Want to start a lively debate? Ask a cocktail aficionado to select the iconic cocktail of New Orleans: The Sazerac or the Ramos Gin Fizz. (The answer is at the end of this piece.)
Regardless of what’s in the glass, New Orleans has long been an iconic city noted for its rich and colourful cocktail heritage. In 2002, Paul Tuennerman, co-founder (or as he prefers to be called, "Co-Instigator") of Tales of the Cocktail, set out to make sure that the city got its due.
What began as a walking tour of the town’s historic bars and restaurants grew to become an enormous mecca of a cocktail conference. This July, Tales celebrates its 10-year anniversary.
"New Orleans has long been the gateway to the "New World" and home to some of the most tenacious cast-offs that have arrived at our shores for hundreds of years," Tuennerman says.
"Along with them, they’ve brought their culinary and cocktail heritage for all to enjoy, for centuries to come."
For those passing through town, whether for Tales or other pressing business matters, most will start their journey on famed bawdy Bourbon Street. But just steps away, Arnaud’s French 75 offers well-made classic cocktails in the heart of the French Quarter within a restaurant steeped in history.
"I frequently tell my travelling companions that if you’ve limited yourself to Bourbon Street, you’ve never really been to New Orleans," Tuennerman warns. "There’s so much more to the city, especially when it comes to dining and drinking."
Agreed. One choice cocktail spot far from the tourist fray is Cure, which has made a name for itself with quirky cutting-edge cocktails and a young, in-the-know crowd. Tuennerman also recommends Cochon on Tchoupitoulas for pork-y Louisiana fare.
And now, here’s the answer to that question: Cocktailians may argue for their favourite classic cocktail, but eventually will conclude that you’ll need one of each here – the Sazerac to ease into the night before and the frothy Ramos Gin Fizz to survive the morning after.
Recipe: The Night Before: Sazerac from Bitters, by Brad Thomas Parsons
This variation of the New Orleans classic gets an extra-heavy dose of Peychaud’s Bitters, which were created by NOLA apothecary Antoine Peychaud circa 1830.
Splash of absinthe, Herbsaint, or Pernod
2 ounces rye
¼ ounce simple syrup
4 generous dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Garnish: thick piece of lemon zest
Add the absinthe, Herbsaint or Pernod to a chilled old-fashioned glass. Roll the glass around to coat the interior of the glass and shake out any liquid. Combine the rye, simple syrup and bitters in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir until chilled ad strain into the prepared glass. Rub the lemon zest around the rim of the glass and serve with the zest resting on the rim.
Recipe: The Morning After: Ramos Gin Fizz by Chris McMillian, Bar UnCommon
This drink was created by Henry C. Ramos in New Orleans in the 1880s, but McMillian’s version is the stuff of local legend.
1 ½ London dry gin
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
½ ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup
2 drops orange flower water
2 drops vanilla extract
2 ounces heavy cream
White of 1 egg
Add all of the ingredients to a cocktail shaker, and shake vigorously. (Note: No ice is added at this point, this is called a "dry shake" technique.)
Add ice, and shake again until frothy. Strain into a Collins glass and top with fizzy soda.