orgeat, and so it’s this nutty, slightly briny but still in a sweet context, sweet versus savory context. There’s a cereal element to it and it plays in perfectly. I would never use Wild Turkey in this drink, so yes, it depends on what your end goal is for sure.

T: Yes, and speaking about Old Overholt for just a second, very exciting things happening with that brand returning to former glories. I think in 2020, I think they upped the proof slightly to 86 from 80 on just the standard one. They’re no longer chill filtering that product which is awesome too, and I think every now and again, they do release some super-aged ones, which I’ve had a small tasting of and loved. Yes, exciting to see what they’re doing there.

W: Same here. I have not tasted any of these aged ones. You must invite me.

T: Yes. It’s been a couple of years for me too. I need to figure out who’s handling that these days. Yes.

W: Actually no, I’m watching for the first time “Boardwalk Empire” which is how I’d feel ashamed that it took me this long but all the Old Overholt references in there are fantastic, just so so stunning.

T: It’s funny you say that. I just re-watched this, I want to say maybe tail end of last year or early this year, and what a great show. Great drinking show too.

W: Oh, inspirational. Absolutely. I mean inspirational for time and place and setting and set dressing and attire, just the works. It’s a very, very cool piece.

T: One of the major characters in that one, George Remus, now that we’re talking about rye, definitely a controversial figure, did a lot of bad things in his life but was a big bootlegger. There’s a brand named after him now produced by the folks that run MGP, the distillery there in Ohio, so.

W: Is it going to Remus? Is that the name?

T: Yes.

W: Oh, wow.

T: Yes. Because they have, I forget the name of it now, but they do have a standard, I don’t want to say entry level a little bit better, but they have across the board, like their rye recipe that they make for themselves, and I think the Remus one is the higher end. It’s been around a couple of years now, but you don’t come across it very often.

W: I need to check it out. Thanks for the alert.

T: Next time you’re watching an episode of “Boardwalk”-

W: Put it in a rocks glass, in my double rocks glass, in my big cube.

T: Yes, and if we can go down just one more sidebar here.

W: Sure.

T: Everyone talks about “Mad Men” and the influence on cocktail culture. I don’t have the exact timeline in front of me now, but I want to say that those shows were airing almost exactly at the same time if not, maybe one, maybe “Mad Men” predates “Boardwalk Empire” slightly, but again, speaks to that thirst that we seem to have as drinkers and bartenders in this period for like speakeasies, right? This was actually if “Mad Men” is post-Prohibition, this is really like this speakeasy era.

W: Yes, absolutely. Yes, I think you’re so right. Both of those shows speak to very distinctly American habits and traditions associated with drinking. Both of them, they’re not drinking shows but they are so tied at the hip to drinking culture that there are books about the drinks and cocktails that come from these shows now. It’s interesting the relationship it has to cocktails.

T: Yes, and just that fairly early era of prestige TV as they call it these days, and the impact that it had on drinks culture. I don’t know, it’s fascinating. Some good New Orleans scenes in there too I want to say, or I might be making that up.

W: I think so. I just love, I think really especially “Mad Men” for bringing back the Martini or helping to bring back the Martini and the idea of what we internally call midtown mopping. Going to these historic, iconic spaces like Keens Steakhouse or the old King Cole Bar at the St. Regis or the Carlisle. All these things are coming back into vogue, but they were never out of vogue for us personally, and it’s good to see them getting the attention they deserve.

T: That type of Martini drinking, I got to say as well for a second here, but I think we might have spoken about it on this show before that I personally think there’s no such thing as a bad airport Martini, even if it is technically terrible what you’re being served. I think the same is true of like a classic steakhouse even if it’s probably invariably very boozy, a large serve, and might not be diluted enough or whatever, quite imbalanced the vermouth might be slightly off, who knows, but it’s the place in the setting, that just means that always lands.

W: Oh, absolutely. I mean, preaching to the choir here. It’s all about context and timing, and if there’s one thing that I always like to convey to guests at Maison, in the way that they choose their drink, I just think it has to do with where they’re coming from and where they’re going. We’re just a stepping-off point, but it’s all about, have you had dinner yet? Are you hungry? Are you full? Are you celebrating something? Ask the questions, do the work.

How to Make William Elliott’s À La Louisiane

T: All right, back to À La Louisiane. Let’s talk about preparation now. You’ve laid out the spec there before but feel free to do so again and talk us through how you would prepare this at the bar.

