A classic cocktail first dreamed up in New Orleans, the Ramos Gin Fizz is one of the frothiest, most Instagram-worthy drinks out there. Lore has it that bars employed shaker boys for the rigorous job of shaking up Ramos Gin Fizzes — for 20 minutes straight.
On this episode of “Cocktail College,” host Tim McKirdy talks with Lucinda Sterling, managing partner at New York bars Middle Branch and Seaborne, about the craft of making the Ramos Gin Fizz. Sterling brings along her best tips for the tricky business of blending egg whites, cream, simple syrup, and citrus with gin. Plus, she shares her tips for making a Ramos foamy and photo-ready, without overworking her biceps in the process.
Tune in to learn how to make the perfect Ramos Gin Fizz.
MAKE LUCINDA STERLING’S RAMOS GIN FIZZ
- 2 ounces gin, such as Ford’s or Beefeater
- ½ ounce lemon juice
- ½ ounce lime juice
- 1 ounce simple syrup
- 1 ounce heavy cream
- 1 medium egg white
- 1 small drop orange blossom water
- Add heavy cream to a shaker filled with ice, and egg white to a separate shaker without ice.
- Shake both at the same time until the tin with cream is well chilled. Shake the egg white for a little longer, then combine the two in the egg white tin (without ice).
- Add lemon juice, lime juice, simple syrup, and gin.
- Add a small handful of pellet ice and shake for as long as you can stand (at least three minutes).
- Strain it into a cold fizz glass (or a highball glass).
- Place in the fridge for a minute or two.
- Top with soda water and finish with orange blossom water.
CHECK OUT THE CONVERSATION HERE
Lucinda Sterling: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.
T: It’s great to be here with you. It’s brunch o’clock here, and the Ramos Gin Fizz is the perfect brunch cocktail. It has everything you need in there. We’re talking gin, cream, lemon and lime, and soda water. Before we get into the nitty gritty and the technique, is the combination of those things kind of an outlier in the cocktail space? There’s some notable things there. You don’t find cream in most cocktails. There’s also the use of lemon and lime. How much of a stand-alone drink is this?
L: With the mix of lemon and lime, you’re getting a more balanced citrus effect. Lime is a little bit more gentle, and that’s why you can get away with using more of it in certain drinks like the Gimlet, Daiquiri, or Margarita.
T: It’s so interesting. I was recently at a talk given by Dale DeGroff. He was talking about the history of citrus and saying those same things, about how lime and lemon are different profiles that can complement each other. Like you say, they have a different pH and different acidity levels, and they bring different complexities to it. To my mind, I can’t think of any other cocktails — I’m sure they’re out there — that have lemon and lime both in there.
L: I couldn’t tell you for sure right now.
T: None of the good ones. If Lucinda doesn’t know them, they’re none of the ones that you want to be drinking.
L: Well, I want to drink everything, so I can’t speak to that. If there was another one, I would think that it would be something that has orange as well, making for a combination of all the citruses so that you get that roundness of citrus experience. I think that they have actually done a good job of distilling each of these ingredients — lemon, lime, orange, and maybe even grapefruit — into one. I think it was Tanqueray 10 that did that.
T: They have Rangpur, which is a Seville orange gin. It’s very good.
L: That’s where that’s important. You want that full consummate experience with the citrus that you’re getting.
How to Shake a Ramos Gin Fizz
T: That’s a fast forward into the future of this conversation. We’re going to be talking about that later. I think that’s a good candidate for a gin, when we get into that. I think the Ramos conversation boils down — actually, this is a cocktail podcast, so it distills down — to two topics. There’s shaking and Instagram appearances. One directly leads to the other. The shaking gets you to this drink that probably looks better than any other out there. Let’s talk about shaking. Famously, the legend goes that you should shake your Ramos for 20 minutes. Do you subscribe to that theory? I believe there’s a number of different techniques that have come out in recent years that can cut some of that time or make it a little bit easier.
L: I love the fact that there are so many stories behind the preparation process of the Ramos Gin Fizz. I do believe that there are separate processes involved in making the Ramos Gin Fizz. You have to shake your cream a little bit differently because it requires a lower temperature. If you shake your egg white too long, it just becomes flat or too hard and not as playful.
