New Orleans is the birthplace of countless classic cocktails, from the Sazerac to the Ramos Gin Fizz and the Hurricane. The Vieux Carré counts itself among those, and was invented in 1938 at the famous rotating Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone. (Vieux Carré means “old square” in French, referring to to the city’s French Quarter neighborhood where the hotel is located.)
The classic recipe mixes up a number of strong and very distinct components: rye whiskey, cognac, Benedictine, sweet vermouth, and both Angostura and Peychaud's bitters. With all of those boozy and specific ingredients, It's not exactly the first drink one might think of when adapting non-alcoholic cocktails! But we love a challenge.
So, how to make a mocktail out of this classic cocktail? Some of the substitutions are easy—for a non-alcoholic whiskey we'll use Ritual Zero Proof (its spicy black pepper notes are reminiscent of rye), and there are some great sweet vermouth alternatives like Lyre's Aperitif Rosso—but the other ingredients are less straight forward, and we'll take some creative liberties. In place of cognac we're going to use white verjus, a tart, unfermented wine grape juice (cognac is made from grapes, after all). Instead of Benedictine, a French liqueur with notes of honey and herbs, we're going to make a honey syrup with thyme and black tea (see notes below for recipe).
A very health dose of all three of our alcohol-free cocktail bitters is going to bring this all together, and a single barspoon of apple cider vinegar livens it up. At the end of the day, nobody is going to confuse this for an alcoholic Vieux Carré, but it's a damn good cocktail—one of the most complex, complete, and sophisticated we've tasted—that honors both the original and the great city it hails from.
Vieux Carré (Non-Alcoholic Cocktail Recipe)
Non-Alcoholic Cocktail / Low-Alcohol / Zero Proof / Mocktail
1 ounce non-alcoholic whiskey
3/4 ounce non-alcoholic sweet vermouth
3/4 ounce white verjus
1/2 ounce honey-tea-thyme syrup (see recipe below)
1 barspoon apple cider vinegar
2 full droppers All The Bitter Orange Bitters
3 full droppers All The Bitter Aromatic Bitters
4 full droppers All The Bitter New Orleans Bitters
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir for 30 seconds.
Strain into a chilled coupe or Nick and Nora glass.
Garnish with a lemon peel and maraschino cherry.
Feel free to use your favorite whiskey and sweet vermouth alternatives, but we love Ritual Zero Proof Whiskey and Lyre's Aperitif Rosso in this recipe.
HONEY-TEA-THYME SYRUP RECIPE
Brew a cup of black tea, such as Earl Grey, using only 4 ounces of water and let it steep 7-8 minutes. Once ready combine 4 ounces of tea, 4 ounces of honey, and a good handful of thyme (about 10 sprigs) in a small saucepan. Barely bring it to a simmer and then immediately remove from heat, allowing it to sit and infuse for about 15 minutes. Strain, cool, and bottle. Syrup will last at least a month in the fridge.
MAKE IT MINDFULLY LOW ALCOHOL
If you've got Benedictine on hand, skip the honey syrup recipe and just use 1/2 ounce of that, plus 3/4 ounce of alcoholic sweet vermouth instead of the NA version. Alternatively, you could replace the verjus with cognac.