It’s one of the great bar world marvels that something so indulgent and rich as the Ramos Gin Fizz can be so delicate. “It’s like drinking a flower,” recalled a guest quoted in Stanley Clisby Arthur’s 1938 Famous New Orleans Drinks. Indeed, observing the frothy crown of a Ramos Gin Fizz rise above the lip of a glass is not unlike watching a time-lapse video of a floret blooming. The comparison is apt; perhaps more than any other classic cocktail, presentation is as important as—if not more important than—the recipe itself. A Martini, even served on the rocks in a plastic dive bar cup, still has a certain appeal. The Ramos, meanwhile, when lacking its characteristic frothy head, appears floppy, flaccid and sad before a sip is ever taken.
But to achieve that signature meringue-like top is no easy feat. “It’s more like a pastry than a cocktail,” said Nicholas Bennett, head bartender at Porchlight, who joined myself, Ernesto's bar director Sarah Morrissey and Maison Premiere bar director William Elliott at a recent blind tasting of 10 Ramos Gin Fizzes held at Maison Premiere, Brooklyn’s New Orleans–inspired bar that has become a home away from home for the NOLA classic.
The primacy of technique was evidenced by the paragraphs of directions that accompanied many of the recipes. Where a typical fizz recipe might simply state, “shake, then strain” the ingredients, the recipes in question insisted on temperature, time, order of operations, and essential tips (“Tap the glass on the bar top to force CO2 up,” “Make sure your glass is kept in the freezer,” “Please measure the egg white,” “Shake for a full 5 minutes”). Though early recipes imply that the soda water is shaken in the tin (a technique known to produce puffy cocktail peaks), no bartenders took that route. Instead, the submitted recipes were divided between layering the seltzer at the bottom of the glass or topping the drink with it at the end.
Notably, two of the three winners opted for the topping method (the third opted for both). First place went to Maison Premiere, whose Ramos Gin Fizz is a signature of the bar, often sent to guests as a showstopping surprise. The recipe calls for two ounces of Plymouth gin, half an ounce each of lemon and lime juice, three-quarters of an ounce each of heavy cream (Ronnybrook Farm) and simple syrup, several dashes of orange flower water, orange bitters and vanilla extract, topped with soda and an expressed lemon peel. The drink was indeed a stunner; the judges pulled out their phones to photograph the impressive head, one of the few that kept its structure.
Second place went to the most wild-card entry in the bunch—Nicholas Jarrett’s blended Ramos Gin Fizz served at Peychaud’s in New Orleans. Combining Hayman’s navy-strength gin with equal parts lemon and lime juice, an ounce of simple syrup, an ounce-and-a-half of cream, an egg white and a whopping 21 drops of orange flower water, the drink is then blended with pebble ice, poured over an ounce of soda water and topped again to get the signature foam collar. The judges were wowed by the immediacy and unprecious approach that nevertheless resulted in an integrated, creamy rendition of the drink.
Third place went to Alex Jump of Death & Co. Denver, whose recipe likewise called for Plymouth gin—a popular choice for its softer, unassertive character—alongside a half-ounce each of lemon and lime, and an ounce each of cream and simple syrup plus egg white, six drops of orange flower water and a two-ounce topper of soda water. The judges liked the flavor, but the recipe was docked for the floppiness of the foam, perhaps a side effect of double-straining the mixture.
Finally, honorable mention went to Abigail Gullo of Ben Paris in Seattle, whose Ramos Gin Fizz, which calls for a full two ounces of cream, held its structure better than any. As indulgent and labor-intensive as it may be, the Ramos Gin Fizz is also remarkable for the swiftness with which it goes down. “It’s one of those drinks that disappears before you realize it’s gone,” said Morrissey. “It’s too easy to enjoy.”