W: I would start with a chilled coupe class. I would definitely just stick a coupe or a Martini glass, worst-case scenario, in the freezer. I, again, always start with small ingredients and move to largest. Just for me and for our team at Maison with the complexity of the drinks that we’re making, some of them are upwards of 10 ingredients, and it’s always nice to commit to the base spirit last, as anyone who’s worked behind the bar probably knows. We start with about four or five dashes, depending on how full the dasher is of Peychaud’s bitters, same for absinthe, about four or five dashes of absinthe. Occasionally, personally, if I’m making it for myself, maybe I do six, seven, or eight dashes of absinthe. Then half an ounce of Bénédictine, a three-quarter ounce of rosso vermouth, something Torino-style, and then overproof rye, about an ounce and three quarter in a mixing glass, we’re building this. Then add ice, stir, and here’s the thing, I think a lot of people under-stir and it’s not just under-stir, unfortunately, unless you’re somewhat proficient at stirring, you have to stir quickly in order to get it there, and by get it there, I mean, the perfect, perfect balance of dilution and chill. A lot of drinks — I understand this, if you’re not doing it a hundred times a day, stirring is not the easiest thing. A lot of drinks are served slightly warm, warmer than they should, and slightly less diluted than they should be. This is one, especially with the viscosity and the sugar and then the high-proof rye, you really do want to stir this to completion. There’s no magic rule for how many revolutions or how long you stir something, it’s really something that you gauge by straw tasting and just knowing the drink really well. Knowing the soul of the drink, what it’s supposed to taste like. That usually probably takes about 40, 45 seconds, I would say. Then of course strain it into a glass. We like to garnish it with a cherry. I suppose a twist of orange or lemon could be nice as well, but I like to keep citrus out of it just because I love the context of just tasting the Peychaud’s bitters and absinthe together.

T: Fantastic. On that citrus note, in a way, or in a related way, we’re talking about aromatics there too. Notably, you include the absinthe in the build of this drink rather than a rinse of absinthe, which is where perhaps we maybe see that ingredient utilized in many other cocktails. Is that the classic way to prepare this, and what’s the thinking behind that?

W: Sure. Yes, this is actually very analogous to my Sazerac theory, which is Maison Premiere is an absinthe bar, and what a shame for an absinthe bar to throw away the absinthe that they’re using. Years ago when I developed the tableside Sazerac service at Maison Premiere, it occurred to me that, why not serve the absinthe that’s being used in the drink as a little sidecar on the side so that you could just observe the aromatic relationship and the nuances of the absinthe next to your Sazerac? Now, you will have residual absinthe in your drink, but this gives you a origin story for where that aroma is coming from. Similarly, in À La Louisiane and other cocktails we could talk about Corpse Reviver, for instance, is another great example at Maison Premiere where we up the absinthe a little bit. Rather than doing dashes, we do a teaspoon. For the La Louisiane, I didn’t want the subtlety of a rinse. I wanted people to notably taste absinthe as an ingredient in the drink. That’s the thinking there.

T: Nice. Something else too, you’ve tweaked the specs here of this drink compared to maybe the classic, but we are arriving at 3 ounces total. I’ve looked at this a few times over just making sure my math’s correct.

W: No, correct.

T: This may be a very rookie question, but oftentimes, we will see classic cocktail builds reach that 3-ounce or aim for that. Is that a wash line consideration there or why is that? Or is that-

W: Oh, I like this.

T: -just the way things have always been done and that’s why we do that?

W: I like this question. For Maison Premiere specifically, it was a wash-line concern, and you’re right, 3 ounces is essentially the gold number. Actually, 3 1/4 is what we specifically shoot for at Maison Premiere. There’s a number of reasons for that. Part of it’s glass size and wash line. The ubiquitous Libbey coupe that every bar used in the early to mid-2000s. If you do 2 or 3 ounces of cocktail in it, it ends up being under the wash line. It looks like it got knocked or something and lost a little liquid. Yes, three and a quarter is the golden number and then I really build everything around. Even our Martini spec, for instance, a dry Martini like that, three and a quarter. The quarter in the three and a quarter is the dry vermouth. Then 3 ounces of gin and dashes of bitters. So, yes, that’s the thought process there.

