Seasonal Spotlight - Traditional New Orleans Cocktails For Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras, like Christmas, is a whole season - not just one day.  That being said, Fat Tuesday is the biggest day of celebration, and the date it falls on moves around. You'll find that Fat Tuesday can be any Tuesday between Feb. 3 and March 9. Carnival celebration starts on Jan. 6, the Twelfth Night (feast of Epiphany), and picks up speed through midnight on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

 Ash Wednesday is always 46 days before Easter, and Fat Tuesday is always the day before Ash Wednesday. Easter can fall on any Sunday from March 23 to April 25, with the exact date to coincide with the first Sunday after the full moon following a spring equinox. There you have it. Voila! If you're still confused, get out a calendar that has the holidays printed on it. Fat Tuesday is always the day before Ash Wednesday!

New Orleans has a rich cocktail history, one that includes many of the famous classic cocktails of all time created by the best bartenders that have ever lived. The tradition of this significant lineage lives on in many of the city's bars and lounges and there is no shortage of fantastic sips when you visit NOLA.  New Orleans is also home to the Museum of the American Cocktail and host to the annual Tales of the Cocktail event. You don't have to be in New Orleans or French to enjoy these Mardi Gras cocktails, but beware that most of your neighborhood bartenders will not know how to mix these classic NOLA cocktails. Even for a skilled bartender, these take time and patience to perfect.

 

Sazerac

(Photo courtesy of liquor.com)

Of all the cocktails New Orleans is famous for, the Sazerac is a clear number one. In 2008, this cocktail was officially named the Official Cocktail of New Orleans.

The cocktail has a long, storied, and disputed history which GumboPages.com has in detail. Essentially, it is was created by Antoine Amedee Peychaud, a French Quarter pharmacist, in the early 1800's when he mixed it with his now famous bitters. The Sazerac was originally made with cognac, but an insect epidemic destroyed many French vineyards and resulted in the lasting switch to rye whiskey.

In 1859, the drink was the signature drink of the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans, where it received its name. Around 1870, Thomas Handy took over the Sazerac House and changed the base spirit to rye whiskey and that is how the cocktail is made today.

  • 1 Sugar cube
  • 3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
  • 1.5 oz Rye Whiskey, such as Michter's, Wigle (PA), Dad's Hat (PA), or Templeton 
  • 1/2 oz Absinthe, pastis, or Herbsaint

Prep - Pack an Old Fashioned glass with ice and set aside. In a second Old Fashioned glass, muddle the sugar cube and bitters, and add the rye whiskey. Pour the ice out of the first glass, add the Absinthe and rotate the glass to coat the inside, discarding any excess. Add the whiskey mixture to the prepared glass and garnish with a lemon peel.

 

Ramos Gin Fizz

(Cover photo courtesy of Serious Eats)

The Ramos Fizz (also known as New Orleans Fizz or Gin Fizz) is one of the famous New Orleans cocktails that has stood the test of time, but requires some patience and diligence by the bartender . It is possibly the most famous and classic gin cocktail beyond the Gin & Tonic and Tom Collins for a good reason.

This fizz came to light in the late 1800's thanks to Henry C. Ramos at Meyer's Restaurant in New Orleans. To add to the story and show just how tempting this cocktail is, there is a story about Huey P. Long (Governor of Louisiana, 1928-1932) bringing a New Orleans bartender to New York to train bartenders there so he could have a proper Ramos Fizz whenever he was in the city.

If you can't make it to Cure in New Orleans to watch the bartenders shake and shake and shake this classic gin cocktail, consider enlisting a few friends to help. A touch of orange flower water adds aromatic complexity.

  • 2 oz Gin
  • .5 oz Heavy cream
  • .5 oz Fresh lemon juice
  • .5 oz Fresh lime juice
  • 1-2 tsp of sugar
  • 3 dashes Orange flower water
  • 1 Fresh egg white (optional)
  • Club soda

Prep - The secret to this drink is to shake, shake and shake some more. Add all the ingredients except the club soda to a shaker and shake vigorously without ice. Open the shaker, fill with ice and shake again. Strain into a Collins glass. Pour a little bit of club soda back and forth between the empty halves of the shaker to pick up any residual egg white, and then pour into the glass. (This will make for a frothier head.). How To Make Orange Flower Water here

 

Hurricane

(Photo courtesy of Serious Eats)

Back away from the premixed drinks—this cocktail, when made correctly, is fruity and tart, with a nice hit of fresh lemon and rich dark rum. for passion fruit syrup, commercial versions are available from big companies such as Monin, and those are okay. A better (and newer) way to go is the passion fruit syrup from Trader Tiki, available by online order and at select stores around the country.

  • 2 oz dark Jamaican rum or Martinique Rum, such Appleton Estates or Mount Gay
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 oz passion fruit syrup

Prep -  Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and add plenty of crushed ice. Shake well and pour, unstrained, into old fashioned glass, tiki mug or Hurricane glass. Garnish with orange slice and a cherry. How To Make Passion Fruit Syrup here

 

Pimm’s Cup

(Photo courtesy of Food & Wine)

A tall-and-simple Pimm's Cup at Napoleon House is a New Orleans tradition, but you can get fancy with your homemade version, throwing in whatever garnishes you want. Note: Feel free to change fruit and vegetable garnishes as desired. If you like your drink a little stronger, add an extra splash of gin. I made my version of the Pimm's Cup for a wedding in October 2015. Here is the recipe -

  • cucumber, sliced thin
  • strawberries, sliced thin
  • orange, sliced thin
  • lemon, sliced thin
  • green apple, sliced thin
  • 2 oz Pimm's No. 1 Cup
  • Top with Lemon-lime soda, Seltzer, or Ginger Ale, depending on sweetness preference

Prep - Layer fruit slices and ice in a glass (couple slices each). Add Pimm's and soda. Stir gently with a wooden or bar spoon to combine. Pour into glasses making sure to get fruit and ice in each glass. Garnish with mint (optional).

 

Vieux Carre

(Photo courtesy of liquor.com)

Boozy but super smooth, this rye-and-cognac based cocktail is sweetened with Benedictine and stirred with bitters.

  • 1/2 tsp Benedictine
  • 1 dash Peychaud’s Bitters
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters
  • 3/4 oz Rye Whiskey, such as Templeton, Whistle Pig, or Wigle
  • 3/4 oz Cognac
  • 3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth

Prep - Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice; stir well for 20 seconds and strain into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a cherry.

 

Arnaud’s Special

(Photo courtesy of liquor.com)

This was the signature cocktail at Arnaud's restaurant in New Orleans during the 1940s and '50s. This southern cousin of the Rob Roy is smoky and rich, with Dubonnet Rouge substituted for sweet vermouth, and with orange bitters providing a fragrant citrus note. The drink is essentially a Rob Roy with Dubonnet Rouge substituted for sweet vermouth, and with orange bitters in place of Angostura. Dubonnet and sweet vermouth are close cousins, but the nuanced differences result in a somewhat brighter drink.

  • 2 oz Blended Scotch
  • 1 oz Dubonnet Rouge
  • 3 dashes orange bitters
  • orange twist, for garnish

Prep - Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir well for 20 seconds; strain into chilled cocktail glass. Twist piece of orange peel over drink and use as garnish.