Ramos Gin Fizz masterclass

Fueled by my desire to learn the classic cocktails (and one day hopefully work in a craft cocktail bar), I have been doing intense study of the history, preparation, and serving methods of one drink per week. This week’s drink is the Ramos Gin Fizz, named for its creator Henry Ramos.

Ramos was a bartender in New Orleans at the Imperial Cabinet Saloon, where he invented the RGF in 1888. The main characteristic of a fizz is that it uses soda water. While many fizzes call for either egg white or heavy cream, the RGF calls for both. This combination of egg white and cream makes emulsification difficult. I’ve learned from palling around with other cocktail nerds that a bartender with an ability to make a rich, foamy RGF is highly desired.

This week I had the opportunity to observe both Misty and John make RGFs at Drink. While I’m sure there are many other equally astute ways to make this particular cocktail, I sure appreciated the chance to see two masters at work. I will try to describe their approaches as objectively as possible.

Misty's Ramos Gin Fizz

Misty measured and combined the citrus, gin, simple syrup in a mixing glass, and added the egg white. She capped with a tin and dry shook really vigorously for a solid 35 seconds. (There was music on the PA that was at a tempo of roughly 120 bpm, and I counted to 70 when she stopped). She popped the tin, added one chunk of hand-hewn ice (about 2.5″ square), recapped, and started shaking again. She shook with continuous motion near her shoulder, about a medium tempo for a good minute. (I pulled out the stop watch on my iPhone so I could get a more accurate measurement). When she finished, she immediately pulled out the chilled Collins glass, poured it about 1/4 full with soda, and double-strained from the tin into the glass. The foam rose from the bottom quickly. As she swirled the conical strainer around the rim, the foam slowly creeped upwards and formed a dome. Carefully Misty slid a metal spoon-straw into the foam and garnished with a twist.

In contrast, John’s approach was to dry shake with just the gin, citrus, and egg white first; he added the cream and simple syrup when he inserted the large format ice. John’s dry shake was not as vigorous/fast as Misty’s, though he covered more space, and I could imagine the mixture sloshing around inside the shaker getting more airtime and thus gaining aeration. On his second stage of shaking, he added 2 chunks of the hand-hewn ice along with cream. With the ice in the shaker, his strokes were shorter and quicker. 20 seconds in, he popped the tin, straw tasted and added some more simple syrup. When re-capping, he went with a pint glass instead of the 16 oz tin he had used previous. (I thought this might have something to do with the temperature… but John clarified later that when he straw tasted it, it needed more sweetening, and so the added volume meant he needed a pint glass so there’d be more room for additional volume inside). Another 20 second shake, and he was ready to double strain. The foam rose slowly up the glass. As it reached the top, one could see that how densely packed the air bubbles were; an indicator of a rich, creamy foam. Although the foam on this fizz did not reach the vertical height or sculpted splendor of Misty’s fizz, it had a certain poofness to it, like a freshly whipped marshmallow.

The LUPEC ladies write that all this crazy shaking by one strong-willed (and -armed) bartender is not in vain:

By Mardi Gras in 1915, Ramos had conceived a new format for emulsifying: 35 shakermen would shake the drink until their arms were tired, then pass it on down the line.

I joked that Ramos wouldn’t have known what to do with himself if he’d had 35 Mistys on his bar staff (that’d be one helluva big foam). Both John and Misty laughed and looked down at their arms, which were probably sore from all that shaking.

* * *

Back at home, I decided it was my turn to get shaking, and begin the journey towards the perfect Ramos Gin Fizz. While I’d achieved success with foams on other fizzes, notably the Chee Hoo Fizz, I had not yet attempted a RGF.  Armed with my observations of John’s & Misty’s approaches, I went to work.  In my first effort, I decided to go with John’s approach (dry shaking without cream). The egg was the only ingredient that had been refrigerated, and I was surprised how quickly the tins cooled down below room temp when shaking. In order to gauge how long I was shaking, I put on Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” recording, since it has several discrete sections and is through-composed. As Gene Krupa’s floor tom rumbled, I started off  with a fairly vigorous shake, using short strokes and lots of shoulder. It took a lot of concentration to make it through the A, and B sections of the arrangement. When the band finished the B section (about 40 seconds in), I popped the tins to take a look inside.  The mixture already looked pretty well aerated—a good sign, I thought.

My first attempt at a Ramos Gin Fizz

I went to the fridge and added the heavy cream, simple syrup, and 4 pieces of ice from my ice tray. The volume within the tin rose significantly, and so I took a cue from what John did and capped with a pint glass—and off I went! Shaker in low force, as Goodman began his first clarinet solo. Krupa rumbled back in with his floor toms, and I intensified my shake. The trombone entrances signaled the finale to my shaking. At this point I had shaken for an additional 60-70 seconds and my arms were sore. I quickly filled a chilled Collins glass 1/4 way with soda and double strained into it.  Although my foam as rich as John’s or as nicely sculpted as Misty’s, I was pleased that my first attempt had a significant amount of foam, and the foam itself was pretty densely packed.

It will surely be a long process for me to get the foam right. A few days ago, I was talking with Todd Maul over at Clio, and he said it took him almost a year to perfect his RGF technique! Wow… I sure have a lot of RGFs in front of me to get to that point!!!

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