A staple of the menu since Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas' envelope-pushing Chicago bar The Aviary's 2011 opening, the In the Rocks cocktail has gone in a new direction under beverage director Charles Joly's watch. No longer an Old Fashioned in an ice shell, the cocktail is now a Vieux Carré housed in a shell made from water and bitters. Joly says he was inspired to create a Vieux Carré — a classic New Orleans cocktail that dates back to the 1930's — because it's an interesting, complex cocktail with "more layers and more depth of flavor." While the presentation is certainly unique, Joly explains that the actual cocktail is exactly how we would make a Vieux Carré at home, ice shell notwithstanding.
Joly explains that part of the reason the cocktail has had such staying power at The Aviary is because it's "fun for the guests." Using a sling to crack open the ice and release the Vieux Carré cocktail, customers have an "interactive and visually stunning" experience. Juxtaposing a unique, creative technique with a classic drink, the In the Rocks appeals to cocktail enthusiasts across the spectrum and packs a boozy punch with overproof spirits. Below, the elements of The Aviary's In the Rocks:
1. The Ice
The signature component of the In the Rocks cocktail is what Joly refers to as the "ice egg." The ice egg is made with water and Peychaud's Bitters. The bitters are a standard ingredient of the Vieux Carré cocktail. Joly says that by adding "a few drops" into the ice, their flavors come through the drink as the ice melts. It also lends a pinkish hue to the ice. The ice is made by placing the water and bitters mixture into balloons "like for a water balloon fight." After the balloons are sealed, they are put into the PolyScience Chiller, which freezes the balloons in a water and ethanol bath at -15° in eight to ten minutes. The ice freezes from the outside in, allowing for a consistent, thin ice that cracks easily. A bit of water remains in the center of the egg. The ice eggs are prepped in batches throughout service, but Joly explains that "you want to start with as many as you can."
2. The Cognac
The cocktail that will eventually go into the ice egg begins with one-ounce of Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac. Cognac is a traditional ingredient of the Vieux Carré, and Joly chose to use this one in part because it's overproof. At 90 proof, Joly says the cognac "adds a kick" to the cocktail which it doesn't lose as the drink dilutes with melted ice. From a flavor perspective, Joly likes that the cognac was designed to be used in cocktails with a balance of wood and fruit flavors.
3. The Rye
As with the cognac, Joly chose to use an overproof whiskey: Rittenhouse Rye. At 100 proof, the one-ounce serving of Rittenhouse also maintains it kick as the drink dilutes. He notes that having two shared-base spirits in the cognac and the rye means that there are strong flavors of wood in the cocktail. Joly describes Rittenhouse as a "traditional American rye whiskey," and finds that its spiciness complements the flavors of the drink and adds another note to cocktail.
4. The Vermouth
Sweet vermouth is another standard ingredient of the Vieux Carré and for his rendition Joly chose to use a one-ounce shot of Punt E Mes, which is known for being both sweet and bitter. Vermouth is a fortified wine, with botanicals like herbs and roots added to give it additional flavor. Joly finds that when the Punt E Mes oxidizes as an In the Rocks batch is made, it lends a nutty quality to the cocktail reminiscent of sherry.
5. The Bénédictine
As is traditional, Joly uses a quarter of an ounce of Bénédictine. Joly says the French herbal liqueur is very complementary to brown spirits like cognac and rye. While the exact botanicals used in the Bénédictine are something of a secret, Joly notes that the liqueur adds notes of cinnamon, cardamom, and juniper. The cocktail also has additional dashes of Peychaud's Bitters and Angostura Bitters, another classic Vieux Carré component. Joly says that the bitters in the drink "tie the flavors together" and "bring complexity" with their bitter, concentrated profile.
6. The Assembly
While a Vieux Carré is normally stirred with ice, the In the Rocks version is actually made in large batches. It is not stirred with ice, but rather "a touch" of water is added to the mixture. After the ice eggs come out of the freezer, Joly uses a drill with a small bit to create a hole in the ice. He uses a syringe to draw the water out of the interior of the egg. Next, the syringes are prepped with the Vieux Carré mixture, which is then injected into the ice shell. The ice is placed in an old fashioned glass, and then it's up to the customer to complete the assembly in what Joly calls an "interactive experience."
The In the Rocks is served with a lemon peel and a sling designed by barware guru Martin Kastner. Kastner tells Eater: "it's a wooden ring that fits over the rim of the glass that you pull up and it breaks and pops the ice. You can't hit the rim of the glass and it's not going to have enough velocity to go through the bottom." After the ice is broken, the final step is to give the lemon peel a squeeze over the drink and then add a mist of lemon oil, a final bright aromatic note that balances the drink.