On Wednesday, Christians will begin the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. It is a day of fasting and reflection, complete with a trip to church and marking of the forehead with palm ashes. It occurs forty days (forty-six, if you are really counting) before Easter, indicating the time that Jesus spent in the desert fasting and meditating. Before that day is Shrove Tuesday, which is just exactly the opposite of Ash Wednesday. It is a day of all out partying, which changes from country to country. In some countries, it is a day of eating pancakes. Yes, pancakes. Or other pastries. They are made to use up the milk, eggs, and other perishables that would otherwise have gone bad after being untouched for over a month. In the United States, it is not that.
Our way of celebrating, much like Brazil, is to go on a bender for a day. There are parades, parties, and a day of getting in all the sinning we can before we work on getting rid of other sins for forty days. Parties will happen all over the country, but none will be bigger than the one in New Orleans. The city has always been ready for a good party. And Mardi Gras is their party of the year. Since the 1900’s, the city has been inviting the United States to come down and let it all go for one of their biggest days of the year.
It is also one of the biggest cocktail cities in the country. New Orleans is home to Tales of the Cocktail, one of the bartending industries top events, and the Museum of the American Cocktail. Many, many, MANY popular cocktails have been developed there, and Bourbon Street is very well known for its bar scene, among other things. If you did not make it down south for the party of parties, there is nothing stopping you from drinking like you are down there. Here are five cocktails that were invented in the Crescent City.
The Grand Daddy
For most people, the Hurricane is the cocktail of New Orleans. Historically, the Sazerac is older with more pedigree. It is arguably considered the oldest American cocktail. What can’t be debated is that it is named after the cognac it was originally made with. After American tastes bent towards whiskey, it became the primary spirit of the drink.
Sazerac (Adapted from The Sazerac Company)
1 sugar cube
1.5 oz. rye whiskey (or cognac if you want to be old school)
.25 oz. absinthe
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Glass: Old Fashioned
Garnish: Lemon Peel
In a chilled mixing glass, muddle the sugar cube and the bitters together. Then add the whiskey, add ice, and stir. In a chilled Old Fashioned glass, pour in the absinthe. Swirl the liquid around the glass, then discard the excess liquid. Strain the cocktail into the glass, twist the lemon peel over the drink, then serve.
Milk is a Good Idea
When New Orleans comes out to celebrate, someone brings the milk punch. A cocktail that goes back to colonial times, this is a staple in the southern drinking scene. If you happen to head to Brennan’s when you are in NOLA, order one. They are very well known for their spin on this classic.
1.5 oz. brandy (or bourbon, if you choose)
.25 oz. dark rum
2 oz. whole milk
.5 oz. maple syrup
1 dash vanilla extract
Glass: Mug or goblet
Garnish: Grated nutmeg
Pour all of the ingredients into a mixing tin over ice. Shake well for 20-30 seconds, and strain into the prepared mug. Grate some nutmeg over the top of it and serve.
Shaken…and shaken…and shaken…
James Bond, a fan of shaken drinks, would love this one. The original preparation of this cocktail called for it to be shaken for twelve minutes. Henry Ramos, the creator of this cocktail, would hire up to thirty people for Mardi Gras just to shake the drinks. They were in high demand. Not many places will shake it for that long anymore, but some bars will employ a machine to do the shaking for them.
Ramos Gin Fizz
1.25 oz. gin
1 tbsp. simple syrup
.25 oz. fresh lemon juice
.5 oz. fresh lime juice
1 fresh egg white
1 oz. heavy cream
3 drops orange flower water
1 oz. club soda
Pour all but the club soda into a mixing tin with ice and shake hard for 1 – 2 minutes. Strain the mixture into the top of the tin and discard the ice. Shake for another minute, then strain into the highball glass. Pour the club soda gently into the mixture, until the foam reaches near the top of the class. Stir gently, then serve.
The above technique, shaking the egg with ice, then without, is called a reverse dry shake. It fluffs up the eggs a little more, and you can just pour the cocktail into the glass when you are finished.
Bring Back Brandy
Someday brandy will come back in a big way. With drinks like the brandy crusta on menus, I am hoping that day will be sooner rather than later. It was first found on a menu in New Orleans before the Civil War. Other variations of crusta have been attempted, but none had the sticking power of the brandy version. But when you have this recipe, what more do you need?
2 oz. cognac
.25 oz. triple sec
.5 oz. fresh lemon juice
.5 oz. simple syrup
1 tsp. Maraschino liqueur
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Garnish: Sugared rim and lemon twist
Rub a slice of lemon around the rim of the coupe. Dip the rim into a plate of sugar, rolling it to make sure the rim is covered. Tap off the excess, then put to the side. Pour the ingredients into a shaking tin over ice, then shake well for 20 – 30 seconds. Strain the mixture into the coupe, twist the lemon over the cocktail, add to the drink, then serve.
This is the popular one. Most people heading to New Orleans are going to head to Pat O’Brien’s for their famous Hurricane. It was created in the 1940’s when Pat was forced to buy an unacceptable amount of rum to get a single case of whiskey. To get rid of the rum, he added passion fruit juice and other juices, poured it into a fancy glass, and gave one away to anyone who would take one. The legend was born, and the cocktail persists.
2 oz. white rum
2 oz. dark rum
1 oz. lime juice
1 oz. orange juice
2 oz. passion fruit juice
.5 oz. simple syrup
.5 oz. grenadine
Garnish: Orange wheel and a cherry
Pour all of the ingredients into a shaking tin over ice. Shake well for 20 – 30 seconds, then strain into the hurricane glass over fresh ice. Garnish with the cherry and orange slice.
BONUS: Flirting with The Faerie
With the heavy French influence in New Orleans, it is not a surprise that absinthe made its way into the culture. It was banned in this country for decades because of myths and poor science, but it has been making a slow comeback in the new cocktail era. It is an acquired taste; absinthe has a strong anise component. If you avoid the black jelly beans, you can just skip this one.
1.5 oz. absinthe
.5 oz. simple syrup
2 oz. soda water
6-8 mint leaves
Garnish: Mint sprig
Place the mint and simple syrup into a shaking tin and muddle the mint until you can just smell the aromatics. Add the absinthe, then shake well for 20 – 30 seconds. Strain the mixture into the glass over fresh ice. Top off with the soda water, then garnish with the mint sprig.
Today is the day to let it all hang out, because tomorrow is a day of somber reflection and humility. There are many celebrations happening all around the Miami Valley, where these and many other cocktails will be flowing freely. Break out the king cake (or the pancakes) and party the day away. Laissez les bons temps rouler!