L: Yes. Over-whipped. It has your bubbles. I think integrating the bubbles is a really important part of making that Ramos Gin Fizz. So that was probably why it took so long, because there were so many different processes. I don’t think it was because some guy was standing there for 20 minutes.
T: Just shaking for 20 minutes. The story goes that in certain bars in New Orleans, you would employ people to shake this cocktail for 20 minutes, which is crazy. I think, like you said, things get lost in history. It didn’t necessarily take 20 minutes. Today, we have these different techniques. There’s the dry shake. There’s the reverse dry shake. What are these things? Should we care about them? How can they help this cocktail?
L: At the end of the day, I think you only need to care as far as your customer’s satisfaction goes. Make them happy. If they want a Ramos Gin Fizz that has two inches of foam on top, then do that for them. There’s a way to do it. You put it in the refrigerator, let it sit, and then you get that separation. If somebody wants a drink right away, integrate it. Just shake it together and pop it out on the bar.
T: Can you briefly explain to me, as a layman, what these two techniques are?
L: A dry shake just does not use ice.
T: Typically, we’re shaking cocktails that will have citrus and, in this case, egg white. Are you shaking it without ice?
L: You’re shaking an egg white, definitely, without ice first. That’s how you’re going to get the foam. You’re going to integrate the bubbles. Then, shaking with a little ice creates a little aggravation. The aggravation is an important process in making the cream. I would personally recommend shaking the egg white separate from the cream and not shaking the cream for too long. Then, join both of those together and finish shaking. Then, you’re getting this nice bubble layer.
T: Just a quick recap there as well. We’re going to get into these ingredients more, but we’re talking about in that tin. You have your gin, your lime and lemon, simple syrup to bring some balance and sweetness. At that point, you have your egg white, but you’re not going to add your cream first. You’re going to shake it up, add cream after, and shake it again. I’m starting to see where this whole 20-minute business is coming into it. It seems like a complicated process.
L: Right. If you’re a good bartender, then you can shake with both hands separately. If you’re going to make a lot of Ramos Gin Fizzes — if that’s something you regularly do, like they do in New Orleans — have a batch of semi-shaken cream on the side. It stores very well. It stays for three to five hours. That’s less work for the bartender.
T: So, it’s semi-whipped cream?
L: Not even really whipped. It’s just aerated slightly. That helps bring the bubbles to the egg white that’s been shaken and aerated.
T: And prepared on the side. That’s awesome. If you had this drink on your menu, you could have lemon and lime batched there for the day, but together. It’s just taking one step out of the process.
L: Absolutely. You don’t want to add your acid until everything is completely aerated, though.
T: Yeah. You just keep them separately, right? You have your aerated cream and your lemon-lime mix.
L: You can even do the lemon-lime mix with the gin if you want to really knock it out.
T: Mise en place. We’ve spoken about the effort that goes into it. Is this a drink that you want to put on the menu? From that preparation perspective, it takes a long time. Are you setting yourself up for failure if you put this on your menu? It’s a Friday night, and a group of eight people who have never heard of the Ramos Gin Fizz get eight of those. Should this be on the menu? Or is it more of an insider handshake, as we call it these days?
L: If it’s on the menu, it should come out of a gun. If somebody ordered a Ramos Gin Fizz from me, with it not being on the menu, I would make two — one for them, one for me.
T: For the record, you do not have this on your menu right now.
L: I think that’s a step in the wrong direction if you’re trying to be a craft cocktail bar. If you’re a restaurant-style bar, I think people expect to wait a little bit longer for their cocktails. We’re looking at making money and volume.
T: Money and volume. This is not a drink that’s receptive to those things.
L: It depends on how you prepare. You can knock it out as long as you don’t feel like you have to put it in the refrigerator and let it sit for 12 minutes, or have 12 people shaking for one minute at a time.
T: That comes into it as well. We’ve talked about the different shaking techniques. You’ve brought all those ingredients together in the shaker. You’ve shaken them, added your cream, you’re shaking that, too, you put it in the fridge to solidify the body, and this is all before we’re adding sparkling water.
