134 years ago, a pioneering cocktail was incepted in New Orleans. At its peak, the drink necessitated a brigade of bartenders known as shaker boys who passed an ice-cold shaker wrapped in cloth between each other over a bicep-busting 12 minutes.
The drink is of course the Ramos gin fizz; a concoction created by Henry “Carl” Ramos who launched it at the Imperial Cabinet Saloon, which he owned with his brother Charles.
The Ramos’ creamy body, citrus tang and fluffy crown skyrocketed in popularity, resulting in the bar moving to the much larger Stag Saloon in 1907. But the Saloon was forced to close its doors a few years later due to the Prohibition, with Henry famously stating, “I’ve sold my last gin fizz”, at midnight on 27 October.
Thankfully, the barman shared his recipe and the drink has lived on, much to the joy or dismay of bartenders who have a love– hate relationship with the fizz.
Hospitality speaks to Gimlet’s Cameron Parish and Lark Distilling’s Niall Maurici about selecting the right gin, Ramos riffs and if you really need to shake the tin for 12 minutes (hint, there are shortcuts).
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The Ramos gin fizz is a divisive cocktail. There are two camps of bartenders who consider themselves fizz friends or foes. Melbourne Bartender Cameron Parish is a firm friend.
“All the annoyances about the drink are outweighed by what it is,” he says. “It’s such an indulgent and rich cocktail, but at the same time, it can be so delicate and light, which is a bit of a wonder. When you present the drink, the crown of the foam lifts above the lip of the glass. It’s a sight to behold for people who have never seen it before.
“Even perfecting the technique is rewarding; it can sometimes send you down while you’re busy, but the outcome of what it is and how good the drink is — it’s worth it for me.”
Niall Maurici is a little more on the fence — the Hobart-based bartender loves to drink a Ramos, but sees the limitations when it comes to the labour side.
“Number one, the Ramos is a delicious drink,” he says. “When you read the ingredients, you think it’s going to be a heavy, rich cocktail, but it’s a light and effervescent drink. But in terms of construction, the traditional method exercised in New Orleans is not something any of us want to be doing on a busy Saturday night; it’s a labour-intensive drink. It’s difficult to construct and it’s not a drink we keep on our menu for that reason.”
The OG Ramos gin fizz recipe is anchored by cream or milk along with orange blossom water, lime and lemon juice, gin, egg white, soda water, powdered sugar and crushed ice. And like most classic cocktails, the formula hasn’t swayed too much from the original.
“The way we make ours at Gimlet is the usual egg white, but we use two bar spoons of sour cream instead of normal heavy cream,” says Parish. “If you’re using heavy cream, I recommend three parts cream, one part milk and whipping it with a few sugar cubes so it has some sweetness. We also throw a lemon peel into the shaker so you get a more tart, really dry, rounded, rich but light drink. It’s a little revelation I picked up when I spent time at Bar Americano.”
Lark Distilling’s Gin Bar is the flagship space for the brand’s Forty Spotted gin, which means the team have a wide range to utilise. “For the Ramos, you see cream and egg, so you imagine a heavy drink when it’s actually floral and quite refreshing,” says Maurici. “For a refreshing style, we would go with a citrus and pepperberry gin; it’s dry in a traditional sense, but preferences bright citrus over heavy juniper. Our wild rose gin is also a natural pairing for floral drinks.”
Lark’s distilling methods lean towards the London dry style with a localised twist, which lends itself perfectly to a Ramos application. “We don’t preference a heavy juniper character on the whole; it’s more citrus-driven,” says Maurici. “We use native Tasmanian pepperberry, grapefruit peel and different combinations of orange peel varieties or black lime; the gins are more modern in style.”
Parish lists Plymouth as his gin of choice. “It’s my favourite, but any gin that is light on the juniper notes makes for a better drink,” he says. “Gins with citrus and floral characteristics are best for a Ramos.”
The Ramos is not currently on the menu at Gin Bar (and most likely never will be), which means it’s rarely ever made. “When it’s ordered, it’s a bartender sitting as the customer and taking the piss to test their bar compatriots,” laughs Maurici.
