Tasting the Classic Cocktails of New Orleans

Ah, New Orleans… it’s not just the home of some of the best food in the world, it’s also the birthplace — a spiritual birthplace in some cases — of some of the most classic cocktails ever invented.

I had the good fortune to travel through Louisiana, particularly New Orleans, on the eve of Mardi Gras recently, with a specific goal of seeing how these classics measure up to more modern fare. Whenever possible, I went straight to the source where the cocktail was first created.

Without further ado, here’s a rundown of some of NOLA’s biggest and most noteworthy cocktails… recipes included. (Note: I skipped the Grasshopper, reportedly invented here at Tujagues’. Next time, I promise.)

Sazerac047 300x225 Tasting the Classic Cocktails of New Orleans
1 tsp. Absinthe liqueur (preferably Herbsaint)
1 1/2 to 2 oz. Rye Whiskey (preferably Old Overholt)
1 sugar cube
several dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Coat the inside of a cocktail glass with the Herbsaint and pour out the excess. Shake the remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

I’ve covered this classic before. It’s one of my favorite drinks. It’s also the official drink of New Orleans, invented here in the 1850s. The Sazerac at the Roosevelt Hotel’s Sazerac Bar — as iconic a place to order one as you can find — isn’t the best I’ve had. Sweet and spicy, it was way too warm and — more importantly — absent of nearly any absinthe flavor, the quintessential part of the cocktail, in my opinion. Today the Roosevelt is better known for its Ramos Gin Fizz, another NOLA classic.

040 300x225 Tasting the Classic Cocktails of New OrleansVieux Carre
3/4 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz Cognac
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
1 tsp Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

On the rocks with a lemon twist.

This is very close to the recipe that the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar — where this drink was invented — uses today. (Most others omit the Benedictine.) A powerful, bittersweet cocktail, the Vieux Carre (the French name for the French Quarter) makes for a near-perfect digestif, all the better while sitting at the Carousel… which actually rotates 4 times an hour as you sip your beverage.

032 300x225 Tasting the Classic Cocktails of New OrleansFrench 75
1.5 oz cognac
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp simple syrup
Champagne

Briefly hake the first three ingredients and strain into a tulip glass. Top with Champagne and a lemon twist.

This is the recipe used at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar. Arnaud’s didn’t invent the French 75 — but it’s become an iconic drink in NOLA either way. (It’s also one of the most refined, service-oriented bars in town.) I really love this cocktail, but there are myriad ways to make it… many of which use gin instead of cognac.

062 225x300 Tasting the Classic Cocktails of New OrleansHurricane
2 oz light rum
2 oz dark rum
2 oz passion fruit juice
2 oz pineapple juice
2 tsp lime juice
1 tablespoon grenadine

Mix in a Hurricane glass (what else) and serve on the rocks with an orange slice and a cherry.

OK, that’s a legit Hurricane, and as with many Tiki-style drinks, recipes vary far and wide. Just reading that recipe makes my yearn for the beach. Sadly, you won’t get that cocktail anywhere in New Orleans, especially not at Pat O’Brien’s, where it was invented. Sadly, this bar, just steps from Bourbon Street, is now focused on pushing out huge quantities of crude, Frankenhurricanes in plastic cups (see photo), designed to get you sloshed on the cheap. Pat-O’s, as it’s known, doesn’t even pretend any more, listing the official recipe of this Kool-Aid-like concoction in the brochure it places on the bar here as such:

Pat O’Brien’s World Famous Hurricane
4 oz. Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane Rum
4 oz. Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane Mix

A souvenir glass is 3 bucks. Popcorn is free, though!

Fortunately you can still make a good Hurricane for yourself… at home.

071 300x225 Tasting the Classic Cocktails of New OrleansDoctor’s Orders
2 oz Woodford Reserve Bourbon
1/2 oz white creme de cacao
a few dashes Benedictine

Shake over ice and strain into a coupe.

And now for something new. Bartending legend Chris McMillan made me this cocktail at Kingfish on my last night in NOLA, asking what I liked to drink and whipping this up on a whim. (The measurements are estimates on my part.) This chocolatey-vanilla-honey drink hits on all cylinders, and it’s almost embarrassingly easy to make. Give it a go in your home bar and take the credit.

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11 Responses to Tasting the Classic Cocktails of New Orleans

  1. No Ramos Gin Fizz?????

  2. I let you down, I know.

  3. I’m going to nitpick a bit here, but the 1850s recipe for the Sazerac called for absinthe, not absinthe liqueur, and not Herbsaint. Herbsaint wasn’t invented until 1933, well after the ban on absinthe went into effect, and some 60 years or so after this version of the drink was born. :)

  4. Totally fair assessment there, Brian – that recipe is certainly not the original nor was intended as one (it was drawn from my earlier coverage of the Sazerac, see link). The good news is that you can use real absinthe in the cocktail now, getting you one step closer to the 1850s version…

  5. Thanks Ben – I was this close!

  6. I was there last week too, would have bought you a drink!

    I did enjoy a sazerac and of course have had a few hurricanes when I visited in the summer but I didn’t know about the others.
    Thanks!

  7. Sazaracs and Doctor’s Orders are stirred, not shaken.

  8. A shaken Sazerac is blasphemy. Also a good way to mess up a Doctor’s orders
    Oh and there’s no pineapple juice in a Hurricane.

  9. Well, there’s no juice of any kind in a Hurricane these days…

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