L: I don’t know if it solidifies the body. I think what it does is creates a little separation, so then when you do finally add the soda, the foam rises to the top faster.
T: The foam separates from the rest of your ingredients.
L: Yeah. It’s lighter because of the air that’s been introduced. So, it’s going to sit higher up. If you add soda too fast, then it’s going to flow over the top of the glass. That’s why they do the slow pour. I think there’s a process where you can use a stirring spoon to add the soda, and it creates more of a sink effect.
T: Are we talking about the twisty part, the swizzle, of the spoon?
L: Yes. It’s a twisted bar spoon. If you add the soda via that, it goes straight to the bottom of the glass, rather than introducing carbonation straight at the top.
T: My first job in the restaurant industry was being a food runner. Unfortunately, part of my responsibilities were to make coffees as well. Towards the end of the night, we’d get the coffee orders in. That was fine, apart from the fact that I was 18 and didn’t drink coffee. On Saturday nights, we’d start to get Irish Coffee orders. I had this same problem all the time with whipping the cream and getting it to float. I would make three or four and the cream would sink. You’re supposed to do that on the back of a spoon. It’s kind of related to what we’re talking about with cream and spoons.
L: Think about it like this. The greatest surface tension is in the middle. If you add the cream to the middle, it’s less likely to drip down the side. If you’re putting your spoon in the middle, then it’s going to go straight. It’s going to maybe settle a little bit at the top, but if you’re talking about something going to the bottom intentionally, maybe go through from the side.
T: But, stick that spoon in there. With the Ramos, you’re sticking the spoon in so that the whole thing comes up.
L: Yeah, but you want to be careful not to break that mesh of protein.
T: Right. That’s what worries me when you’re talking about using the spoon. You just spent this effort creating this incredible foam, and then you’re going to stick a spoon in there?
L: From the side.
How to Make an Instagram-Worthy Ramos Gin Fizz
T: From the side. Perfect. Ultimately, you already answered this. It comes down to what the guest wants. For you yourself, Lucinda Sterling, are you going for the Ramos that looks amazing? I’m talking about Empire State foam on the top. Or, do you go for one that’s a little bit more chill, but very well incorporated? What do you subscribe to?
L: Now, the latter. One time, when I was making a Ramos Gin Fizz for a guest, she saw me making it. I put it in the fridge to let it sit for five minutes. In the meantime, I had made six to 10 other drinks. She saw that and said, “Why did you just make six to 10 other drinks and I’ve been waiting here for my Ramos Gin Fizz?” I told her, “That’s how you’re supposed to do it.” She said, “I’m out.” She walked away. I thought to myself, “Great. Now I have a Ramos Gin Fizz that I can drink.” I think it’s really important to think about the situation that you’re in. If somebody comes up and asks for a Ramos Gin Fizz and they give you some other details and requests, then of course, do your best to fulfill them. But at least be realistic about your situation.
T: Up until this point, we haven’t mentioned that orange blossom is in there. Is that something that I should be going on Amazon and ordering? Do I have to have that for this drink? Or, is it one of those things where I’m looking at a recipe and think, “Well, it says two drops. I don’t need that. I’ve got all the rest of the stuff.” How essential is that to this cocktail?
L: I think it’s essential, because you’ve already got the other two citrus ingredients. It adds to that floral element in the very fragile body that it has. Instead of using actual orange juice, which doesn’t work well in cocktails in general, you’ve got the essence of orange.
T: Really? Why is that, in terms of the oranges? I don’t really recall many drinks with orange juice.
L: There aren’t a lot. You’ve got the Gentlemen’s Buck and the New Orleans Buck. They use orange. Usually, those are pineapple based, but pineapple is not always that available. The orange just seems to have this quality where it gets less appealing if it’s not freshly juiced. There’s just something about it. I’m not quite sure. I’m not a scientist, but fresh orange juice is a thing. If it sits for a while, then it’s not as useful.
T: It’s not as good. The orange blossom essence is incredibly powerful, potent, and floral. It just has a profound effect.
L: The aromatics from that, I think, are gentle. It’s not going to overtake the drink. I think it’s essential in the delivery of the drink. As the foam dissipates or as bubbles start to break down, you get that beautiful smell. There’s a beautiful aroma from the Ramos Gin Fizz. I think that’s one of the draws.