T: Nice. Do you reckon that glass therefore, we’re hypothesizing here, but do you think that had an influence on maybe some of the builds of the modern classics that we’ve seen come out or just cocktails that were invented during that period just again to maybe hit a nicer wash line on that or? What do you think there?

W: I think so. I don’t think Maison specific, I think everybody was going through this at the same time in many ways so I don’t think Maison is necessarily unique in this way. Three and a quarter is specific. I don’t know how many, I’m not sure if other bars do it or not. It definitely influenced my conceptualization of cocktails and how to approach building in ingredients, and there’s lots of examples of that that we could cover. For a time, I think it’s fun to put these creative constraints or handcuffs on. Something like all equal parts is a great method. There’s a bunch of stuff like that. Obviously, two, three quarter, three quarter is very ubiquitous ratio that gets used a lot. All equal parts is really interesting and definitely a challenging one to reach for.

T: Yes, I find that fascinating so I appreciate you sharing that there. Because something that I’ve always wondered just why is that the magic number, what’s behind that? Super interesting to learn that. Any final thoughts now on À La Louisiane before, and I keep saying that weird I’m like I’m going to mess this up. Got it this far though. À La Louisiane, any final thoughts here today on the drink before we move into the final questions of the show?

W: It’s such a perfect little glimpse into what New Orleans is. Not to simplify, but when you taste all of those things together, it’s almost more New Orleans than, dare I say, the Sazerac. It’s so-

T: Gauche.

W: I’m going there. Maybe the other closest thing to me that speaks of New Orleans is the classic French 75 with Cognac or the way that Arnaud’s serves it, at least. When I think of what to drink when I’m in New Orleans or when I want to be reminded, it’s always one of those two cocktails. Arnaud’s French 75 or À La Louisiane. Obviously one’s a little heavier than the other, so it depends on the time of day, I guess.

Getting to Know William Elliott

T: There you go. Very nice. All right, let’s do it then. Let’s kick off now with question number six for yourself, given that you’ve done the first five in a previous episode.

W: Okay, so they keep counting. The counter keeps going.

T: I’m going to keep counting them there, and you know what, someday there will be an 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. We’ll get there.

W: I love it. I love it.

T: Maybe the Kir Royale episode, who knows?

W: Oh, I don’t know if you’ll get anyone else to do it other than me, Tim. I don’t know a lot of fans out there.

T: There we go. We’re putting that one on the calendar loosely. We’re penciling it in. Let’s kick off here. Which spirits category are you currently most excited about?

W: Well, there’s a macro and a micro answer to this, I guess. I am very happy that amari has crossed over into the mainstream, and I think especially if you count things like Aperol, that’s obviously helped it. If you count Aperol as a member of the amari family, which is a little dubious, but all the spritzers out there are finally getting down on some better drinking I think than 10 years ago, so that’s cool. I don’t know if I’m excited about it or if it excites me personally, but it’s I think a good thing, a good end result for the palate of America and just drinking culture all around.

T: Sure.

W: Beyond that, I would also say as a big old category, rum, and understanding producer-driven, island-focused rums is definitely way up on my list. Then I guess on a more personal excitement level, there are some really exciting things coming out of Mexico that are agave-based, but not necessarily in the context that we know them. I’m sure you probably heard it, Tim, but there’s really amazing agave-based gins that essentially blur the line between mezcal and herbalized mezcal and gin, which I love. I love the idea that-

T: The ancestral there from — Why am I forgetting? I’m blanking on the producer’s name. We just ran a gin roundup with this one and it was the first time I had it. Phenomenal.

W: Yes, I was at a tasting actually, with my friends at Skurnik the other day and they are doing just such a remarkable job at championing that category and championing it well and thoughtfully and sustainably. I tasted — and this is actually the really exciting thing for me. I love eau-de-vie. I’m a big fan of expressing fruit through liquor. Mexico, as anyone who’s traveled there knows, and much of Central and South America is just the most bountiful fruit destination you could imagine, and yet in America, we don’t taste any of them. We hardly know any of them. There is a French gentleman who moved to Mexico City, I think I got this right, for college and then started a business in Oaxaca distilling locally sourced exotic fruit.

T: Wow.

W: Up to and including more obvious ones like mango, but also things like guava and just really oh, banana.

T: Wow. Oh my God.

W: Really remarkable stuff that when you taste it, it’s just incredibly transportive. For me, I think that’s the crux of what I’m after when I look for something to excite me is a liquor or a spirit or a wine that really transports me.

