New York City can lay claim to many of the world’s greatest culinary creations, from bagels and hot dogs to pastrami and General Tso’s. But as much as it pains us to say it, New Orleans might just have us beat on the cocktail front, especially considering it’s largely credited with having invented the cocktail. So since Mardi Gras is right around the corner, we’re taking a moment to reflect on the Crescent City’s indelible, incomparable contributions to mixology, by raising a glass to the spicy Sazerac, the easy-drinking Hurricane, the smooth and smoky Vieux Carré and the velvety Brandy Milk Punch.
Sazerac: While its exact origins are disputed, the Sazerac is widely believed to be America’s very first branded cocktail. Created by apothecary owner Antoine Peychaud (yes, he of the famous bitters) in a French Quarter bar in 1838, the drink was named for Sazerac de Forge et Fils Cognac—which served as its original main ingredient—combined with Peychaud’s own bitters in a double-ended egg cup known as a coquetier (from which the word “cocktail” is derived). Undoubtedly the official tipple of New Orleans, the recipe has altered just slightly over the years, with French brandy substituted for American rye whiskey (and a touch of absinthe) in 1873, and anisettes such as herbsaint, pernod or pastis swapped in for absinthe during 1912-2007, due to its absence in the U.S. market.
Hurricane: A rosy, fruity, sticky-sweet cousin of the Daiquiri, the Hurricane is attributed to speakeasy proprietor Pat O’Brien. Devised in the 1940’s as a way to use the cheap, unpopular rum forced on him by local distributors (since there was a short supply of whiskey at the time, bar owners had to buy 50 cases or more of free-flowing rum in order to purchase any other liquor), O’Brien mixed it en masse with a variety of fruit juices, and gave it away to local sailors in hurricane lamp-shaped glasses. Today, the tourist favorite is commonly made with passion fruit juice, orange juice, lime juice and grenadine, and served in plastic cups, thus allowing patrons to legally transport their cocktails up and down Bourbon Street.
Vieux Carré: Invented in 1938 by Walter Bergeron, the head bartender at the Monteleone Hotel’s famous Carousel Bar in New Orleans, “Vieux Carré” is the French term “The French Quarter” (i.e., the “Old Square”). As a tribute to the various ethnic groups that make up the city, the heady cocktail is traditionally comprised of rye whiskey (a tip of the hat to the Americans), benedictine and cognac (French), sweet vermouth (Italian), and of course, Peychaud’s bitters (the Caribbean), which are combined in a double old fashioned glass over ice, and finished with a twist of lemon.
Brandy Milk Punch: Milk Punch is as common a brunch offering in New Orleans as Bloody Marys are in Brooklyn. And brunch itself is believed to have been invented at Brennan’s in New Orleans in 1946, which sought to encapsulate devil-may-care, French Quarter indulgence by pairing an extravagant morning meal with a hair of the dog cocktail; i.e., Milk Punch with Napoleon brandy, sugar, cream, vanilla and a shake of nutmeg.