A single sip made one thing very clear: at least up here on the 31st floor of the St-Regis Hotel at Louix Louis, el Presidente had come a long way.
In its beginnings–in Cuba, in the 1910s–the cocktail combined only local Bacardi rum, grenadine, and French vermouth. A mixture so humdrum that many a drink historian has posited, convincingly, that the only possible explanation for its long-ago popularity with visiting yanquis was that–being refugees from prohibition–their thirst had been rendered indiscriminate. Tonight, though, amidst the high-ceilinged, handsomely panelled, brass-accented luxury of Louix Louis, with our leather-padded stools pulled up close to its long polished wood bar, we were in the completely opposite situation. Not wanting for alcoholic choice, but awash in it.
If you for some reason chose to settle in at a stool here with the singular purpose of trying each whisky on the list at the rate of two per day, close to four months would pass before you got to move on to Project Rum or Operation Tequila. We do not recommend that; but we heartily endorse general manager Orion Berge’s 21st-century makeover of the venerable el Presidente. Swap the original Cuban rum for a Barbadian Foursquare 12-year-old, add Dolin dry vermouth, Pierre Ferrand dry Curaçao, some proper house-made pomegranate grenadine infused with orange blossom and clove, and a dash of Regan’s orange bitters. This is a cocktail to reckon with. But was it eclipsed by our Shenk’s Homestead Sour Mash-based À la Louisiane? Maybe. After that, we moved on to sampling some of the dark spirits that Berge has made it his passion project to collect. A committed Balvenie enthusiast, I insisted on sampling the 16-year finished in French oak last used for Pineau des Charentes–an enhancement to that whisky’s characteristic honeyed sweetness. Then there was an aromatically expressive Yuu Baal Mezcal Añejo, an exceptional gin named Monkey 47, flavoured with (you guessed it) 47 botanicals and (you didn’t) featuring for its label a sketch of a Berliner monkey named Max. Next up, an exceptional 20-year Armagnac-Ténarèze from Domaine Séailles. At which point we were addressing Borge himself as el Presidente and it seemed like the right time to leave.
By Jacob Richler