Several famous cocktails originated in New Orleans. I researched these drinks and the establishments that claim to have first created these concoctions. Then I mapped out a self guided tour I am calling the Original Cocktails of New Orleans Tour. We did our best to try them all, a feat I don’t recommend trying in one day. However, it is unlikely you’ll feel like finishing the tour the next day. Trust me, I’m writing this the morning after and am feeling mighty rough!
This New Orleans experience was sponsored by Patricia Waldock, Frances Bishop, and David Penstone. However, if they knew the debauchery they were funding ahead of time, they might have changed their minds. Thank you all for your early Christmas/bon voyage gift.
Drink #1: Pimm’s Cup – Napoleon House
Pimm’s Cup was created in 1840 in England but perfected at the Napoleon House in New Orleans. The first ingredient is Pimm’s #1, which is made with dry gin, liqueur, fruit juices, and spice. It also contains lemonade and 7up and garnished with a cucumber.
Tasting notes: The flavor is reminiscent of lemon flavored iced tea. I could taste a hint of the cucumber and found it very refreshing for a warm day. Being a lighter drink, it was a good choice to start with.
Drink #2: Green Fairy – Antoine’s
This was supposed to be the Cafe Brulot, however, it is a huge production to make and only served for a minimum of two people. Unfortunately, I cannot tolerate any coffee drinks whatsoever, so we passed on this famous drink. I recommend others go to Antoine’s and try it to experience the making of it, which includes flaming it. Instead, I substituted the Green Fairy, which is an absinthe drink. Dave doesn’t care for anise flavor, so he an a local-brewed Abita Amber. Absinthe is served by pouring it into a glass over a cube of sugar. The sugar is then removed and placed on an absinthe spoon. Then ice cold water is drizzled over the sugar from a fountain until the sugar is dissolved. Absinthe became illegal in the United States because one of its ingredients, wormwood, was believed to be an hallucinogenic. Absinthe has reappeared on the market but it no longer contains wormwood. One more note on absinthe, due to the way it is made, it has nearly twice the alcohol content of most other spirits. The bartender recommended Pernod and I went with it. I included a video of the process and apologize for all the background noise. Hopefully you can understand the bartender.
Tasting notes: Wow! Strong!!! It was very difficult to drink at first, but as my tongue went numb it became easier and easier to drink. I truly like black licorice (anise) flavor, but this drink needed about a cup of sugar to make it taste like licorice. I did like it by the time I finished the glass, but it was not a good second drink on the tour. I was already feeling the effects when we got up to leave.
Drink #3: Hand Grenade – Treasure Isle
This is likely the newest cocktail on the tour, but a very popular one, nonetheless. Tropical Isle guards their recipe, but it is suggested that it contains gin, grain alcohol, melon liqueur, rum, and vodka. Tropical Isle claims the Hand Grenade is the most powerful drink in New Orleans and they serve it with a warning to not be fooled by the sweet taste. If these are truly the ingredients, then I just might believe their claim.
Tasting notes: This drink is sickly sweet! It taste rather like Kool-Aid with a sweet and tangy flavor. I assumed there was a sweet fruity mixer in it and worried that it would upset my stomach. Probably not a good third drink to follow the absinthe with many mrs drinks to follow, but there it is. We drank it and could still walk afterwards – note, however, that we shared one. It was too sweet to drink one each.
Drink #4: Vieux Carre’ – Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone
The famous Carousel Bar claims to have created the Vieux Carre’ cocktail, which includes bitters, Benedictine, sweet vermouth, cognac, and rye whiskey. Their 25-seat revolving bar has been spinning for 65 years, but the Vieux Carre’ outdates the carousel bar. It was created at the Hotel Monteleone in 1938 and became a classic in New Orleans.
Tasting notes: I was not looking forward to this drink. It really didn’t sound appetizing to me. I am not a person to drink straight alcohol on the rocks. However, it was a pleasant surprise; perhaps because of the green fairy and hand grenade that preceded it? It was strong and tasted like whiskey but it wasn’t disgusting. Well, it was a little nasty at first, but it got better as we drank it. Neither Dave or I would order it under normal circumstances since there are so many other drinks to choose from, but it wasn’t bad. I’m not sure why it became such a classic, though. Note: It’s a good thing I took notes as we went, because we are having a little trouble remembering everything. My writing distinctly changed for the worse after the hand grenade.
Drink #5: Absinthe Frappe – Jean Lafitte’s Olde Absinthe Bar
As this was another anise flavored drink, Dave passed and ordered another Abita Amber. The Absinthe Frappe was created at the Olde Absinthe Bar while absinthe was illegal and, therefore, contains anisette, an anise flavored liqueur instead, as well as Herbsaint.
