Monday, 25 June 2012

A Short History of the Ramos Gin Fizz

Lesley Jacobs Solmonson, author of Gin: A Global History, available here (USA) and here (UK and rest of world)

With the Summer Solstice just behind us, it seems the perfect time to think about summer cocktails, and gin is the hands-down winner when it comes to refreshing, hot weather libations.   Think lawn parties,  croquet, brunch, and seersucker.  All of these bucolic visions deserve an equally leisurely beverage, and gin’s crisp, clean profile fits the bill. 

Enter the Ramos Gin Fizz, a frothy, creamy, aromatic wonder created by New Orleans saloon keeper extraordinaire Henry Charles Ramos in 1888.  The key to a gin fizz, Ramos or otherwise, is the shaking to emulsify the ingredients.  Ramos employed over 35 ‘shaker men’ who shook the fizz until his arms tired, then passed along the shaker to the next fellow in line, and so on.  My good friend and bartender Brian Rea suggests sprinkling the orange flower water on the top, so the aroma wafts to the nose as you sip.

Bartenders at Ramos's famous saloon in New Orleans, late 19th century.

The Ramos’s parent, the basic gin fizz, evolved during the golden age of the cocktail in the 19th century. Basically, it’s a “sour”-based drink with soda water added.  The standard recipe calls for gin, lemon juice, sugar, and soda water.  Darcy O’Neill, soda expert par excellence, notes that soda water’s effervescence help release the gin aromatics (or any other spirit, for that matter).  Moreover, the gin fizz is a perfect base for variations – add egg yolk, you have a Golden Fizz; egg white produces a Silver Fizz; a whole egg makes a Royal Fizz, and so on. 

But, in my opinion, the Ramos Gin Fizz, with its addition of cream and orange flower water, is where the magic lies.  As cocktail historian David Wondrich has said, “If the Sidecar is jazz, the Ramos Fizz is ragtime . . . Like ragtime, Henry C. Ramos's creation is a matter of poise, of balance, of delicacy. This isn't a drink to throw together from whatever you've got lying around; every part of the formula is crucial.”

The recipe below is from Gin: A Global History, courtesy of Wondrich.  His version calls for an Old Tom gin, which would have been the gin of choice back in the day.  In the States, you can find Hayman’s Old Tom, which is lightly sweetened, as well as Ransom Old Tom (co-created by Wondrich in a style whose sweetness comes from the botanicals).  In the UK, Jensen’s Old Tom is worth seeking out, and Hayman’s is available as well.  If you prefer, Plymouth’s smooth, elegant style is also suitable.   

Courtesy of cocktail historian David Wondrich


1 tablespoon superfine (icing) sugar
3 or 4 drops (no more) orange flower water
Juice from ½ lime
Juice from ½ lemon
1 ½  ounces/45 ml Old Tom gin*
1 egg white
1 half-glass of crushed ice
Approximately 2 tablespoons rich milk or cream
A little (about an ounce) seltzer water **

Place all ingredients in a shaker.    Per Ramos: ‘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.’ (*Plymouth Gin will also work.  **Modern bartending suggests that one strain the drink into a tall Collins glass then add the seltzer after, giving it a quick stir.)

What is truly wonderful about the Ramos Gin Fizz is that, while it is indeed alcoholic, as a traditional morning to midday tipple, it is gentle on the stomach, with a breezy charm that transports you to a time both utterly civilized and subversively seductive .  Or, as Wondrich opines, “To sip a Ramos Fizz on a hot day is to step into a sepia-toned world peopled with slim, brown-eyed beauties who smell of magnolias and freshly laundered linen, and tall, mustachioed gentlemen who never seem to work and will kill you if you ask them why.” 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Podcast: Gary Allen On the Menu

Listen to Gary Allen, author of Herbs: A Global History, talking about his book on the On the Menu radio show here:

Thursday, 14 June 2012

What's In Vodka, Anyway?

Patricia Herlihy

Poland is the largest vodka producer in the EU and the fourth largest in the world.

The Polish Lower House of Sejm recently voted to accept a strict definition of Polish vodka: 'Polish vodka is an alcoholic beverage produced from grain or potatoes harvested in Poland.' The 400 MPs voted for the measure, none were against and 38 abstained. The new law changes the definition of 'Polish vodka' and defines the technical specifications for the preparation for the spirit.

The vote came in the wake of a 2008 EU decision to allow the name 'vodka' to be applied to alcoholic beverages produced from other raw materials such as grapes. Ciroc Vodka, made in France, is distilled from grapes, whereas one of the English Chase Distillery offerings of vodka is made from apples.  In the United States, 4-Oranges Vodka uses that fruit.  Newer brands are Spike Vodka made from prickly pear cactus in Texas and VuQo Premium Vodka, the only vodka in the world distilled from coconut, made in the Philippines.

Friday, 8 June 2012

John Prescott's Taste Matters

Taste Matters: Why We Like the Foods We Do, by John Prescott with a foreword by Heston Blumenthal, has been reviewed in The Observer:

"Prescott runs a consultancy 'in the area of food perceptions and preferences', and Taste Matters offers both a detailed analysis of that area and a broader examination of the psychology of eating. For example, he looks at why young children can be reluctant to try new foods, and what strategies parents might adopt in response, before expanding his inquiry to cover cravings, aversions, the external cues and psychological motivations that prompt us to eat, and why, once we've started, it can be so difficult to stop . . . [his] hybrid approach frequently makes for fascinating reading."

For more on how our food preferences are formed, you can download a podcast of a Radio New Zealand interview with John at

You can buy the book here (in the UK and Europe) and here (in North and South America).

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Library Journal reviews Gin, Rum and Vodka

Each of the approximately 30 books in The Edible Series presents an exploration of the history and cultural impact of a variety of foods and beverages, such as pizza, curry, apples, and even pancakes. The latest three volumes in the series focus on gin, rum, and vodka, supplementing one on cocktails in general and another on whiskey. They trace the history of its respective spirit, discuss contemporary trends of consumption, and conclude with recipes and guidance on brands. Each volume is strongly shaped by the voice and skill of its writer, tempered by the particulars of the respective story. Food historian and journalist Foss spins a well-researched tale of the colorful history of rum—rife with pirates, revolution, and palm trees—delightful to read and full of wry wit. Food writer Solmonson ( balances the kind of context and detail that will appeal to serious readers with accessible prose, chronicling the evolution of gin as medicine, as a threat to the health and industry of the British lower classes, as staple of the British fleet, and as star of the gin martini. Herlihy (history, emerita, Brown Univ.) presents a more traditional and scholarly history of vodka. 

 The well-read foodie who loves a good cocktail will enjoy these little histories and put to use their practical information on recipes and brands as well.—Courtney Greene, Indiana Univ. Lib., Bloomington