Things we take for granted, there are a lot of them. Some you use or encounter often, others you don’t even notice intersecting with your life. The familiar becomes comfortable, it’s there, you don’t really give it a second thought for itself. It’s always there, ready and predictable, available at a moments notice. Take the Ramos Gin Fizz, how many of us who drink and/or make one regularly really think about it other than, it is tasty, it is cool, and it can take a long time to make? Don’t lie, seriously, who out there really sits down and thinks about it except as something you need to learn to make if you are serious about booze and cocktails. I’m not talking variations on a theme, not a new twist, but thinking about the original, what it entails, how to make the best one you possibly can.
I was in New Orleans last week, birthplace of the Ramos and the city where Chris McMillian tends bar. He’s a bit larger than life, for a guy like me, it’s like Thor decided to hand out the mead himself in Vallhalla one night. I don’t mean that to kiss his ass, enough people kiss his ass, or try to at any rate. I mean, he’s a presence behind the bar, a font of experience and knowledge that few of us will ever get a chance to accumulate. It takes a lot of years behind the stick to achieve his level of gravitas and also his level of humility. The Ramos is his drink as much as the Last Word belongs to Murray Stenson, or the cheeseburger belongs to In-N-Out, they didn’t invent these things, they just keep them alive as a living thing and make them as best as they can.
I was walking dejectedly back to the Sazerac Bar after my hopes of obtaining some Ojen had been dashed. As I walked down the street contemplating the bleak future – well as bleak as one can be in New Orleans, I walked by Bar Uncommon. It was like a beacon. I walked in, plunked myself down at the bar and asked for a Ramos. I watched Mr McMillian go to work, precisely and smoothly, the shaker like Mjöllnir in his hands, deliberate powerful movements issuing forth, the tool perfectly fitted to him. Then I noticed, he took a very different approach than what I had learned, the ingredients were the same, gin, orange flower water, touch of vanilla (ok this part is up for argument), lemon juice, lime juice, sugar, egg white, cream, and soda.
There was no shoulder jarring series of dry shakes or latte frother brought to bear. Everything but the cream, ice, and soda went into the shaker but no spring, the dry shake was not so much violent as purposeful, powerful deliberate strokes accomplishing what so many of us employ mechanical or vigorous means to achieve. Emulsifying the proteins and get that meringue going, to marry the flavours and textures together, and prepare them to receive the cream and ice. Another departure then ensued, only two ice cubes went into the shaker, then after shaking, no straining happened. He simply poured the soda and the mixture from the shaker at the same time into a glass and set it before me.
HOLY VESTAL VIRGINS! I’m not saying the skies opened or anything, but right then and there a sense memory was formed. I’m not saying this is the definitive Ramos, I doubt that Mr. McMillian, would either, but it was an epiphany. Then he told me of how his methodology had changed recently, a result of a conversation that he had shared with a mutual friend, Mr. Darcy O’Neil at Art of Drink and how that conversation had in turn spawned a volume on the lost art of the soda. That had then set Mr. McMillian thinking on how to re-examine the Ramos. The culmination to this point being sucked down by me, a creamier, thicker, and more integrated Ramos I have never had. Thank you gentlemen for making me not take it for granted and to remind me that this is a living thing, not some holy relic that is static and unchanging. That even after decades of honing and making it by rote, new ideas or rediscovered ideas are great, and breathe new life into a something we just expect to be there for us.