We all know that New Orleans is a town of seasoned partiers. You saw the photos from last weekend’s Super Bowl. But once a year, the city takes it to another level and celebrates one of the most famous parties in the world, Mardi Gras. For some, Mardi Gras is the mess you see on Bourbon Street, but for others it is a time for family, friends and “krewes” getting together to create spectacular carnival parades. Over the years, I have learned that Mardi Gras is one of the city’s many prides and that the way locals celebrate is very different from the fashion that tourists do. In honor of the upcoming festivities, I want to draw attention to another pride of New Orleans: the great cocktails that the city has given the world. Mix these and toast to New Orleans and to Mardi Gras.
The Sazerac is one of oldest and most celebrated cocktails of all-time and one of the many drinks that helped establish New Orleans as one of the most important cocktail cities of America. It is very similar to an Old Fashioned — but with a few touches of New Orleans to distinguish it. Mainly, a rinse of absinthe and dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters, the gentian-based bitters that were created by Antoine Amédée Peychaud at his Creole apothecary in the 1830s. The Sazerac was originally made with cognac, but supply became short as phylloxera plagued the vines of France and rye whiskey took its place, transforming the Sazerac into the drink we know today.
The cocktail was originally invented at The Merchants Exchange Coffee House in the 1850s. The bar’s second owner, Aaron Bird, changed its name to The Sazerac House, largely due to the drink’s popularity. Its recipe was a trade secret that was eventually divulged by Thomas Handy and ended up in William Boothby’s famous cocktail book The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them for the rest of the world to enjoy.
2 ounces rye whiskey
1 white sugar cube
3 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters
Chill glass with crushed ice and absinthe. Stir and strain from one Old Fashioned glass to another. Garnish with a lemon peel.
Ramos Gin Fizz
The Ramos Gin Fizz is a delightful early morning tipple, perfect for hair of the dog and for coating the stomach to prepare for another day of drinking. It was created by Henry C. Ramos in 1888 and served as the house cocktail at the Imperial Cabinet Room, although it was not until 1907 when the bar’s name changed to The Stag that the drink became popular. The Stag was famous for having an abundant amount of bartenders and since this fizz required some serious shaking, it was passed between bartenders until it was ready. The Ramos Gin Fizz should be shaken until the ice has fully melted, which can take upwards of ten minutes. If you think your bartender is unhappy when you order ten mojitos on a Saturday night, wait until you see his face when you order ten Ramos Gin Fizzes. The act of passing the shaker between bartenders is now a well-known ritual amongst those behind the bar.
Ramos Gin Fizz
2 ounces Fords Gin
½ ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
½ ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
½ ounce simple syrup
1 ounce cream
1 egg white
3 drops orange flower water
Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice until the ice has melted. Add soda for the fizz and strain into a highball glass without ice.
There is one place to go in New Orleans for your Vieux Carré cocktail: the bar at the Hotel Monteleone, where the drink was invented in the 1930s by its head bartender Walter Bergeron. It is a strong, stirred aperitif-style drink that is a riff on the Manhattan, with the addition of Bénédictine adding some additional complexity.
1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce cognac
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 dash Bénédictine
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe.
If you are a fan of creamy cocktails, as well as the combination of chocolate and mint, this is the drink for you. Despite the fact that the drink has acquired a bit of a cheesy reputation, probably due to its becoming popular in the dark ages of the cocktail in the 1950s and 60s, I have to admit that it is one of my guilty pleasures. The Grasshopper was allegedly created at Tujague’s, located on the corner of Decatur and Madison. Originally built in 1856, the bar is still there today. While you may very well find more pleasure drinking Abita beer there than a Grasshopper, I still think that the drink is worth revisiting at some point.
1 ounce crème de menthe
1 ounce crème de cacao
1 ounce cream
Shake ingredients and strain into a cocktail coupe.
And of course, there is always absinthe. It may come from Switzerland and France originally, but New Orleans is as much a part of the myth and legend, especially while The Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street is still around.
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