“Pour” is an apt verb, because the city is a place that likes a tipple, and they know their way around creating, composing, and yes, pouring drinks of appealing variety and substance.
Denizens of The Big Easy have long created many subtle and layered cocktails—and then there’s the Hurricane. Allegedly invented at the famed Pat O’Brien’s bar in the 40s because they had a glut of Rum, they were willing to put a great deal of that in a glass, mix it with passion fruit syrup and lemon juice and offer it to patrons looking to soften their backbones.
During my visit to N.O., I bought a Hurricane at a tiny street-side booth, more suited to a puppet show than bar, but there must have been a big barrel of Rum behind the server. Actual hurricanes have caused a lot of sorrow in New Orleans, but this Hurricane was designed to relieve suffering, quickly.
Lucky I didn’t follow it up with a Hand Grenade, another New Orleans concoction which mixes Vodka, Rum and Gin in equal measure; I would have exploded.
Mardi Gras Mixings
There are more subtle ways to toast the approaching Mardi Gras festivities, and one of them is with a Sazerac, an authentic New Orleans native dating back to the 1830s. An insightful apothecary named Antoine Peychaud invented his namesake bitters to calm the digestive tract and enhanced that calming by adding a nice Cognac base to those bitters.
Rye has found more favor in today’s Sazerac than Cognac, but my solution is both; first rinse a cold glass—coupe or Old Fashioned—with a splash of good Absinthe.
Most recipes suggest pouring the remaining Absinthe out after you roll it around the glass—that’s your call, but I often leave much of it in. Then mix equal parts Cognac and Rye, along with simple syrup (or agave or demerara syrup, to taste) and some dashes of Monsieur Peychaud’s best, and stir it up. Delicious up, or over a large bartender’s highball ice cube.
Vieux Carré to Save the Day
Just as saucy as the Sazerac, but with some herbal monkeyshines. Again, marry your Rye with your Cognac, add a measure of good sweet Vermouth, a bar spoon of Benedictine, and some shakes of both Angostura and Peychaud’s.
This was born at the Hotel Monteleone in the Quarter, and thus the drink’s name, which translates from French to “Old Square.” That’s an old tag for the French Quarter, which is anything but square.
The Monteleone is still serving them up (and they’ll invite you to try a Sazerac there too). One note: because I like a cocktail with some fortitude, I often double the dosage of the base Spirit, where one ounce becomes two. It’s the new math.
By the Book (Through a Glass, Coldly)
I’ve got a copy of Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ’em, a small book printed in 1937 in the great city itself. The introduction is titled “Aperitif,” and its first sentence is as follows: “Hail New Orleans that for more than a century has been the home of civilized drinking.”
The behavior of some enthusiasts at Mardi Gras might stretch the definition of “civilized,” but the sense of the statement still holds. There are lovely expositions of the virtues of other N.O. celebrities in a glass, like the Ramos Gin Fizz—“The gin fizz has long been an institution in the city care forgot”—and the Absinthe Frappé, allegedly birthed in the Old Absinthe House, which is still serving ‘em up, and has been since 1806.
There are chapters devoted to Gin, Rum, and Brandy (and to toddies, slings, and flips), but no matter how you stir it or shake it, New Orleans can make it.
Make Mardi Gras Magic
New Orleans is known for so much: the vibrancy of its multicultural heritage, the expressiveness of its Creole/French Colonial architecture, the fanfare, and the exuberance of its festivals and celebrations.
That little celebration called Mardi Gras you’ve likely heard about—it’s so boisterous you may have directly heard it even if you were across the country.
For some, self-care is twenty minutes of mindfulness in the morning. For another, it’s the perfect downward dog, or perhaps a solo tread through a winding path in a redwood forest. Well and good.
But those worthies pale compared to drinking a carefully prepared classic cocktail, one composed like a religious ritual, and one quaffed with all the senses wide open. And that cocktail has to be one you’ve prepared yourself.
If you can’t make the journey to Louisiana, you can likely make the journey to your home bar and mix up one of these celebrations. Making it to Mardi Gras puts a cherry on top. (Unless, of course, the recipe calls for a cocktail onion.)
Laissez les bons temps rouler!