T: It doesn’t surprise me that those are coming into the country via the fine folks there Skurnik because I got to say, I got to give them a shout-out.

W: They’re right around the corner. I mean, they’re right in the neighborhood.

T: They’re right here, and you know what, they did send us those gins and they do a fantastic job of just sharing with us here at VinePair the new and exciting products that they have. It’s always appreciated and they’re always super-high quality. If I see Skurnik on a back label of anything, I’m willing to try it no matter what it is. I mean, yes.

W: Specifically my dear friend Justin Lane Briggs over there leads the charge in hunting down these new spirits, which I cannot imagine a cooler job. That gentleman has seen it all and tasted most of it all.

T: Brought many a smile the faces of folks such as ourselves who get to enjoy the fruits of that labor right there.

W: Yes.

T: All right then, question number seven or two, whichever way you’re looking at it. What’s the last drink or cocktail you had that truly wowed you? You might have just answered that there.

W: I have. That would be a cop-out, I guess.

T: Yes, that would be.

W: I have a friend, Nathan McCarley O’Neill, who took over beverage for Major Food Group and he’s making great drinks. I’ll just leave it there. He has a very nice Martini, that gentleman.

T: Yes?

W: Yes.

T: Where should be the first spot that folks check out if you’re like going and see one of these different locations of theirs?

W: Oh. Well, the new Torrisi, it’s very, very good.

T: Nice. Check it out.

W: I’m happy to see somebody like him in charge. He has a long history bartending in New York and in London and worked with the Nomad team for years and years and years, so upward and onward. Great to see him in that position now.

T: Nice What’s one book you think every cocktail or alcohol enthusiast should own a copy of, beyond “Maison Premiere Almanac?”

W: Damn it.

T: That’s a given. No more cop-outs.

W: Well, I guess to me, my quick answer is “Savoy,” and always has been. I think it’s not because it’s necessarily the most instructive. The recipes definitely aren’t the best tasting if you make them exactly as written. However, I can’t think of a better compendium of just every cocktail that matters almost all in one place. I also just love that era of history in drinking culture, the way that the drinks were named. It’s just been invaluable for a project like Maison Premiere, which is very tied up into the sort of wit and wisdom and lore of drinking history. “Savoy” is absolutely my desert island one, I would say.

T: I think it’s also one of those ones where, to your point, yes, the recipes maybe don’t hold up now for myriad reasons, and we discuss them a lot but when you start to learn more about cocktails, and then maybe you got that book just as you were beginning your journey in bartending, but then when you return to it with a lot more knowledge, maybe a few years down the line, you start to be able to interpret, okay, this is what they were going for here, rather than I’m following this recipe to the tea and this drink doesn’t taste as good as I hoped it would.

W: Absolutely. I think you could pick a page in the book, pick a cocktail on the page, point to it, and then almost mentally reverse engineer out a good version of it, but I love “The Savoy” for being that prompt. It’s like a very good creative prompt for me personally because if the recipes were better, it would almost get confusing, or I think I would feel bad about just adopting them as freely, but I use it as a template. That’s just the approach I’ve always used. I do have to say the “Oxford Companion” that you mentioned earlier, just one-stop shopping.

T: Yes, wonderful resources right there.

W: 100 percent.

T: Penultimate question today, if you could appear in one movie scene where alcohol plays a prominent role, which would it be and who would you like to play?

W: I guess I would say, Roger Sterling drinking a Martini in the office. He just, I think embodies, of course, the style, of course, the history and that moment in history, but he just doesn’t have a care in the world. He’s totally unplugged from the realities of what’s going on at the office and is able to disconnect and just luxuriate in drinking a Martini. To me, it seems no one enjoys a Martini as much as that guy at that moment.

T: Honestly. I think there’s incredible — whether intentional or not — a lot of imagery in that show, and they draw certain things that maybe you don’t always consider at first, like the difference between Don Draper’s character and Roger Sterling’s character. You have Roger Sterling, who is like a silver fox and he generally wears lighter suits, and you think of that in terms of the Martini. Then, on the other hand, you got Don Draper’s jet-black hair. He’s on the Old Fashioned front. He’s the darker horse there on that one.

W: Oh, that’s really good to him. I like that. That’s really good. He’s white, clear spirits, and Don’s dark spirits.

