How About a Ramos Gin Fizz at 35,000 Feet?

From in-flight Pisco Sours to Ramos Gin Fizzes, a growing group of New Orleans bartenders are trying to one-up each other in the sky. Clair McLafferty on the friendly bartending competition that's emerged via Facebook.

bartender pisco sour airplane

You’re on a plane cruising at 35,000 feet. You sidle up to the cocktail lounge bar and order a Campari and soda. The bartender scoops ice into a Collins glass, pours the Campari, tops it with soda and a garnishes it with twist of orange peel. She hands you the glass on an embossed cocktail napkin, and you settle into a plush, orange lounge chair.

As we’re all well aware, these golden days are now long gone. In fact, until 2015, most on-board drinking options are limited to whatever mini bottles you can buy (or sneak) on board and the soda or juice available on the cart. But with the cocktail renaissance in full swing it was practically a matter of course that bartenders would eventually take matters into their own hands.

One solution to the dearth of good drinks is pre-mixed bottled cocktails. Chicago’s Charles Joly, previously of The Aviary and now the founder of Crafthouse Cocktails (which specializes in said bottled drinks, sold in a handful of states), recently partnered with United Airlines to stock in-flight bars with his bottled Moscow Mules. And for consumers who want to mix their own, there are the Carry On Cocktail Kits which include everything-but-the-booze for making cocktails like an Old-Fashioned or a Gin & Tonic.

Bartenders have posted photos of cocktails ranging from the Daiquiri to a Pisco Sour (the bartender carried the egg through security in a mason jar, then put the yolk and other trash back into the jar) to a Last Word, Martinez and a Vieux Carré. One bartender even attempted a Ramos Gin Fizz with powdered egg whites and powdered cream.

The other, off-books solution to simply bring your bar with you. Most credit Chris Hannah, of NOLA’s French 75 Bar, with starting what has become a friendly competition between bartenders. To participate, bring on everything you’d need to make your drink of choice: shaking tin, bar spoon, jigger, strainer, modifiers (bitters, syrups, etc.), whole fruit for juice or garnish. Once in the air, you order the booze (or bring it with you), ice and a cup from a flight attendant and get another passenger to take pictures of the process. After you’re back on the ground, you upload the photos to social media.

Hannah says the trend started after a trip to the first Camp Runamok, the educational, whiskey-centric summer camp for bartenders in Kentucky. “They gave us little bottles of Campari and vermouth to take home,” he says. “So we ordered gin [from the bar cart] and made Negronis.”

The Facebook posts began soon after. “It started with copying the Dos Equis guy’s tag line [from the TV commercials]: “I don’t always drink on a plane, but when I do, I drink a …,” says Hannah. “Other bartenders started doing the same. They’d call me out, and would try to one up my cocktail.”

Since then, bartenders have posted photos of cocktails ranging from the Daiquiri to a Pisco Sour (the bartender carried the egg through security in a mason jar, then put the yolk and other trash back into the jar) to a Last Word, Martinez and a Vieux Carré. One bartender even attempted a Ramos Gin Fizz with powdered egg whites and powdered cream.

As one might expect, this all comes with a unique set of challenges. “I’ve had a TSA agent question me about my bar spoon,” says Maxton Kennedy, bar manager at The Ostrich in Phoenix. “They also get a little weird about shaker tins. These objects are foreign to a lot of people. And getting produce on a plane is sometimes difficult.”

To make things even more difficult, the legality of drinking booze you bring onto a plane is… complicated. It’s perfectly legal to carry your own mini bottles of booze—or duty-free purchases—onto the airplane, but you’re not supposed to consume it while in flight. But there is a workaround, says Hannah. “Order at least one spirit. You can build on it after the flight attendant passes by you,” he says. “But if they pass by and all you order is ice, they’re going to wonder.”

Kennedy has another strategy: offer people (including the flight attendants) a drink. “If you have enough booze and you offer [a drink] to someone, 90 percent of the time, they accept. When I lived in New Orleans, I met Alexis Korman and Austin Sherman [of Big Easy ‘Bucha] on a 7 a.m. flight to San Francisco one time. I was stirring up Martinezes and offered them one,” he says. “I think that’s the coolest thing.”

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Clair McLafferty is a bartender and writer based in Birmingham, Ala.

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