Walter Bergeron created this cocktail at New Orleans’ Hotel Monteleone in the 1930s, and named it “le Vieux Carré” (French for “old square”) in honor of the city’s famed French Quarter. The Vieux Carré is a complex, spirits-driven cocktail that is stunning and surprisingly smooth when properly mixed. The drink is considered a staple of the marvelous Carousel Lounge, which is an actual revolving carousel – you sit, and revolve around the bartenders (but just slowly enough so that you only get dizzy from drinks, not the ride).
- 3/4 ounce rye whiskey
- 3/4 ounce cognac
- 3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
- Dash Peychaud’s bitters
- Dash Angostura aromatic bitters
- 1/2 teaspoon Benedictine liqueur
- Maraschino cherry for garnish
- Combine the ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice.
- Stir well.
- Strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice.
- Garnish with a cherry.
A note on ingredients:
Rye whiskey: Like Bourbon, its sweeter counterpart, rye is a quintessentially American type of whiskey. Although there are Canadian ryes, they can be quite different from those made in the United States (they even spell “whiskey” as “whisky” north of the border.) According to U.S. law, rye whiskey must be made from a mash containing at least 51 percent rye grain, distilled to no more than 160 proof and aged in charred, new oak barrels. If the spirit is aged for at least two years, it can be further designated as “straight rye whiskey.”
A complex, aromatic, rye is the best choice for this cocktail. I’ve had great results with Michter’s US*1 Single Barrel Straight Rye, but can also recommend Sazerac 18-Year-Old Rye and WhistlePig 100/100 Straight Rye Whiskey. You may want to buy a larger bottle, as a good rye whiskey a key component in many classic American cocktails such as the Manhattan (and its offspring the Brooklyn), the Sazerac, and an Old Fashioned.
Sweet Vermouth: Vermouth is an herbal, bitter fortified wine that was originally invented as a patent medicine, and comes in both sweet (rouge) and dry (blanc) varieties. Although vermouth doesn’t actually have any medicinal value, it is a staple in many classic cocktails, so picking up a good quality bottle will definitely elevate your home bar.
I’ve had good results with Dolin Rouge in this drink, it’s a nice subtle, well-balanced vermouth that mixes well and isn’t overly sweet, and it’s relatively easy to find in most American liquor stores. Cinzano and Noilly Prat are two other brands that are commonly stocked here in the States- both are relatively inexpensive, but are more strongly flavored than Dolin. If you feel particularly fancy or want to go all-top shelf, try to track down a bottle of Vya (two-time winner of the award for best vermouth at the London International Wine Challenge) or Carpano Antica Formula (an Italian sweet vermouth that scored 95 points with Wine Enthusiast).
Cognac: A type of French brandy, cognac comes in several different grades, according to age:
- V.S. (“very special”) or ✯✯✯ (three stars) designates a blend in which the youngest brandy has been stored for at least two years in cask.
- V.S.O.P. (“very superior old pale”) or Reserve designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is stored for at least four years in a cask.
- XO (“extra old”) or Napoléon designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is stored for at least six years. In 2016, the minimum storage age of the youngest brandy used in an XO blend will be set to ten years.
- Hors d’âge (“beyond age”) is a designation which is equal to XO, but in practice the term is used by producers to market a high-quality product beyond the official age scale.
The names of the grades are in English because the historical cognac trade, particularly in the 18th century, was heavily influenced by the British. In fact, in 1817, the Prince of Wales (and future King of England) George IV asked Hennessy to create a very special old pale Cognac for him, and thus the labeling term V.S.O.P. was born. Aside from indicating age, the names of the various grades also reflect a corresponding hike in price. For most cocktails, a V.S.O.P will be more than sufficient, whereas an XO or Hors d’âge cognac would be better suited to leisurely sipping after dinner or paired with a suitably decadent dessert or cigar.
If you want a V.S.O.P. that can double down for both sipping and mixing, Hardy V.S.O.P, Hennessy Privilège V.S.O.P., Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal all come highly recommended, and generally retail for around $50-$60 dollars a bottle.
Peychaud’s Bitters: Created in New Orleans around 1830 by the Haitian apothecary Antoine Amédée Peychaud. They’re lighter, sweeter, and have a more floral aroma than Angostura. Peychaud’s Bitters feature prominently in many classic New Orleans cocktails (such as the Sazerac), so it’s worth picking up a bottle to expand your cocktail repertoire. Since you only need a dash or two for most drinks, one small bottle of bitters should last you a long time.
Angostura Bitters: Created in 1824 by Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, a German doctor stationed with Simón Bolívar’s army in Angostura, Venezuela. Siegert spent four years developing a secret blend of tropical herbs and plants with the intent of curing a variety of illnesses- although his concoction didn’t actually cure anything, it did become possibly the most popular brand of bitters in the world. The exact blend is still a well-kept secret to this day (allegedly only five people in the world know the recipe), although the brand is now produced in Trinidad.
Angostura is considered a must when stocking any real bar, and is used in so many cocktails you would be doing yourself and your home bar a disservice not to have a bottle on hand. Thankfully, owing to its massive popularity, you can buy Angostura Bitters in pretty much any liquor store, and even some grocery stores. Just look for the little brown bottle with the oversized, awkward label (the story goes that back in the day, the wrong size label was ordered and everyone in the facility thought someone else would fix the mistake, but no one did and the label ended up becoming a trademark of the brand).
Bénédictine: A gold-colored liqueur first produced by Benedictine monks in the 16th century, Bénédictine adds a sweet, aromatic flavor to cocktails. There’s really no substitute for this liqueur that comes close in terms of flavor, but fortunately it’s not that hard to find in a well-stocked liquor store.
last updated August 17, 2023