“It’s not a listed drink, so the only way I can describe the process is laborious because we would be following the traditional method of shaking for a long time on as little ice as possible to create that soufflé character between the eggs and the cream.”
But that’s not to say the Ramos never graces the bar. “It’s one of those drinks where we’re continually looking for innovative ways to recreate it in a similar fashion with much quicker production methods,” says Maurici.
“Some bartenders like to use an Isi whipper. If we were going to make the drink for a function, we would preference a more modern construction using a canister to create a fluffy, light character and dispense it very quickly. The biggest innovation we can look at is construction rather than changing the recipe.
“In my explorations, there’s not a lot to do to make it easier to construct; the unique thing is the fluffy head, and that’s a matter of chemistry. I’ve never been able to find a hack, other than the cream whipper, to make it easier. I am a classicist and I hate to adjust something that’s already a really well-balanced cocktail.”
Gimlet’s bar menu evolves seasonally, but when it comes to making a Ramos, Parish recommends following a certain style and technique — practice makes perfect. The bartender begins the process by putting the glassware in the freezer and ensuring the soda is chilled, too. Lemon and lime juice, orange blossom, syrup, egg white and
cream are added to a tin before the ingredients are given a dry shake.
“A good dry shake before ice shaking is essential,” says Parish. “One of the biggest hacks I figured out while working at The Everleigh was using block ice — shaking with block ice cuts down half your time and you get the same aeration, texture and foam.”
The bartender says the process takes around three minutes. The mixture is poured into a glass and topped with a small amount of soda water to level it and create a head. The glass is then placed into a freezer for around one minute until the top of the drink slightly hardens.
“It gives you an opportunity to create that meringue-like foam,” says Parish. “But if you leave it in the freezer too long, it causes separation between the foam and the drink. You don’t want a whack of fizzy foam and a flat, creamy drink at the bottom.”
After a minute or so, the drink is taken out of the freezer for the finishing touches. “You poke a hole through the foam and add a splash of soda so it rises above the glass to create a crown,” says Parish, who serves the Ramos in a thin water/latte glass. “The glass we use has a smaller volume; I find a lot of bars use Collins or highballs and the cocktail to soda ratio is far too much,” says the bartender.
In terms of hacks, using block ice is a massive time saver in a busy bar environment, but there are other methods to turn to when you don’t have a team of shaker boys around. “There are a lot of ways to lower the time shaking to make it an easier drink,” says Parish. “As time goes on, people realise there are other ways to do things and get the same result. If you shake with Hoshizaki ice, I would use four to five cubes and whip — it gives you aeration and it doesn’t over-dilute your drink.”
Parish estimates using the freezer cuts the cocktail-making time in half and says bartenders can also experiment with dry shaking the egg white without the cream. “It helps you keep that foam; it’s not something I recommend, but some people do that.”
The bar menu at Gimlet has charted a few riffs on the Ramos during the cooler months, and it’s set to make a comeback this year. Parish’s twists have seen the
addition of fior di latte gelato and neroli, with the drink proving to be a huge hit
with guests. “It had gin, lemon and lime blended with in-house gelato and neroli,”
says the bartender. “It was more floral and green rather than that intense perfume
from the orange blossom and we topped it with Champagne instead of soda.”
The team employed the use of a blender to keep up with demand. “It was a delicious drink and ordered quite often.”
While classic cocktails including the martini and the Negroni have made a firm comeback to the mainstream bar world, the Ramos has yet to return to its theatrical roots behind the bar.
“It’s a sad situation it doesn’t appear on more menus; in my career behind the bar, I’ve seen it less and less,” says Maurici. “But the construction creates limitations; you can’t have a line up of shaker boys trying to create a textured drink over 15 minutes. Wouldn’t it be great if there were so many Ramos’ that every bar had a pre-prepared batch? We’re talking a perfect world there. I just hope it doesn’t become extinct.”
Parish is doing his part to ensure that doesn’t happen. “I am all for it,” he says. “The Ramos is such a great cocktail. When it’s made right and you drop it down to a guest, you know you’ve won them over before they’ve even tried it. It’s a drink that should be made more often and enjoyed.”