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.” 

No comments:

Post a Comment