Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday in English (also known as Shrove Tuesday) refers to not just the day before Ash Wednesday, but all of the events of the Carnival celebrations beginning on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and culminating on the day before Lent begins. This year, Mardi Gras is Tuesday, February 28. In honor of the occasion we’re sharing a few cocktails native to New Orleans, the undisputed capital of Mardi Gras celebrations in the US. Kill two birds with one stone and mix a few tonight at your Oscars party.
This classic New Orleans cocktail was first created at the legendary Pat O’Brien’s in the French Quarter. The bar began as a speakeasy during Prohibition. The drink is named for its signature curved glass which resembles a Hurricane lamp, though the tempestuous experience after a few of these unassuming cocktails kick in may have made the name stick.
2 ounces light rum
2 ounces dark rum
2 ounces passion fruit juice
1 ounce orange juice
½ ounce fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon simple syrup
1 tablespoon grenadine
Garnish: orange slice and cherry
Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a tall hurricane glass filled with ice. Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice.
Vieux Carre (Old Square) is the French term for what is now known as the French Quarter, New Orleans’s beloved and best-known district. Created during the 1930s at the Hotel Monteleon’s Carousel Bar - a rotating bar of legendary libations – this smooth, deceptively strong cocktail is a New Orleans classic.
3/4 ounce rye whiskey
3/4 ounce Cognac
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1 bar spoon Bénédictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Cherries (for garnish)
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir well, strain into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass and garnish.
Created in the late 1800s, many argue that the Sazerac is the first ever cocktail. Like most popular drugs, it was thought at the time to have medicinal purposes. Both absinthe and Peychaud’s Bitters were considered health elixirs; mixing them with whisky and sugar was meant to make them more palatable. Just a spoonful of sugar – oh, and also lots of booze – makes the medicine go down!
Today, there is some debate about how to make the correct Sazerac. Purists will favor the recipe from the PDT (Please Don’t Tell) cocktail book but for those of you who eschew dogma feel free to experiment with a second version of the cocktail from the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans made with a heavier portion of Absinthe and served with (gasp!) an ice cube. If you’re feeling creative and/or anti-establishment you can even experiment with your own version using the essential ingredients (absinthe, sugar, bitters, rye whiskey, and a lemon peel).
The traditional version, according to the PDT cocktail book is as follows:
2 ounces rye whiskey
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes angostura bitters
1 demerara sugar cube
Absinthe (to rinse glass)
Rinse a rocks glass with absinthe and set aside. Muddle the sugar and the bitters. Add whiskey and ice. Stir and strain into absinthe-rinsed glass. Twist lemon peel over the top and discard.
The Sazerac Coffee House twist on the classic:
2 ounces Rye Whiskey
1/2 ounces Gum Syrup*
1/4 ounces absinthe
5 drops Peychaud's Bitters
Lemon Peel to Garnish
Stir ingredients and strain into a chilled lowball glass with large cube.
Twist a lemon peel on top, and float on the surface of the drink.
* To make gum syrup, combine equal parts Gum Arabic. Heat and stir until gum Arabic is dissolved. Then, make rich demerara sugar simple syrup with 2 parts demerara sugar to one part water. Heat until dissolved. Mix 1 part Gum Arabic simple syrup with 2 parts rich simple syrup. Transfer to glass bottle and keep in refrigerator.
Cocktail a la Louisiane
The Cocktail a la Louisiane has been around since the late 1800s. Described as a mix between the iconic Sazerac and the Vieux Carre, the ingredients of this herbaceous drink pay homage to the city’s history; Rye whiskey is American, Sweet Vermouth is Italian, Benedictine and Absinthe both hail from France, and the distinctive medicinal blend of herbs known as Peychaud’s Bitters is a nod to Caribbean heritage. Together they are a delicious balance of bitter, sweet, earthy, and botanical.
2 oz. rye whiskey
1⁄2 ounce sweet vermouth
1⁄4 ounce Benedictine
3 dashes Peychaud's bitters
2 dashes absinthe
Maraschino cherry, to garnish
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine rye, vermouth, Benedictine, bitters, and absinthe. Stir and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a cherry.
This cocktail is reminiscent of the Mardi Gras experience: A little sweet, a little spicy, and fueled by alcohol. T. Cole Newton of the 12 Mile Limit in New Orleans created this refreshing Southern cocktail. Tabasco and lemon juice give it a spicy kick and satisfying acidity.
1 ½ ounce bourbon
3⁄4 ounce honey syrup (instructions below)
1⁄2 ounce lemon juice
1 dash Tabasco
Shake ingredients, pour into rocks glass, and add ice. Garnish with a lemon peel.
For honey syrup: combine 2 parts local honey dissolved in 1 part steaming hot water. For a less sweet version you can make the syrup using a 1 to 1 ratio.
Café Brulot Diabolique
Though not suited for drinking in the streets, the Café Brulot Diabolique has all the performative flare of Mardi Gras and a New Orleans pedigree. The drink was first served at Antoine’s in the French Quarter and became popular during prohibition as an effective guise for serving alcohol. The name for this literally flaming cocktail translates to “devilishly burned coffee.” The genius combination of coffee and Brandy will keep you up for a night of shenanigans.
2 stick cinnamon
8 whole cloves
Peel of 1 lemon
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
3 ounces brandy
3 cups strong black coffee
Put the cinnamon, cloves, lemon peel, sugar, and brandy in a fireproof bowl. Heat on open flame. When the brandy is hot (not boiling) ignite the mixture with match. Stir with a ladle and pour the liquid around the bowl for about 2 minutes. Pour the hot coffee into the flaming brandy. To serve, ladle into demitasse cups.
This slushy punch is about as easy as mixology gets. It is often served in the south as a holiday punch but it’s also a popular Mardi Gras drink. This recipe yields two quarts so don’t forget to invite some friends to share it with.
1 ½ quarts Cranberry Juice
1 can (6 ounces) orange juice concentrate (defrosted)
2 cups vodka
Combine ingredients in plastic container. Freeze for a few hours. The mixture will not freeze entirely but should achieve a slushy consistency. Scoop and serve!