It wouldn’t be a trip to New Orleans if you didn’t get just a little sozzled, right?! Though some New Orleanians would have you believe the concept of a cocktail was invented in the Crescent City, this isn’t technically true. However, New Orleans has done a wonderful job of nurturing, preserving and evolving the mixed drink. Let’s explore some famous New Orleans cocktails and where to find their historic origins in NOLA or, if you can’t make it, mix them at home.
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I’m a huge fan of a Pimm’s Cup on a hot day, so I was really looking forward to trying the New Orleans version. The Pimm’s Cup, of course, was invented in London by James Pimm in the 1840s. A century later, Napoleon House in the French Quarter reworked the original No.1 concoction with a combination of Seven Up, old fashioned lemonade and cucumber, and the rest is history. Unfortunately, the Napoleon House Pimm’s Cup doesn’t rate for me. It is intended to be “light” alcohol-wise which is good for lightweights like myself, but honestly, it tasted like a cup of soft drink. I didn’t even get a taste of the cucumber – very disappointing. Below is the New Orleans recipe if you want to give it a try at home, but don’t expect it to compare to the British version I published in Around the World in Cocktails.
35ml (1.25oz) Pimm’s
90ml (3oz) Lemonade (Lemonade in the US sense i.e. The old-fashioned style made of lemon juice, water and sugar for the Aussies/Brits)
Seven-Up or Sprite (Lemonade in the Aussie/Brit sense)
Fill a 350ml (12oz) glass with ice and pour over the Pimm’s #1. Add lemonade and top off with 7up. Garnish with a slice of cucumber.
The Vieux Carré was invented by bartender Walter Bergeron at the Monteleone Hotel in the late 1930’s. The name means “old square” in French, in reference to what is in English, the French Quarter. In New Orleans the pronunciation has a Creole twist, sounding like “voo-car-ray”, so your French classes won’t help you here. It is said that the drink’s diverse ingredients were a tribute to the different cultural groups in New Orleans at the time: Benedictine and cognac for the French, sweet vermouth to represent the Italians, rye whiskey for the Americans and bitters to acknowledge the Caribbean islanders, particularly the Haitians. The moving carousel bar at the Monteleone Hotel was installed later in 1949, and together with the Vieux Carré, they’ve become a New Orleans icon.
1/4 ounce Benedictine
1/4 ounce Cognac
1/2 ounce rye whiskey
1/4 ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 twist lemon
Take a rocks glass and fill with ice. Add the ingredients in the listed order. Stir 2-3 times and garnish with a twist of lemon rind.
The Sazerac is New Orleans’ official cocktail and was born from a long, slow evolution. Creole pharmacist Antoine Amedie Peychaud got the ball rolling when he began mixing up batches of bitters from an old family recipe in his Royal Street store. Initially, during the 1830s, Peychaud served the soon-to-be-Sazerac as a medicinal drink, combining his house-made bitters with cognac and sugar. Later he made his bitters available at the Sazerac Bar, named after Sazerac-de-Forge et fils, a brand of cognac. Unfortunately, a phylloxera epidemic in Europe wiped out many of the grapes used to make cognac, sending the price of the brandy soaring. The cognac was therefore replaced by American rye-whiskey. Around 1873 a bartender added Absinthe to the concoction, which was all well and good until the suspected hallucinogen was banned in 1912. Herbsaint (a locally made, anise-flavored liquor) was substituted for the green fairy. The Sazerac Bar was relocated to The Roosevelt Hotel in 1949 and is still THE place to partake in a Sazerac today.
1 sugar cube
3 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters
45ml (1.5oz) Sazerac Rye Whiskey
7ml (0.25oz) Herbsaint (or Absinthe)
Lemon peel, for garnish
Pack a rocks glass with ice. In a second rocks glass place a sugar cube and the Peychaud’s Bitters to it, then crush the sugar cube. Add the Sazerac Rye Whiskey to the Peychaud’s Bitters and sugar. Empty the ice from the first glass and coat the inside of the glass with the Herbsaint, then discard the excess Herbsaint. Strain the whiskey, bitters and sugar mix into the Herbsaint-washed glass and garnish with lemon peel.
