A 1930's classic cocktail, the Vieux Carré is rich, spirited and perfectly balanced. It has a long list of ingredients for a small drink, but each one plays an important part in making the cocktail shine. If you're a fan of a Manhattan, this is definitely one to try!
Vieux Carré (pronounced view kah-ray) literally translates to "old square", which is the nickname for the French Quarter in New Orleans. It was developed by New Orleans bartender Walter Bergeron, and first published in 1937 in the book Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em by Stanley Clisby Arthur.
Bergeron was the head bartender at Hotel Monteleone, at the bar which would become the famed Carousel Bar in 1949. The Vieux Carré is still a staple of their cocktail menu.
Each of the ingredients of this drink represents a cultural force in New Orleans at the time. Bergeron included American rye whiskey, French Cognac and Benedictine, Italian vermouth, Caribbean Angostura and a splash of the local bitters, Peychaud's.
If you like this cocktail, you'd also enjoy the Little Italy cocktail, a modern classic that adds Cynar to a Manhattan.
There are quite a few ingredients in this cocktail, but each one is important to the drink.
- Rye Whiskey - I used Sazerac Rye whiskey to bring in even more New Orleans flavors. Rye whiskey is a little more spicy and grassy than bourbon and gives the drink a great flavor.
- Cognac - I used Tre Kors VS, which is on the more affordable side for a Cognac and has really nice caramel notes. Cognac is distilled from grapes, and legally must be made in the Cognac region of France. VS means Very Special, and designates that it has been aged at least two years. I tend to use VS rather than VSOP (better quality and much more expensive) in cocktails, but you can use whatever you prefer.
- Sweet Vermouth - I used Carpano Antica Formula sweet Vermouth. This is my go-to sweet vermouth and is really rich, with a red wine base. Vermouth is a fortified wine, which means sugar and additional alcohol are added to create a stronger type of wine. It also has some bitter notes.
- Benedictine - Benedictine is a distinctive liqueur with herbal flavors. It's made in France from a recipe developed in the 19th century. The flavors are very strong and complex, so we just need a little bit of it in this drink.
- Angostura bitters - Angostura are arguably the most well-known bitters. You'll probably recognize the bottle with the paper that's too tall (although in the photo below I'm using them in a bitters bottle). They're aromatic and have a distinctive bitter flavor.
- Peychaud's bitters - Peychaud's is a New Orleans-based brand of bitters. They are bright red and have a little bit of a citrus flavor plus aromatics.
Since this is a classic recipe, it's a pretty specific type of drink. You can get a similar drink if you don't have the exact ingredients with the following substitutions. It won't be quite the same, though, so just keep that in mind when changing things up.
- Rye whiskey - you can use bourbon instead, or a blended Scotch if you'd prefer. Rye definitely gives it more character, but the final drink will be similar.
- Cognac - Cognac is an aged grape-based brandy. if you're looking for a less-expensive version of Cognac, look into Armagnac, which is a similar product made in a different region of France.
- Sweet vermouth - there is not really a substitute for vermouth. If you don't have sweet vermouth, though, you can try to use a sweet red wine and just add extra bitters to the drink.
- Benedictine - again, there is really no substitute, but you can try adding an amaro instead, like Amaro Nonino.
- Bitters - you can try using whatever bitters you have on hand, but I definitely recommend the Peychaud's and Angostura if you can find them. If you only have one, just double the amount of that one.
Although you can mix up this drink in any glass, a heavy-bottomed mixing glass made specifically for cocktails does make things easier, as does a long-handled bar spoon. You'll also need a jigger with a one ounce measurement and a line for a quarter ounce.
This drink can be served either in an Old Fashioned glass with a large piece of ice, or up (without ice) in a stemmed glass. I've kind of combined the two and used this Sagaform stemmed glass, which is big enough to hold both an ice sphere and the drink itself.
As cocktail equipment goes, A Bar Above makes some wonderful and durable products. They are my favorite brand! You can get 10% off on their website using my discount code, LKDrinks. Not only are their bar tools great to look at, but they can be washed in the dishwasher when you're done making cocktails.
To make this drink easier to remember, I like to classify the ingredients in my mind into spirits, liqueurs and bitters. So, start out by adding the spirits (rye whiskey and Cognac) into the mixing glass.
Next, add the liqueurs. These are the sweet Vermouth and the Benedictine.
Finally, add the bitters. The two types of bitters are Angostura and Peychaud's.
Fill the mixing glass with ice and then stir for 30 seconds. Stirring with ice will chill and dilute the drink. When you stir, try to keep the ice all together in the center of the mixing glass, gliding the spoon around the edge of the glass.
Add a large piece of ice into your serving glass, and strain the cocktail into the glass. Cut a large piece of orange peel and squeeze it on top of the glass to express the orange oils. Add the peel to the cocktail as a garnish, and serve.
Hint: if you are using a clear ice sphere, remember to let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes to warm up. If you try to pour the cocktail onto the ice that's fresh from the freezer, it will be too big of a temperature difference, and the sphere will crack inside.
Frequently Asked Questions
Vieux Carré literally translates to "old square", but it is a nickname for the French Quarter in New Orleans, Lousiana. The French Quarter is the oldest part of New Orleans, and this cocktail is named after that section of the city.
The Vieux Carré can be served either up in a stemmed glass, or on the rocks (preferably with one large piece of ice). Either way, a citrus peel is the perfect garnish.
The Vieux Carré is similar to a Manhattan, but it has a bit more complexity. There is some added sweetness from the Benedictine liqueur, but that also adds a little bit of an herbal flavor. The Cognac lends some oaky warmth and the Peychaud's bitters add a touch of citrus.
This is a wonderful drink for batching. You can even make a large pitcher of it and keep it in the fridge to enjoy over the course of a week. Just multiply the ingredients (or use my handy calculator in the recipe below), and add a half ounce of filtered water to the pitcher per cocktail. This will eliminate the need for stirring with ice, and the fridge will keep it chilled. All you'll need to do is pour it into a serving glass and squeeze the orange peel over the top. Cheers!
- Cocktail strainer I used a Julep strainer but any strainer will do
- Cocktail serving glass (Low stemmed) (I used a low-stemmed glass. An Old Fashioned glass works great as well.)
- Vegetable peeler
- Start by adding the rye whiskey and Cognac to your cocktail mixing glass.
- Next, add the sweet Vermouth and the Benedictine liqueur.
- Add the two kinds of bitters to the mixing glass.
- Fill the mixing glass with ice.
- Add a single large piece of ice to your serving glass.
- Stir with a long bar spoon for 30 seconds, keeping the ice in the center of the glass and spinning it around with the spoon. If you have trouble doing this with the bowl end of the spoon, just turn it around and use the smooth end to stir instead.
- Strain the drink into the serving glass.
- Use a vegetable peeler to cut a large piece of orange peel. Squeeze the peel over the glass so the oils from the peel spray over the glass.
- Add the orange peel as a garnish and serve.