For many, Mardi Gras is the last day of celebration before the fasting season of Lent. At this house, it’s a no-fast excuse for Hamtramck Pączki from Market 22, a platter of jambalaya, and one of my all-time favorite cocktails, Vieux Carré (pronounced voo ka-RAY).
While I was first drawn to this classic by nationally renowned bartender Sean Kenyon in Colorado, the drink originated in New Orleans. Vieux Carré means “old square” in French and refers to the French quarter where the drink was first served in the late 1930s at the Hotel Monteleone, famous today for its circus-like carousel bar. One of the most superbly balanced whiskey cocktails I’ve ever tasted, the seductive sip is made up of equal parts rye, cognac and sweet vermouth, with a few dashes of bitters and a tablespoon of Bénédictine – a liqueur with 16th century herbal base that my husband and I keep on hand specifically for this drink.
Here on the Cool Coast, try making your Vieux Carré with Mammoth Distilling 12 Year Old Rye in small batches. As one of the oldest expressions from the Central Lake Distillery, this rye is “robust enough to withstand the other elements of the drink without losing character,” says head distiller Collin Gaudard, who lived for a few years in the Big Easy. Even if you miss Mardi Gras, an Vieux Carré is good at the bottom of a Michigan spring…as long as you haven’t given up Bénédictine for Lent.