T: That’s something about cocktails as well. With the Ramos specifically, we’re looking to engage all of the senses. We’ve got the eyes already. It looks amazing. Then, that helps with the aromas before you take a sip.
L: Sure. You’ve got the presentation. You’ve got the mouthfeel. You have the aromas. I think the most important thing to take away from that situation is smell. Smell has the most impact long term with your experiences.
T: That’s how you’re tasting. The nose knows. Another question here. I think that the Ramos is the soufflé of the cocktail world. Don’t say to me, “Oh yeah, that’s obvious, because you’re whipping it up and it’s hard to make.” The soufflé is something that you learn how to make, but you know it’s very fragile. You put it in the oven and it can collapse. It’s very difficult. Ultimately, is anyone ordering them? Is that true of the Ramos as well? Do you learn how to make your classic Ramos and then you never make one again? How popular is that drink these days? When was the last time you made a Ramos for a customer?
L: Four years ago.
T: Four years ago. Who was it?
L: It was a very important person.
T: Oh, really? Do you want to tell us about that?
L: Her name is Lucinda. There’s an Instagram page out there. Somebody started requesting people to send in their images of Ramos Gin Fizzes and how big they can get. So, I did that. I made it, and it fell so flat, immediately. I never sent in a picture. It’s an interesting site, though.
T: So, it’s an Instagram devoted to this cocktail?
T: Wow. That was the last time you made that drink for a paying guest?
L: Yeah. I just decided to start making other things.
T: Clearly, you don’t have it on the menu, and people are also not coming in and ordering them.
L: It’s no surprise that they’re not. They don’t want to wait. I’m sure there’s a historical aspect to that. There are also other great ingredients out there that don’t incorporate egg and cream at the same time. Very rarely do I get an order for whiskey sour with an egg white in it. Pisco Sour, yes. That’s a very popular one. Egg white has gone by the wayside a little, though.
Perfecting the Ramos Gin Fizz
T: So let’s talk about the ingredients. Let’s take the microscope out now, and we’re going to look at incredible attention to detail. We’re going to look at every part of these ingredients and the process, starting with the gin. This is a gin cocktail. Do you feel like a classic London Dry is the way to go because it’s historical and it was probably what was used? Or, do you feel like these new styles of gin that we’re seeing may lend themselves more to the drink because they’re not quite as juniper-forward and have other aromatics?
L: Old Tom was the original.
T: Let’s talk about that.
L: That’s it. Old Tom was the original gin. Then you get your London Dry. Of course, London Dry still has those botanicals that you can smell. I think it’s a sweeter drink naturally because of its ingredients. It’s more like a dessert-style drink, or, like we said, brunch. These new styles are coming out that have some strange amount of botanicals. It depends on how those botanicals relate to the rest of the ingredients in the Ramos. I think that’s a really important consideration. You can have a dry gin and still make it taste good. It doesn’t mean that it’s dry, necessarily. It can still be a sweet drink. But, if there’s a citrus-forward gin, I would definitely gravitate toward that.
T: You were talking about that Tanqueray earlier.
L: 10 is the best.
T: 10 is really good. I have a very soft spot for 10. Citrus-forward gin is going to lend itself to the lemon and lime.
L: Sure. You don’t want to have too many gins in your well or on your back bar.
T: How many gins do you have on your back bar?
T: Out of those, which one would you pick for this cocktail? Plymouth?
L: I think so.
T: That has that citrus-forward aspect.
L: Or Ford’s gin.
T: Ford’s gin. Very good. I’m a big fan. Cream is the next ingredient. Can I stick to my half and half in here? Or, has it got to be the full cream for this? Tell me what I should know about cream when I’m thinking about making this drink.
L: I think you should use heavy cream. I’m not quite sure of the fat content, but it does have to be a fatty cream. Something that’s more like a whipping cream.
T: You were speaking earlier about semi-whipping and temperatures. Is it easier to shake up and whip cream if it’s room temperature or pulled from the fridge?
L: It’s not as effective. You have to have it refrigerated.
