Not long ago I was lucky enough to be seated at the private bar at the Velvet Tango Room, a serious craft cocktail joint of high ambition and national repute in Cleveland.
Serious, you ask? They measure ingredients by the gram, on a scale. They make virtually every classic drink, based on historical sources, and offer a big list of well-crafted originals. The roving order-takers are barkeeps themselves on rotation, to ensure regular contact with customers. A live jazz combo plays in the corner.
So: On the menu I see a Ramos Gin Fizz [ca. 1888, New Orleans], a hard-to-spot classic I’ve been warned to order only when in good hands. It requires the fairly obscure ingredient orange blossom water, for one thing, and between 3 and 12 [!] minutes of vigorous — even “violent,” as some recipes say — shaking.
So much shaking, in fact, that 19th century accounts report that the tins were passed among multiple bartenders, as no man working alone could possibly produce the amount of agitation required.
The barkeep smiled when I ordered it.
The fizz machine
On the counter behind him sat something that looked like a compact version of a paint-can shaker at Home Depot.
“Not many places have these things,” the barman said. “Mostly they abuse them.”
He explained that the automatic shaking devices are often used to expedite service in high-volume joints and applied to any sort of shaken drink — a sad mechanical shortcut that liberates the bartender from the annoyance of craft and technique and allows him to poke at the point-of-sale display or whatever.
“We use ours only for the Ramos Gin Fizz.” He had that look people get when they’re trying suppress pride.
Six minutes to glory
The barman carefully weighed the ingredients on his scale — gin, citrus, heavy cream, egg white, simple syrup, orange blossom water — snapped a lid on the shaker, locked it onto the shaking device as if it were a child on a roller coaster, and set the timer for 6 minutes.
It did indeed behave like the device used to agitate a gallon of oyster shell latex. The tin was a ferocious blur. I watched the timer count down, imagined myself shaking for that interval. And failed.
Six minutes is a long time.
He released the shaker, suspended it above a chilled mixing glass and poured. The mixture flowed slowly, a fragrant ribbon.
The glass was filled with foam top-to-bottom. Not a liquid topped with foam. All foam.
The straw stood in the middle of the glass.
Imagine a milk shake with the mouthfeel of air — but with notes of juniper, citrus, and a slightly bitter orange.
It was like drinking a magnificent cloud.
I savored it.
I immediately wanted another.
But I had to go.
I didn’t have the time.