T: Don’s dark-aged brooding.

W: Roger Sterling, actually, I’m just going to keep referring to him by his character name. Actually, I’ve had the pleasure of serving him at Maison and he’s been in several times. I’ve only maybe personally served him once and was dying to make him that Martini. Sadly, the gentleman, of all the things that Maison Premiere offers, ended up ordering, I wanna say, a Rauchbier, like a smoked German beer.

T: Really?

W: Smoked German lager.

T: Wow.

W: Of all the things, yes. I thought it was just a little funny for such a Martini monger.

T: That’s where sadly real life maybe departs from the fiction, the wonderful story there.

W: It was like 2 p.m., so maybe that had something to do with it.

T: Roger Sterling would’ve done it, that’s all I’m going to say. He would’ve been too deep by then. All right. Final question for you today, William. Which modern classic cocktail do you think is deserving of more recognition than it gets?

W: There are some cocktails out there that are just so perfectly named. Penicillin is just such an incredible — when I think of modern cocktail, modern classic, I don’t even know how many others there are. I guess like White Negroni and things like that. Those all get a lot of attention, and deservedly so, and I enjoy them myself. My girlfriend’s an avid White Negroni drinker. I’ve been known to have a Penicillin. I have a cocktail. I’m just going to throw it out there if that’s okay.

T: Yes. Please do.

W: It pops into my mind because you were asking me earlier about ratios and wash lines and things like that. It’s an oldie but a goldie, it’s a fan favorite at Maison. It’s not wildly popular or high up in the sales mix, but it’s definitely a little out there. It’s called Future Days, and it’s an all-equal-parts cocktail. Ounce, ounce, ounce, Old Tom gin, barrel-aged, though. Can’t be something like Hyman’s. Would have to be Ransom or maybe Reisetbauer’s blue gin that’s barrel aged. Amaro Abano, Luxardo Amaro Abano, so sort of like an underutilized Amaro too, and then mezcal.

T: Wow.

W: Bizarre, right? I know. I love the look.

T: Wow.

W: It’s a bizarre one and here’s the other part, dashes of absinthe and a couple of dashes of grapefruit bitters stirred. It’s as brooding as a drink gets while still being drinkable, quaffable, refreshing I think. I don’t know that I would say it’s refreshing, it depends. If you’re a person that thinks a Manhattan’s refreshing, maybe you’d find this refreshing. I’m the kind of person that thinks a Daiquiri is refreshing, so that’s just me. It’s an all-equal- parts drink and it just bizarrely works really well garnished with a grapefruit twist, expressed, discarded, blah, blah, blah.

T: Fantastic.

W: It’s just the dashes of absinthe and our earlier conversation about how dashes of absinthe can play into a drink, this is another perfect example of that. It was actually a piece of advice given to me by a bartender, a notable old New York bartender sitting at the bar at Maison Premiere. I made him taste an early incarnation of the drink and he said, “Try it with a dash or two of absinthe,” so I have to give credit where credit’s due there, and yes, it worked perfectly.

T: Phenomenal. Remind us of the name there.

W: Oh, Future Days.

T: Future Days.

W: Yes. After Can, it’s a German band. Just an amazing kind of like psychedelic ’60s German band.

T: Wonderful. Well, you know I’m long overdue a visit, so I know what I’m doing very soon now, heading over to Maison.

W: Come this weekend. Or come to one of our book launch events. That would be, we’d love to have you.

T: Don’t need to ask me twice there, William. Thank you. Listen, thank you so much. Just a reminder again there, April 25, the “Maison Premiere Almanac.” It has a longer second part of the title but I decided, I took the executive decision to drop that for now.

W: It’s all right. Amazon wouldn’t let us use that part so that’s fine.

T: Check that out, folks. This has been a wonderful preview for it. William, thanks again for coming back.

W: Tim, it’s always good. I look forward to questions what, 12,13? Where does it start this time?

T: 11 through 15.

W: Next time on the Kir episode.

T: On the Kir Royale.

W: Sounds great.

T: Chat soon.

W: Cheers.

OK, that was a lot of info, but here’s the good news. Every single episode of VinePair’s “Cocktail College” is also published on VinePair.com as a transcript. So you can check it out there all over again.

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Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.

The article The Cocktail College Podcast: How to Make the Perfect À La Louisiane appeared first on VinePair.

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