T: You have to have it refrigerated. I think that’s why my Irish coffees were bad at the end of the Saturday nights. I left my cream out, and it just wasn’t whipping.
L: Eggs should be more room temperature.
T: Yes. Perfect. Next point. Eggs. Tell me about room temperature egg whites and how the New York Health Authority feels about that.
L: There’s just a certain amount of time that they can be out of the fridge before the health department says anything. As long as they’re in the refrigerator when they’re there and you take it out, just let it sit for a little bit. It’s not going to take that much longer to get it to room temperature.
T: Room temperature eggs are easier to whip up,
L: Room temperature is relative. If you’re in a tropical setting, room temperature may happen in five seconds. You really want to consider where you are. The egg is ready to whip at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
T: Here’s something that I have to contribute. I’m not the expert here, but from my time working in kitchens in London, we made macarons.
L: Oh, yum.
T: Whipped egg white was essential. We did not follow the health and safety guidelines of the local government. If we knew that we were making a big batch of macarons the next day, a very good pastry chef taught me a trick, which was leaving it at room temperature overnight, covered with cling film, but with holes studded in so it could breathe. Some of the water content of the eggs evaporates. It’s gone. Egg whites are around 70 percent water. If you’re doing this at home and you’re not trying to run an establishment that has a liquor license, maybe you can leave your egg whites for your Ramos out overnight. Is that something you’ve done before or tried?
L: No. I think I’m going to try that today. I think it’s common knowledge that you don’t necessarily have to refrigerate your eggs. There’s a certain point where they do start to deteriorate. Does everybody know how to check if an egg is still good or if it’s bad?
L: Let it float in water. If it floats, it’s bad. If it stays at the bottom of the glass or bowl, it’s still OK.
T: After that, there’s simple syrup. You were talking about Old Tom gin earlier. Do you think they probably used simple syrup in the original, or would they have needed to? Why are we bringing simple syrup into the equation?
L: In the original, no. They didn’t use actual sugar. It was more like baker’s sugar or powdered sugar. Maybe that lent itself to integrating the ingredients a little bit better back then. Simple’s a shortcut.
T: We’re using that now. Is that strictly necessary? The full-fat cream?
L: I don’t think you need to, actually. If you used sugar cubes, that would help aggravate the ingredients so you get more air bubble introduction.
T: When you’re shaking, you’re just chucking a cube in there?
L: Or two.
T: This reminds me of a conversation I was having with Eric Alperin for the first episode of “Cocktail College.” He was talking about how they have a very specific spec for the sugar cubes that they use for the Old Fashioned. I know that you and Eric came up in the same family, as it were. Is this technique that we’re talking about today linked to that? Is that a Sasha kind of development?
L: I can’t speak to that being a Sasha development. I do believe that sugar was used in cube form for a long time. Like I said, simple syrup is a shortcut. Using a sugar cube, while it introduces sweetness, also has a bitterness that comes from sugar as well. That helps make the drink less sweet, even though you have the sugar cube. If you’re using simple syrup, it changes the whole dynamic of the drink.
T: So, are you saying simple syrup is almost perceivably sweeter than using a sugar cube?
L: Yeah. Adding water just makes the sweetness more available to your palate. You detect the sweetness sooner on your palate.
T: On the other hand, using a cube, we’re adding complexity, which is bitterness.
L: Not necessarily adding. Yes, complexity is a good thing, but not adding pure sweetness.
T: No. But, we’re also aiding in the shaking process, which we’ve established is kind of hard.
L: Yes. In an Old Fashioned, there’s a little bitterness. But, I’m thinking if you’re adding a sugar cube versus simple syrup, then you’re helping the aggravation process.
T: Yes. Anything that you can do to do that, just do it. Go with it.
T: So we have gin, cream, egg, and simple syrup. We’ve spoken about the importance of citrus and why we’re using the two different types. Let’s get into a little bit of the science for a second and talk about fresh citrus. How fresh is fresh? What’s the best?
L: I would think that fresh means then.
T: Straight away.
L: Yes. Some would argue that the level of acidity for lime juice goes down, and eight to 10 hours is the peak time to use lime. It just needs a little time to cool off, metaphorically.
