If you're looking for the right way to finish off the evening, try the classic but lesser-known Vieux Carré.
Vieux Carre
Credit: Courtesy of Ward III

What makes the perfect nightcap? To kick off an evening, you might look to an aperitif: a drink that’s light and dynamic, perhaps a bit bitter. Certainly nothing too aggressive.

But a nightcap is a different beast. The last drink of the evening? It’s allowed be a powerful one. It’s a drink to sip slowly — after all, its very purpose is to prolong the night. It could be a fine Scotch single-malt or a long-aged rum; a sherry, a port.

Or, it could be a robust cocktail: Sophisticated, complex, and worth lingering over.

To Kenny McCoy, proprietor of Ward III and The Rum House in New York, the ideal nightcap is a Vieux Carré: a lesser-known classic of rye, Cognac, Bénédictine, and vermouth.

“The Vieux Carré is named after the French Quarter in New Orleans,” says McCoy, “and was made by Walter Bergeron, head bartender of the Hotel Monteleone” — one of the city’s true classic establishments. Though invented back in 1938, the drink remains beloved by many a bartender.

Not too many classic cocktails have a split base, which is to say, two different spirits in the same drink. The magic of a well-made Vieux Carré is how smooth Cognac and spicy rye, the two starring ingredients, integrate and balance each other out.

According to McCoy, the complexity of the drink requires caution; be discerning. “I’m picky about where I order it,” he admits. “It’s a drink that when made well, is truly beautiful, but if not, can be overkill.”

A well-made Vieux Carré is a cerebral sort of drink. It shows off its layers — the spirits intertwining with herbal vermouth and Bénédictine, as well as two distinct bitters — and thus rewards sipping, like any great nightcap should.

“It’s traditionally served over ice in a rocks glass,” says McCoy, “but I like it served up with a lemon twist.”

Either one, a worthy nightcap.

Kenny McCoy’s Vieux Carré

1 ounce Old Overholt Rye

1 ounce Dudognon 5yr Cognac

1 ounce Dolin Sweet Vermouth

1 bar spoon Bénédictine

2 dashes Angostura bitters

2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until very well-chilled, then strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist.