Today we’re mixing the Roffignac highball cocktail to celebrate the United States taking possession of the Louisiana Purchase. That event on December 30, 1802 meant that New Orleans and the western drainage basin of the Mississippi River joined the United States. This was no small matter. It added the great cocktail town of New Orleans and effectively doubled the room for bars in the U.S. in one fell swoop.
We’ve covered several New Orleans cocktails, mostly for events like Mardi Gras, but you’ve probably never heard of the Roffignac. It’s a somewhat mysterious drink, and the Roffignac recipe has been confused and tinkered with over time. But it’s a delicious New Orleans drink, a highball to add to your cocktail repertoire.
The Louisiana Purchase
The Louisiana Territory was large, some 828,000 square miles on the western side of the Mississippi River. Back when seafaring European powers like England, France and Spain were running rampant across the Americas and the Caribbean, France controlled this area starting around 1682.
Those powers, however, tended to fight with one another and in 1762 France ceded the area to Spain. But they also engaged in some horse trading to fulfill various aspirations in building colonial empires. In 1800 Napoleon regained the Louisiana Territory in exchange for Tuscany as France was pining for a North American presence. Those plans for a North American empire, however, didn’t go so well for Mr. Bonaparte. He was unable to suppress the Haitian Revolution, an insurrection by the self-liberated slaves there. Simultaneously, he was worried about renewed warfare with the United Kingdom. That prompted him to think about selling Louisiana to the US.
Meanwhile, America’s west extended only as far as the eastern banks of the Mississippi River. The river itself was an important conduit for agriculture east of the Alleghenies as it was easier to float goods than carry them over the mountains.
Then-president Thomas Jefferson was particularly keen to gain control of the crucial port of New Orleans. He tasked James Monroe and Robert R. Livingston with purchasing New Orleans and they negotiated with French Treasury Minister Francois Barbe-Marbois. Monroe and Livingston were very happy to agree to purchase the entire territory of Louisiana when it was offered.
After the usual political wrangling the U.S. paid $15 million for the land, or about $18 per square mile. Maybe not as good a deal as buying Alaska for about $12 per square mile, or Manhattan for $24, but New Orleans has produced more drinks than just the Alaska cocktail.
The Roffignac Highball
As you would expect, we turn to New Orleans when selecting a drink to honor the Louisiana Purchase. After all, it has always been one of America’s great drinking cities. Whether it’s the invention of Peychaud’s Bitters, or such iconic drinks as the Vieux Carre, the Cocktail a la Louisiane or the iconic Sazerac it has never let us down. But we need something new. To these pages, that is. We’ve chosen a mostly forgotten classic.
The Roffignac cocktail probably dates from the late 1800s and was first published by Stanley Clisby Arthur in his tome Famous NEW ORLEANS DRINKS and how to mix ‘em. He explains that the drink was named after Joseph Roffignac, who had fled France during the Revolution. In New Orleans he became a leading merchant and its mayor for eight years. He’s credited with introducing street lighting and laying the first cobblestones in Royal Street.
Clisby’s Roffignac recipe combines rye whiskey with either raspberry syrup, grenadine or “red Hembarig, the sweetening used in New Orleans a century ago.” What that is has generated significant controversy. Some believe it’s a misspelling of himbeer essig, which in German means raspberry vinegar.
That means various bartenders have different recipes. Those crying for some acidity to add snap to the drink use raspberry shrubs or make syrups from raspberries, cider vinegar and sugar. Others just roll with grenadine. We’re agnostic on the choice – you do you – but we’re happy enough with grenadine so long as you make your own with real pomegranate juice.
- 1½ oz Rye whiskey
- 1 oz Grenadine or a raspberry shrub or syrup.
- Club soda
- Fill highball glass with ice.
- Add rye whiskey and grenadine or alternative of your choice.
- Top with club soda, stir to mix.