T: Blow off some steam, like my dogs. It needs five minutes in the morning to run around the house a little bit, and then we’re good.
L: Just oxidize. There’s a flavor change, but lime juice has an amazing ability to last for a long time, even days. Lemon juice, however, because of the oily characteristic that it has — if you’re juicing it with the skin on, then it has that nice oil to it — that will help it disintegrate a little bit faster.
T: Citrus is done. Out of the way. Now, orange blossom. We’ve spoken about that, but it absolutely has to be in there. Would you exercise some caution when you’re using it? Because it can be pretty full on.
L: A little goes a long way, for sure. You really want it to just be a note. You don’t want it to be the hero.
T: That’s in there with the original ingredients, right?
L: I would personally add it after, either as a spritz or just a little dropper.
T: Atomizer. Awesome. Final ingredient. Sparkling water, soda water, seltzer, or whatever you want to call it. Do you have a preference on that, or is it basically bubbles and it’s good? There’s a guy out there, Martin Riese, who is the water guy. He’s a water somm. Fair play to this guy. He’s made it his life’s work. He believes that different waters taste differently and also can impact all the other things that you’re eating and drinking at the same time. Do you go that deep when it comes to water?
L: I subscribe to all of that because I grew up in Nebraska and the water tasted like sand.
T: The water tasted like sand in Nebraska?
L: Yeah. These are sand-based locations and that filtration of the water has to only travel around 100 feet to be potable. In Colorado, where I also grew up, it only had to travel 50 feet. It depends on the terrain that it’s moving through. It’s kind of disturbing because 100 feet is not that far. If you were in New York City and you walked 100 feet, you’d drink the water going down the street. But yes, I definitely agree that the minerality affects how it tastes. You’ve got an ACL, which is a salt and magnesium chloride, which is less salty tasting. If you’re using it for a cocktail, at the end of the day, with all those ingredients in your Ramos Gin Fizz, is it going to affect the aftertaste that you’re experiencing? Or, are you just going to taste the cream because of the velvety notes? Or, are you going to taste the citrus?
T: So, you’re not checking TDS levels before you’re making your drink?
L: I’m using whatever’s available, OK? If I have to use a soda gun, I will, just for the sake of being able to get this drink out to the guest. I’d say a mix of nitrogen and carbon dioxide would be an ideal blend, though. The size of the bubbles change. If you have smaller bubbles, then maybe you’re going to help get that foam or the aeration a little bit finer.
T: Now we’re talking about one of the world’s finest drinks, and that’s Guinness, with the nitrogen.
L: Well, there you go. That’s your foam.
T: It’s all related to the Ramos. I mentioned TDS, and I think I should just qualify that by saying that’s total dissolved solids. That’s all the things that you’re talking about there, like magnesium and sodium. We’ve basically gone through everything. Let’s envision that we are sitting at your wonderful bar. I’ve just finished sitting in the barber chairs in the back. I’ve actually done that. I’ve got a selfie there. It’s amazing. I love your bar, so I just wanted to shout out some of those things. Let’s say I’ve ordered your Ramos Gin Fizz. Talk me through the process. What are you doing for however long it takes you to make it?
Lucinda Sterling’s Ramos Gin Fizz Recipe
L: I’m going to drop my egg white into a tin. I’m going to take another tin and ice it, so I can shake my cream. I’m going to shake my cream and egg white at the same time. I’ll shake my egg white a little longer than the cream. I’m going to combine the two. Then, I’m going to add the citrus and the simple after the dry shake. I’ll add the gin last. I’ll add ice after adding the gin and then shake it for about three minutes or as long as I can stand. The shaker just needs to be really cold. I’ve already done the dry shake on the cream and egg white. Once that’s done, I strain it into a glass that doesn’t have any ice. Maybe I’ll pop it in the fridge, but the kind of ice I’m going to use is pellet ice. I’m not going to use a cube, a cold draft, or something like that.
T: So, what’s pellet ice? Why are you using that?
L: If you’ve ever been to 7-Eleven, it’s that ice that comes with the slurpee. Then, you’re getting a little bit more surface area. You’re getting your dilution faster. Also, you’re getting that aggravation process down. It’s not more than a handful of pellets, maybe a golf ball size.