One of the most famous cocktails concocted in New Orleans is the Hurricane. During World War II, Pat O’Brien created the drink to offload excess rum to sailors (hoping to get some whiskey instead). He served up his cocktail in a hurricane lantern-shaped glass from which the drink took its name. Pat O’Brien’s Bar is, therefore, the classic place to drink a Hurricane in New Orleans. So, we did the “done thing” and went along to Pat O’Brien’s Bar to order ourselves a Hurricane. Unfortunately, it seems that since the 1940s, someone found a way to serve these popular cocktails en masse by creating a shelf-stable pre-mix and it’s revolting! One look at the lurid red beverage and you will suspect the original juice components have been substituted for a whole lot of corn syrup and artificial colours. It is sickly sweet. Not to mention they served it in a plastic cup instead of a classic Hurricane glass. On the upside, I found a much more palatable Hurricane at Bamboula’s on Frenchmen Street (again in a plastic cup) and I’m sure there are many versions around New Orleans that can outshine the “original”. Here is a traditional Hurricane Recipe which yields a much better tasting cocktail.
60ml (2 oz) light rum
60ml (2 oz) dark rum
60ml (2 oz) passion fruit juice
30ml (1 oz) orange juice
15ml (0.5oz) fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon simple syrup
1 tablespoon grenadine
Put ice and liquids ingredients into a cocktail shaker and give it a good shake. Strain into a hurricane glass filled with ice and garnish with a cherry and orange slice.
Another mass-produced New Orleans cocktail is Bourbon Street favourite, the Hand Grenade. The closely guarded formula is served in a chartreuse coloured, plastic yard glass with a “grenade” floating on top. The Hand Grenade debuted at the Tropical Isle bar during the New Orleans World Exposition in 1984. Earl Bernhardt poured his takings from his concession booth at the Fair, into a dive bar. The bar wasn’t an immediate success and Bernhardt set about creating a signature drink to rival the Hurricane. He came up with a 13-ingredient mix, saccharine and melon-flavoured. The drink took off and the Tropical Isle trademarked their lucrative beverage. Hence, you can only get a Hand Grenade at one of six Tropical Isle locations in NOLA. A Hand Grenade is really just another shortcut to intoxication and doesn’t have any appeal for people that actually possess tastebuds. Therefore, we wouldn’t bother sharing the recipe even if we legally could. If you insist on judging for yourself, you can purchase pre-mix from Tropical Isle.
New Orleans cocktail tour
Should you be travelling to New Orleans and looking for a cocktail tour, there are various options available. Some include full drinks, others sample-size portions and a few only charge a fee for the guide giving you the flexibility to pay for only the drinks that you want to try along the way. My tip is that unless you have the tolerance to put away a large quantity of alcohol, take the pay as you go or sampler options. Here are some highly-rated tour options:
- New Orleans Craft Cocktail Walking Tour by Gray Line – $29 each including one complimentary cocktail and then pay as you go for the remainder of the cocktails.
- The Cocktail Tour with Elizabeth Pearce – $55 which includes 4 drinks, mixed by your host, food writer and native Louisianan, Elizabeth Pearce.
- New Orleans Cocktail Tour by Urban Adventures – $89 with sample-size portions of five cocktails included and a small snack.
- Free Tours By Foot Cocktail Tour– $12 prepayment for cocktail samples, with time to purchase and enjoy full-size cocktails as you go.
- French Quarter History & Cocktail Tour by New Orleans Secrets – $32 per person with no drinks included.
- Cocktail History Tour by Dr Gumbo – $70 with drinks, $35 without.
Enjoy your New Orleans cocktails and the wonderful cultural and historical stories they have to tell. For more foodie travel in New Orleans, see Foreign Cuisine Finder: Must-Eat New Orleans Foods.
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