“Leave it to Ramos to make the most aggravating cocktail in the history of bartending,” says Mark Schettler of New Orleans’ Bar Tonique, with mock annoyance.
He’s referring to the fact that Henry C. Ramos, the creator of the now-famous drink, was known for being a bit of a square, and for running his bar, the Imperial Cabinet Saloon, with an ironic temperance that disallowed drunken behavior, loud talk and excessive revelry. By most accounts, the doors closed every night at eight o’clock sharp, and when the Eighteenth Amendment passed, he closed up for good without complaint.
Today, his namesake classic is notoriously loathed by bartenders, not because the ingredients are out of the ordinary (the recipe is built on gin, egg white and cream), but because it calls for a prolonged bicep workout; the original cocktail was supposedly shaken for a whole 12 minutes.
But that lengthy step is what yields the drink’s famous texture, characterized by a thick layer of meringue dense enough to tower over the rim of the glass. It’s also the reason that mastering the Ramos has become something of a self-imposed ritual for bartenders. “Secretly,” says Schettler, “every bartender in New Orleans who’s worth a damn takes a lot of pride in their Ramos.”
Schettler has made the drink in a number of ways over the years to develop a preferred technique, and his method doesn’t stray too far from tradition. In terms of ingredients, he stays true to the original recipe, calling on Old Tom gin for its sweetness and subtle juniper notes. (A more botanical-forward style calls too much attention to the gin, he says.)
But he does make some changes. Most notably, he insists that the marathon shake isn’t as necessary as some might suggest. “At a certain point, it’s diminishing returns,” he says. “I shake until it’s done—less than five minutes.” In another break from convention, he employs the increasingly popular reverse dry shake, a technique in which the drink is shaken with ice first, and then again without it.
Mark Schettler Makes a Ramos Gin Fizz
Though he shortens the required shaking time, he doesn’t skimp on the drink’s rest period. “If you want to give people that ‘wow’ factor when the meringue climbs above the glass, you need to give it time to separate from the liquid,” he explains.
After about five minutes, the meringue will fall an inch or more below the top of the glass. It’s then that Schettler adds soda by inserting a double teardrop spoon into the center of the drink and carefully pouring the liquid along the handle to avoid deflating the meringue, simultaneously pushing it upwards above the rim. “You’re going to get that real nice lift,” he says proudly.
For the final step—the addition of orange flower water—Schettler has strong opinions about how much is used. While some bartenders add a full dash, he feels that it overpowers the flavors and throws off the balance. Instead, he recommends adding three small droplets on top, just before serving, to provide a hint of citrus without pushing overt orange flavors onto the palate.
Like most bartenders, Schettler harbors a distaste for the Ramos during busy times—even without the 12-minute shake, it’s still a time-consuming drink to make—he holds special reverence for it, considering that its creator once lived just a block away from where the bar is today.
“I am sometimes a little overly precious about a lot of things in this business,” he says. “But not everyone gets to make this in the shadow of Henry Ramos.”