Utah, future home of the Vieux Carré

We’re a little late to this, but Jeff Fulcher (whom I’m glad I finally got to meet at Cato’s Repeal Day event last week) notes that Utah’s strange alcohol laws have gotten even stranger. Though news coverage was distracted by the ban on “alcopops,” Utah has also implemented changes to its alcohol service laws in bars. Previously drinks were limited to 1 oz of liquor, but customers in some businesses could order an additional shot, or sidecar, to bring their drinks up to normal strength. The new law alters this. Drinks are now allowed a more sensible 1.5 oz of alcohol, but a change has been made to the sidecar rule: Customers can still order a sidecar but it has to be of a different liquor than the one in their drink, the theory being that this will prevent them from stiffening their already impotent cocktails.

As Jeff notes, this silliness opens the door to unintended consequences:

What’s the worst that happens when someone gets an extra shot of gin for their gin and tonics? They usually drop the extra hooch into the drink, creating a slightly stronger highball. The game changes if they can’t combine. All of the sudden, instead of diluting the booze it gets thrown straight down the gullet.

John Saltas writes that it’s easy to get around the law anyway, as long as you’ve got a willing friend:

So you’ll just order a gin and tonic with a side of vodka, and your date will order a vodka tonic with a side of gin. Then you’ll switch your side shots and pour yourselves doubles. Call this practice The Guv. The governor got grifted in the name of tourism—which won’t increase just because Utah plays mind games with alcohol.

Sounds like a plan. Yet the bottom line is that Utah’s very stupid laws make it very hard to get a decent drink. They operate on the idea that a cocktail is simply 1 or 1.5 ounces of liquor combined with a mixer. As any reader of this blog knows, good cocktails are usually much more complicated or at least much stronger than that. The world of mixology has more to offer than gin and tonics or rum and Cokes or any other variation of spirit X and mixer Y.

So what to do? As a service to my friends in Utah [Note: I don’t actually have any friends in Utah], here’s a tip for what to order under the new law. Order a Vieux Carré:

1 oz rye whiskey
1 oz Cognac
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 tsp Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir and serve over ice.

The Vieux Carré was invented at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans and named after the French Quarter. It’s a magnificent drink, one of my favorites for making at home. And most importantly, I believe it’s technically legal in Utah, since from what I understand vermouth counts as a “flavoring” and not as liquor. Therefore one could order the drink as above, leaving out the rye or Cognac and ordering it as a sidecar.

There are problems, of course. For starters one would have to find a bar in Utah that carries rye, Benedictine, and both kinds of bitters. That’s difficult anywhere outside of New Orleans, and I’m betting that it’s doubly so in Mormon country. The bartender is also unlikely to have any idea what a Vieux Carré is or how to mix one; the drinker will have to instruct him.

But still, this is an underappreciated cocktail, even in New Orleans. Utah is just the place to revive it. So it’s on you, my as yet non-existent Utah friends. You don’t get many chances to lead the way in mixology, but here you go. Spite the moral majority, bring back a classic cocktail, and enjoy a Vieux Carré.


5 thoughts on “Utah, future home of the Vieux Carré”

  1. Worse than the liquor laws for me are the beer laws. You can’t sell beer of more than 4.0% ABV at a bar… which means you can’t have anything good, basically.

  2. Sounds like a nice cocktail.

    In my experience, when I ask for a drink made with rye, I get bourbon instead. Sheesh. In your experience, what sort of call (label) should I ask for to make sure it’s made right? Any suggestions?

  3. Yeah, lots of bartenders don’t know their rye yet. Jim Beam and Wild Turkey rye are probably the two most common. If you see Rittenhouse or Sazerac, order those.

    Bulleit Bourbon has a rye content, so in a pinch you can order that instead.

  4. I randomly came across this blog entry while googling Utah Liquor laws. Since you like rye cocktails I can be your Utah friend but we can’t order a Vieux Carré because Utah also carries a restriction of 2.5 total ounces of alcohol in any given drink.

    Maybe the Cognac on the side and we self stir.


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