T: So, you’re using that for a chill and dilution? By the end of making the drink, then all of it will have dissolved. You’re almost calculating that ahead of time.
L: You want to wait until it is completely integrated.
T: You’re talking about a small handful of pellet ice. That’s perfect. That’s a great explanation. What’s next?
L: I pour it into a fizz glass. That’s the equivalent of a Coke glass. It’s a little, tiny glass. That way, you’re not adding too much water. You don’t want it to be watered down. Since you’re not using ice, you don’t need extra space. A fizz glass is, I believe, the proper terminology.
T: That’s not a highball.
L: It can be a highball. Highball comes in various sizes. I think the traditional highball is about 12 ounces, but you can get a six or an eight.
T: I’ve had one of your Ramos Gin Fizzes, and you served it to me in a smaller glass. I thought, “You’re a genius.” Then there’s not that danger of adding too much water.
L: I agree with you.
T: I think that’s the way to go. Can you describe that glass so that people who are not us can know what that glass looks like?
L: It’s cylindrical in shape. It’s still called a highball.
T: But, it’s like two thirds of the normal height of a highball?
L: I would buy something that’s between six and eight ounces. It depends on how much volume you expect to put into the drink. At Little Branch, I believe our specs were half lime, half lemon. We either used sugar cubes or 1 ounce of simple syrup. I’m going to say 1 ounce. I think some people might disagree with me, but that’s where I sit. And I don’t use Old Tom Gin. I use Fords or Beefeater. The egg white has to be a medium size because if you get too much egg white in there, then it just takes up most of the drink. Like you said, it has a certain smell to it. Medium is a really good size. Then, there’s 2 straight ounces of gin.
T: And how much cream?
L: An ounce of cream.
T: Perfect. I think the only thing that we didn’t learn from you there is how much orange blossom you’re using.
L: If you’re using a dropper, then it’s a small drop, not even the full dropper. Some people use an atomizer. I think that’s a really good idea. You use one to two sprays. I would just use a drop straight out of the bottle.
T: Perfect. Aromas.
L: It’s just about the nose.
Final Thoughts On the Ramos Gin Fizz
T: The nose knows. So, any final thoughts on the Ramos Gin Fizz?
L: If you want to enjoy your Ramos Gin Fizz, I recommend going straight in from the glass, getting that milk mustache, and imbibing it with that beautiful aroma of the orange blossom. All those sensory faculties will kick in at once. If you use a straw, it kind of takes away from that. I always taught my bartenders to, when they first create a drink, drink it the way it’s supposed to be consumed.
T: Yeah. Having a sip doesn’t equate to a full glass.
L: Doing a straw taste takes away from the experience completely.
T: That’s a really great point, though. It relates to your glass ingenuity. I think making a smaller version of this drink is better because then you drink it faster. It’s low-ABV. We’re talking 2 ounces of gin and a lot of other stuff going in there. Drink it fast, and then order a second.
L: Order a second, for sure, but order it right away. With those ingredients that we’re talking about, like egg white, they’re very fragile. You’re going to get that separation.
T: This is semi-emulsified, not fully. You want to enjoy that while it’s happening.
L: Yes, absolutely. Emulsification is the most important part for that drink.
Getting To Know Lucinda Sterling
T: It’s been great getting to know you over the Ramos, Lucinda. I want to ask some other questions not related to the drink that are going to help us get to know you more, but also provide some advice for home bartending geeks or younger bartenders out there starting their journey. These are the quick-fire questions that we traditionally end the show with. I’m going to start with question No. 1. What is the first bottle, whether you want a brand or general style, that makes it onto any of your back bar programs?
L: If it’s not gin, it’s bourbon. It’s been that way for a long time. I’d like to give a special shout-out to Elijah Craig because we’ve been using them at our bars since 2005, and they’ve pretty much stayed at the same level of quality. Their profile hasn’t changed. It works in all of our bourbon drinks.
T: It’s a really wonderful bourbon. I love it a lot.
L: I hope they never run out.
