When it comes to drinking, there’s no city in America — and perhaps the world — that does it better than New Orleans. After all, this is a town where bars can stay open 24 hours a day and it’s totally legal, at least in the French Quarter, to carry a drink as you’re walking down the street.
New Orleans is also rumored to be the birthplace of America’s very first cocktail, the Sazerac. While this has been up for debate, what isn’t debatable is that the city has given rise to many of the world’s most enduring drinks. As cocktail historian and legendary barmen Chris McMillian has said, “As long as people have been drinking cocktails, they’ve been drinking them in New Orleans.” Here, we detail the six classic NOLA creations that any imbiber should know and love.
Ah, the most famous of New Orleans’s classic cocktails. First invented by bitters-maker Antoine Peychaud in 1838, the drink was originally made with cognac and named after Peychaud’s favorite brand, Sazerac de Forge et Fils. Around the 1870s, the main ingredient was changed to rye whiskey due to drinkers’ changing tastes, and an absinthe rinse was added. Today, there are many versions of this cocktail, but we’re purists at heart. Our go-to is a blend of whiskey, Peychaud’s, sugar, and a lemon twist, all served in an absinthe-coated glass. You can find hand-crafted Sazeracs in NOLA’s finest restaurants and bars, most notably the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel. See recipe
Brandy Milk Punch
Though not originally invented in New Orleans — some say the basis for the drink dates back to the 1600s — the recipe as it’s most known today first appeared in an 1862 guide by New York City bartender Jerry Thomas. The decadent punch has long been a holiday staple in Louisiana, and thanks to the renowned Brennan restaurant family, it’s now a brunch staple too. They take credit for perfecting the recipe, with brandy, simple syrup, vanilla, equal parts whole milk and cream, and sprinkling of nutmeg on top. See recipe
Absinthe first made its way to New Orleans via Europe in the early 1800s and quickly became popular with the town’s writers, artists, and musicians. In 1874, the Absinthe Frappe was invented by head bartender Cayetano Ferrer at the Old Absinthe House, and was served to the likes of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain. Today, the potent mix of absinthe, simple syrup, soda water, and mint can still be enjoyed in its original setting on the corner of Bourbon and Bienville streets — or you can use their tried-and-true recipe to whip one up at home. See recipe
Ramos Gin Fizz
First invented in 1888 by bartender Henry C. Ramos, the Ramos Gin Fizz has become one of those drinks that can be difficult to find outside of New Orleans. The combination of gin, citrus, sugar, egg white, and orange flower water may seem strange at first, but one sip is guaranteed to make you fall in love with the rich and silky drink. It takes time to craft the perfect Ramos Gin Fizz — the original recipe called for a 12-minute marathon of shaking to create that lush and frothy egg white foam — but the end result is always worth the effort. See recipe
Dating back to 1938 at the Hotel Monteleone, the Vieux Carré was created by head bartender Walter Bergeron and named after an old title given to the French Quarter. Made with equal parts rye, cognac, and vermouth, plus a splash of Benedictine, the Vieux Carré has become synonymous with the city itself — at once complex, potent, and smooth. Though the cocktail was invented in a lounge that no longer exists, you can still order the classic creation at the hotel’s Carousel Bar, which opened in 1949. See recipe
A little sweet, a little tart, and not lacking in attitude, the Hurricane is much like the city from which it hails. According to the legend, the cocktail was created in the 1940s at Pat O’Brien’s when Pat’s liquor distributor would only sell him other alcohol if he agreed to buy 50 cases of surplus rum. In order to use up the excess, Pat whipped up a libation featuring a whopping four ounces of rum, plus fruit juices and grenadine to cover up the boozy bite. The recipe took off and today can still be found at O’Brien’s as well as other establishments around town. You can make a Hurricane at home, but beware — they pack a Category-5 punch. See recipe
Photo Credit: Jager Weatherby for Cocktail Builder