The Ramos Gin Fizz (and other brunch drinks)

If you're younger than 40 and don't hang out with folks in their senior years — or simply don't go places where classic cocktails are celebrated — there's a strong chance that the Ramos Gin Fizz has not made it onto your brunch-menu radar.

That would be your loss. The Ramos Gin Fizz is hands down the perfect brunch beverage. First of all, it's got that wonderful word in there. Fizz. As in, "Hello! Time to wake up and enjoy the rest of the day. And I'm here to help ease you into it, with my creamy, frothy, goes-down-easy personality."

It's best served in a tall, slender Collins glass, dripping with dewy moisture on the outside. A well-made version will deliver a flavor-texture dynamic that hooks you from the very first sip — and you'll never forget the first time.

Presented during a 21st birthday brunch in my honor and hosted by my dear godparents, Ralph and Louise, that's exactly what I remember. The venue was the restaurant veranda at the Alta Mira Hotel, overlooking San Francisco Bay. The location was intoxicating enough, I would say, but that exquisite Ramos Gin Fizz was the cherry on top.

"Oh, my gosh," I said. "What is this wonderful drink?"

The Ramos Gin Fizz is used to such fuss.

Seattle-based cocktail aficionado and writer Paul Clarke is equally passionate about the RGF. In his entertaining blog, The Cocktail Chronicles (cocktailchronicles.com), he writes:

"With its long list of ingredients — including cream and raw egg white, plus the difficult-to-find orange flower water — and the physical effort involved in its mixing — most bar manuals recommend it be shaken vigorously for anywhere between 2 and 12 minutes — the Ramos Gin Fizz harks back to a day before instant messaging (hell, before telephones). Given the strikes against this drink, one could be forgiven the notion that the Ramos Gin Fizz is perpetually perched at the edge of the abyss, ready to follow other libations of its vintage, such as the sherry cobbler and the brandy flip, into the realm of deceased and near-forgotten cocktails, documented only in dusty bar manuals and recalled only as a mixological oddity."

But that's just not the case, says Clark. The drink's creator, Henry C. Ramos, "deserves a big star on the Cocktail Walk of Fame. The Ramos Gin Fizz is a luxurious drink: The prolonged shaking aerates the cream and egg white and creates a mix of silky texture, and the combination of juices and botanicals makes for a complex layer of flavor."

Ramos presented this drink to an appreciative public in 1888, at his Imperial Cabinet Saloon, located on the corner of Gravier and Carondelet streets in New Orleans. Nineteen years later, its following grew when Ramos purchased another bar, The Stag, and added the cocktail to its menu. During Carnival and Mardi Gras, there would be upwards of 35 shaker boys behind the bar, practically shaking their arms off and still barely keeping up with the demand.

And even though you will find plenty of variations on the Gin Fizz that encourage mixing in a blender, that's just not the route I'm willing to take when pursuing this drink in its purest form. You see, it's the shaking action and reaction between the cream, egg whites and cracked ice that aerates the mixture just enough to produce its classic frothy character. So suck it up. Your biceps will thank you in the long run.

You may want to limit your Ramos Gin Fizz preparations to intimate brunch gatherings.

For larger midday gatherings — and lacking a behind-the-bar line-up of "shaker boys" — you may want to go the route of pre-mixed beverages. Pitcher drinks, if you will. I thought it fitting to include a few recipes from this genre, as well.

Mixing up a batch in the pre-party phase is an effortless and stylish way to entertain and still have fun at your own party. After all, as I've already said, making individual cocktails like the Ramos Gin Fizz takes time and focus.

Pitcher drinks don't have to be fruit based — after all, one of the most appropriate drinks to complement your savory brunch items is the Bloody Mary — but the ones to follow do start with fruit. They're all from my favorite go-to book on the subject, "The Ultimate Guide To Pitcher Drinks — Cool Cocktails for a Crowd," by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

My one tip to pass along is that you don't have to actually store your prepared pitcher drinks in a pitcher until the party begins. I always pour the mixture into an empty 1.5-liter plastic water bottle with a screw-on cap so I can tuck the mixture into any corner of my refrigerator while it's chilling.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a cookbook author and columnist in Corvallis. Reach her at janrd@proaxis.com.


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