T: Second question. Which ingredient or two is the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
L: The jigger. There are so many different styles and jiggers out there. This is really important. If you use a Japanese jigger, you have to fill it all the way up so you get the meniscus, Meniscus can go either way. It can be negative or it can be over the top. I think you’re going to get a lot of waste, though. As a bartender and a bar owner, I don’t like that. I want to be pretty exact. I like my graduated jiggers. Of course, you have to find one that is actually on point. I buy graduated cylinders and measure out each of the jiggers to make sure that they’re on point. That way, we never have to worry about over or under-pouring. Sasha said this: “You’re never really going to ruin a drink if you add too much alcohol, but if you add too much sugar or citrus, you might have an imbalanced cocktail.” Obviously, Old Fashioneds can never have too much bourbon, but if you have too much sugar or lime in your Daiquiri, it’ll throw it off, and you’ll be able to taste that.
T: That’s a very nice, natural walkway into our next question here. The third question on our list is what’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received in the industry?
L: No wasted steps.
T: What does that look like?
L: That means being very efficient at what you’re doing because you want to execute as much as you possibly can with as little effort and time as possible. You have a roomful of people that are clamoring for drinks. You want to walk home at the end of the day with $10,000. What are you going to do? You’re going to learn your steps of service. You’re going to learn how to build your rounds. You’re going to learn how to be efficient, whatever that takes. Figure out your mise en places. Figure out how to serve your guests as fast as possible and as well as possible. Communicate with your team all the time. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
T: Wonderful advice. Question No. 4. If you could only visit one last bar in your life, what would it be?
L: I would visit the Rainbow Room.
T: Nice. Talk to us about that choice.
L: I would have loved to be learning from one of the best, an icon. Just watching him and his team work, I’m sure, was just magical. On top of that, being able to see a panoramic view of New York City, you can’t beat that.
T: I heard you speaking on a panel recently, about Sasha’s legacy. I am someone who never got to go to the original Milk & Honey. The way that people always describe stepping into that seems magical. Part of me feels like it’s kind of cool that I have it as this mythical thing that I never did experience. Sometimes meeting your heroes will crush your dreams. Rainbow Room would be right up there, like you said, just being in that period of time and seeing what was happening.
L: You mentioned Milk & Honey. When I walked in for the first time, it wasn’t necessarily the candlelight or the demure bar setting. The person that I first saw when I walked into Milk & Honey was Sasha. He’s the one that changed my vision of what a gentleman should be. He was dressed in his trousers that were too baggy, a nice button up shirt, and his suspenders. That made me realize that there’s a completely different side to society than I was familiar with. I grew up, like I said, in Nebraska and Colorado. This, to me, was like the consummate gentleman. I think that’s the reason Milk & Honey was just so much of a draw. Of course, the cocktails were great, but the first time I walked in there, I ordered a dirty vodka Martini. Come on.
L: I think what I’d like to make known is that I would love to visit bars that don’t have that same appeal that we’re used to. The only reason I would say I would ever go to my own is because I do my best to emulate what Sasha started. Because Seaborne is one of his last ventures, that made me really strive to keep his legacy alive. So, I guess if I’m going to have a last drink, that’s going to be where it is.
T: You’re doing a wonderful job of continuing with that.
T: Final question for you, which is kind of apt, too. If you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you order?
L: I would order a Negroni. The reason behind that is because the first time I ever tasted a Negroni, I hated it. It was too bitter. I thought, “This is so repulsive, I can’t even stand it.” Since then, my palate has matured and developed over time as a bartender. My aim to create drinks is to take ingredients that I don’t like and make them work well together and find a balance. So, now that I’ve achieved that, I enjoy the Negroni more. I have an appreciation for that.
T: I think Campari is like training wheels for the palate. It’s bitterness that we’re talking about there and I’m with you. The first time someone gave me a sip of their Negroni, I said, “There’s no way you like this drink. You’re just drinking this to be pretentious. How are you enjoying this cocktail?” I love a Negroni now.
L: I love all things Italian, too.
T: Lucinda, it’s been so fun chatting with you. I’ve loved this conversation about the Ramos Gin Fizz. I’m going to go out there right now and order one.
L: Let’s go. Cheers.
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Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.