One of the oldest and most baroque cocktails in the canon, the Ramos Gin Fizz has become especially fertile territory for bartender experimentation. Perhaps counterintuitively, it seems there is no aspect of this especially fussy drink, which was created by New Orleans bartender Henry C. Ramos in the late 1800s, that can’t be tinkered with.
“It’s a method rather than a strict recipe,” explains Camille Razo, head bartender at Nashville’s Patterson House, which makes a Fernet Ramos and plenty of other variations, too. “You can put anything into a Ramos Gin Fizz,” she insists—before pausing. “Well, except if it’s not gin,” she concludes. “Then it’s not a Ramos Fizz.” (Though, as it turns out, that’s open to all kinds of revision, too.)
The original RGF recipe calls for a mixture of gin, citrus (usually a mix of lemon and lime juices), sugar and orange flower water, all enriched with egg white and cream and fizzed with soda water. Though it initially developed notoriety for the lengthy shaking process called for in historic recipes, many of today’s bartenders have tried to hack that in favor of faster, less labor-intensive techniques.
Beyond that, it’s the “fizz” aspect in particular that seems most open to interpretation. The Fernet Ramos at Patterson House, for example, draws on a Fernet and cola combo, employing three ounces of cola in place of soda water, while the Wiz Fizz, named for creative director Pamela Wiznitzer, of New York’s Seamstress, uses root beer for carbonation. Other variations call on more wildcard alternatives, such as the orange kombucha that tops up The Range Gin Fizz served at Washington, D.C.’s Range, or the last-minute pour of prosecco that gives lift to the Phantom Drift, an Aperol- and pink peppercorn-inflected variation on the menu at San Francisco’s Whitechapel.
Whereas cream and eggs might seem like sacrosanct components, that, too, isn’t necessarily the case: In late 2016, Jose Medina Camacho of Marble Ring in Birmingham created a non-dairy version for a local cocktail competition, mixing gin with Frangelico and coconut cream and topping it off with a locally made coffee oatmeal stout. Likewise, Kansas City, MO, bartender Mike Strohm turned the entire formula on its head for a special science-minded menu at The W. He replaced almost everything in the drink except the gin, using citric acid solution in place of citrus and aquafaba in place of eggs.
If it seems like heresy to take such liberties with an iconic cocktail, it’s worth noting the established historical precedent for flavored fizzes: Golden Age mixologist Jerry Thomas actually created a range within the category, including a Crushed Strawberry Fizz and a pistachio-flavored variation. While these don’t have the same name recognition that the Ramos enjoys today (that theatrical shaking routine clearly went a long way), it’s still a key part of the fizz’s DNA.
To honor this legacy, Jim McCourt, beverage director at Charleston’s Prohibition, draws on both classic fizzes—the Ramos and Thomas’ Pistachio Fizz—for his own Pistachio Fizz variation. “I just wanted to meld the two together and see what I came up with,” he recalls. He opted to dial down the citrusy tang and add rich Faretti Biscotti liqueur for a “more dessert-y” flavor.
If a two-fizz mash-up seems a bit much, how about three? The most over-the-top Ramos Gin Fizz riff likely belongs to Pittsburgh bartender Lucky Munro and his “Ramousse-Café,” which layers three fizzes in colorful Pousse Café-style: a Damson Gin and Violette Fizz on the bottom, a classic Ramos in the middle and a Sloe Gin Fizz on top.