You haven’t been to New Orleans if you miss out on these cocktails
From the time of Epiphany through Fat Tuesday, New Orleans celebrates Mardi Gras. The French Quarter transforms into an unparalleled street party, packed with people indulging in all that New Orleans has to offer: from local Cajun cuisine, jazz bars, to of course the world-famous beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde.
And while the most popular drink in New Orleans might come in towering plastic cups, some of the most famous cocktails in the world were born in The Big Easy. But which of the most famous New Orleans cocktails are the most important to try?
New Orleans is hailed as the “cradle of civilized drinking.” To miss the cocktails of New Orleans is to miss some of the finest the city culture has to offer. We’re counting down the top 3 cocktails to try when you visit New Orleans, and the best way to try them.
Trust us when we say you won’t regret a single sip.
A Cocktail of Cultural Influences in the French Quarter: Vieux Carre
Often cocktails are associated with places, and restaurants and bars are extremely proud of their histories in this regard (consider, for instance, the famous pina colada battle of Puerto Rico).
The Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans is similarly proud of their stake in the Vieux Carre.
If there is a battle between whiskey and brandy, a Vieux Carre happily marries the two, and it does it well. The cocktail consists of rye, cognac, sweet vermouth, benedictine, Peychaud’s Bitters, and Angostura bitters (if you are interested in the recipe details).
But whether or not the cocktail entices you, the Monteleone’s Carousel Bar is worthy of a visit in its own right and is a solid place to order just about any cocktail on your New Orleans bucket list.
The historic lounge has served luminaries from throughout history, and literary talents found their inspiration here as well. Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote were regulars. Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner found the bar stunning enough to throw it into their literary works.
A Vieux Carre cocktail is perhaps best served while sitting at the stunning Carousel Bar, which completes one full rotation every 15 minutes. So if your head is spinning, its because the bar is spinning—not you. And if you happen to notice the ghostly apparition of a child sitting nearby, don’t be surprised.
New Orleans’ Classic Cocktail, Elevated: Sazerac
The birth of one of the Sazerac, one of New Orleans’ most iconic cocktails comes from a source you might not expect: an 1800s pharmacy.
It was on 437 Royal Street that Creole apothecary Antoine Peychaud concocted mysterious libations. We like to think of him as a mad scientist, though this is probably romanticizing the real story just a bit.
But you might be wondering why a pharmacist might be masquerading as a bartender—by day, even. The answer is that, in days of yore, if you had an aching tooth or trouble of the stomach, it wasn’t uncommon for pharmacists to prescribe you a bit of… ahem…a therapeutic agent.
This belief in the healing powers of alcohol would become rather convenient during the era of Prohibition, when teetotalers found themselves going to the doctor in droves.
The Sazerac is named after Peychaud’s favorite brandy, namely, Sazerac-de-Forge et-fils. They say he served ailing patients toddies made of his own bitter concoction (Peychaud’s Bitters) mixed with this cognac.
Soon a nearby coffee house caught onto the idea and they became New Orleans’ 1800s version of Starbucks; the lines of customers must have gone out the door, with eager customers waiting for a serving of that special blend of spirits that would become known simply as the Sazerac.
Recipes differ, but basically a Sazerac uses Peychaud’s bitters, cognac, sugar, and absinthe. But like many recipes that change over time, Peychaud’s favored cognac suffered in the translation and was switched out for rye.
Recipes might differ, but no matter which version you try one thing is certain: a Sazerac packs a powerful punch, and is what you might call a good, stiff drink.
The Sazerac is such an institution in New Orleans that a historic home on Canal Street has even been transformed into a Sazerac Museum. Inside you can even try their version of that Sazerac-de-forge Peychaud loved so much.
A Hurricane You’ll Actually Enjoy in The Big Easy
We saved the best (or the worst?) for last. No visit to New Orleans would be complete without one of its most infamous drinks—the Hurricane.
The Hurricane cocktail is steeped with World War II history; necessity brought on by wartime shortages was the mother of its invention. The story goes that Pat O’Brien’s bar found their bar lacking one particularly popular ingredient demanded from the imbibing masses—whiskey. What wasn’t in short supply was rum, perhaps because of the plentiful amounts arriving via the conveniently nearby Caribbean.
Pat O’Brien got resourceful with his ingredients and basically combined a few convenient ingredients to create something plentiful, and something that would sell. Luckily, it caught on.
The earliest publication associated with Pat O’Brien’s lists gold rum, lemon juice, and passion fruit syrup. Somewhere along the way, the cocktail became more red, and more rum-my, to become the famous cocktail you see so often during Mardi Gras of today.
Lore says that Pat O’Briens was a sort of speakeasy at some point and that the password to get in was “storms’ brewin”. If you choose to imbibe this whirlwind of a beverage, you’ll find out why.
New Orleans Classic Cocktails: Where to drink them?
New Orleans is a city shrouded in myth, and it is no surprise that its cocktails don’t fall short of this legendary past. We hope that you’ll be able to try all the unique types of cocktails New Orleans has to offer—beyond its Mardi Gras offerings.
Of course, the list of those cocktails goes far beyond what any article can share, and to truly understand them, one has to try them. And the best way to do this might be through a haunted pub crawl of New Orleans.
It is the best way to sample the local spirits—of both the alcohol and the ghostly kind.
We should know–we have spent 8 long years of researching, hunting, and exploring the history of New Orleans before we decided to offer our own (and we believe the best) tour of New Orleans. And we made sure to make stops along the way to help you better discover New Orleans’ most storied cocktails.
New Orleans history pairs perfectly with a dram of whiskey.