It's Mardi Gras, a perfect time to take a look at some of New Orleans's contributions to the drinking life. The contributions have been many and mighty. For the sake of space and time — because we have some masquerading to do — let's look at three traditional drinks, all arising from iconic New Orleans establishments.
We'll begin with one of the most famous cocktails from New Orleans: the Hurricane, which now has unfortunate connotations to its name that run as deep as Lake Pontchartrain. The drink is basically a rum punch — a very strong rum punch. The legend goes something like this: whiskey was in scarce supply and rum was everywhere a New Orleanian could see. So drinks were created to take care of this terrible overabundance of rum. It must have been a pretty poor tasting rum. There is a lot of fruit juice involved with the Hurricane.
1.5 oz. light rum
1.5 oz. dark rum
1 oz. orange juice
1 oz. fresh lime juice (NOT Rose's or RealLime)
1/4 cup passion fruit juice, or 1 tablespoon passion fruit syrup
1 tsp. superfine sugar
1 tsp. grenadine
Cherries with stems and orange slices to garnish
In a cocktail shaker, mix the rum, passion fruit juice or syrup, the other juices, and the sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add the grenadine and stir to combine, then add ice and shake. Half-fill a hurricane glass with ice, then strain drink into glass; add ice to fill. Garnish with orange slice and cherries.
The Sazerac Cocktail is one of the oldest of all cocktails, sometimes mistakenly called the oldest. Developed by Antoine Peychaud, a Creole immigrant who ran a pharmacy on Royal Street in the French Quarter, the drink began as a brandy cocktail, named for a famous coffee house on Exchange Street in the 1850s. Eventually a star was born. Or at least a very good rye. Sazerac Company acquired Peychaud's Bitters and began marketing liquors. Rye became the base for the cocktail. Sazerac Rye became the go-to rye for the drink for which it's named.
The Sazerac has more rarefied ingredients than you find in the Hurricane. Some advance planning is needed. The following recipe is based upon Ted Haigh's excellent adventure: Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.
1 tsp. absinthe or pastis (Herbesaint, Pernod, or Ricard)
1 tsp. simple syrup (or more to taste)
3 to 4 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
3 oz. of rye whiskey or bourbon
Chill an old-fashioned glass. Coat the inside of the glass with the absinthe or pastis, leaving a slight puddle in the glass bottom. Add the simple syrup and the bitters. In a separate mixing glass, combine the whiskey and the simple syrup with ice and stir. Strain the contents of the mixing glass into the old-fashioned glass. Twist a strip of lemon peel over the surface of the drink and place in drink.
A couple of notes here on preparing to make this drink: you may find Peychaud's Bitters hard to come by. If it's not available in your local liquor store, you'll have better luck ordering it online.
Commercial distillation of absinthe was illegal up until 2007 due to its high alcohol level. It is becoming easier and easier to find; this your local liquor store may stock.
Finally, simple syrup. Easy for me to say, you say. But don't be afraid to do a little home cooking to prepare for your cocktail hour. It is as simple as it promises: one part sugar to one part water, shaken in a bottle until the sugar dissolves. Sealed and refrigerated, simple syrup will keep for up to six months.
Finally, and because we here in New York are expecting yet another snowfall, let's try a Milk Punch, a drink that that warms the heart. It's a cold weather drink that Brennan's on Royal Street lays claim to inventing. Perfect for a snowfall, and perfect for beginning a Mardi Gras with a truly Fat Tuesday flair.
Brandy Milk Punch
2 oz. brandy or bourbon
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp. superfine sugar
3 ice cubes
In a cocktail shaker, combine the brandy, milk, and sugar with three ice cubes and shake until frothy, about one minute. Strain into a double-old fashioned glass with cracked ice. Sprinkle with nutmeg and serve.
It's a "clear the calendar, don't answer any email" kind of drink. But you weren't going to do anything anyway. It's Mardi Gras.