Tasting notes: Unfortunately, I think my palate was not as sensitive as it was when we started. This drink tasted like a cheap imitation of the Green Fairy at Antoine’s. The licorice flavor was strong but different, maybe they didn’t use sugar? Being drink #5, it was easy enough to drink and I just poured it down to get through it. The bar is kind of cool, but I would recommend ordering something else.
Drink #6: Mint Julep – Bar Uncommon at the Renaissance Hotel
This is not the fast food of drinks. Dave and I easily found two seats open at the bar and ordered two Mint Juleps. Then Dave left to use the restroom. When he returned, Dave asked if he was still making the drinks. Yep, he was. So I excused myself for the same purpose (this is drink #6 after all). When I returned, he was still making the drinks. Part of the time consumingness (is that a word?) was the muddling of the mint, but I’m not sure what else took so much time. The bartender was very nice and explained it all in minute detail to me, but the only part I remember is that it contains no creme de mint (only fake versions do) yet has 2 ounces of bourbon in each. This drink also came with a warning, but I think every drink we’ve had so fa except Pimm’s Cup should have had a potency warning.
Tasting notes: When I saw the bartender muddling the mint, I was a little worried since I’d had a really bad mojito experience where it tasted like dirt. However, there was no dirt taste at all just a clean, refreshing mint flavor. The flavor was great and they were very drinkable, but as warned, they were very strong. At this point I am working hard to stay on my bar stool, so I can’t really remember the finer nuances of the flavor. Dave isn’t much help, he says it was good but strong. After drinking the Mint Julep, Dave was really feeling the effects of the alcohol along with me and we knew we were not going to be able to try all the drinks.
Drink #7: Sazerac – Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel
The Sazerac is reputed to be the most famous drink in New Orleans and claimed to be the world’s first cocktail. The Sazerac was originally made with cognac but rye whiskey was substituted during prohibition. The staying power of this cocktail is supposed to be due to the ability to drink it during prohibition and because of the health benefits of the bitters that were added to it. Today it might be made with cognac or rye whiskey or a combination of the two, simple syrup, Peychaud’s bitters, and Herbsaint.
Tasting notes: This was both of our least favorite drink of the night. It was strong and nasty and we have no idea why anyone would drink it. Even after 6 other drinks, we found this one rather repulsive. However, because of those other drinks, we were able to just pour it down and get through it. We were too far gone for it to occur to us that we didn’t have to finish it.
Drink #8: Ramos Gin Fizz – Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel
Ramos Gin Fizz is another original cocktail from the Sazerac Bar and, quite possibly, its savings grace in our opinion. The ingredients include gin, fresh citrus, cream, egg whites, orange flower water, and club soda.
Tasting notes: Yum! The Ramos Gin Fizz was Dave’s drink of choice for the night. Of course, he likes whipped cream, and that was exactly what I thought this drink tasted like: whipped cream. I didn’t catch the citrus at all and the gin was not noticeable. Keep in mind I was already two sheets to the wind. The club soda gave it the fizz, so it was fizzy whipped cream. If we ever feel like drinking again, this drink would be something we would order, but that a big if!
Drink #9: Hurricane – Pat O’Brien’s
The hurricane is the one drink on this list we had previously tried. My mom and I discovered the bar and it’s famous drink on our trip to New Orleans 16 or 17 years ago. I have since tried to replicate it using mixers, including Pat O’Brien’s hurricane mix, but they just don’t taste the same. Nor do I think the versions you can get in Las Vegas taste anything like it. Pat O’Brien created the hurricane during World War II, when whiskey was in short supply. Rum was plentiful, but apparently people didn’t like to drink it straight, so mixers were experimented with to disguise the taste. The hurricane is rum, fruit juices, and ice blended together. I have seen variations elsewhere that contain Southern Comfort.
Tasting notes: Maybe I took this drink for granted because I already knew how it would taste, but I honestly don’t even remember tasting it. I know I did, because I finished mine and left with a cup of water, but Dave took the remainder of his to go. The facts are a little fuzzy now, because my notes no longer follow the lines and are barely legible. I can make out that I found it delicious, of course, and that it is a cocktail for whips that don’t like the on-the-rocks straight alcohol stuff like the Sazerac, but nothing else makes sense. So this is where we ended the tour, as we recognized our inability to think clearly any longer. Don’t worry, mom, we made it back to our hotel room safe and sound.