Thursday, July 26, 2007

Drink In the History of New Orleans

According to legend, in the early 1800’s, Antoine Peychaud, a New Orleanian apothecary, prescribed a mixture of distilled spirit, bitters and sugar as a medicinal remedy. He mixed this concoction in an eggcup - or “coquetier” (ko-ke-tee-ay) - which over the years has morphed into the English word “cocktail.” Whether one ascribes this story as fact or fiction, one thing is for sure - few cities take their cocktails as seriously as New Orleans.

Reputed for its unique cuisine, architecture and history, New Orleans is the pinpoint on the world map to immerse oneself in authentic cocktail culture. Most residents have home bars. Grannies whip up batches of family specialties whose secret recipes are handed down from generation to generation. Tourists clog the sidewalks of Bourbon Street, visiting jazz bar after dance club, sipping from plastic cups of 7-11 Slurpee-style Hurricanes (made famous by Pat O’Briens). Meridith, now a 39-year old New Orleans native, even recalls her father being pulled over driving with one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding a cocktail, to which the officer suggested, “Now, drive carefully, and don’t spill your drink.”

Every meal of the day, in New Orleans, is an important one. And, every meal, including breakfast, includes an alcoholic beverage, or two. Many bars in the French Quarter, and beyond, are credited with creating some of the good, old classic cocktails, which are currently enjoying an international resurgence. Many places also present their own creations, or twists on the classics, which make dining and drinking an educational indulgence. The cocktails of New Orleans create their own guide to the Big Easy!

Café Pierre
The Loews New Orleans Hotel has several acclaimed dining spots from which to choose. For example, the historic Commander’s Palace restaurant, established in 1880, is the former stomping ground of famous New Orleans chef, Emeril Lagasse. Breakfast at the hotel’s Café Adelaide means being greeted with a smile and a Café Pierre, their version of a traditional Café Brulot. Sometimes also served as an after-dinner drink, a Café Brulot is a flaming coffee drink made with orange and lemon peels, sugar, cloves, cinnamon sticks and orange-flavored liqueur.

The café’s co-owner, Ti Adelaide, retrieved this recipe from her Aunt Claire, who with the help of a dining captain named Pierre, came up a twist on the NOLA favorite:

1 lime wedge
2 tablespoons sugar

1ounce brandy
unce kahlua
1 ounce Galliano

1 cup hot, strong, black coffee
1/4 cup sweetened whipped cream

Rub the lime wedge around the rim of a heatproof wineglass, then dip it into the sugar.
Hold the glass by the stem, and turn it slowly over a low flame until the sugar caramelizes. Add the liquors and coffee. Top with cream. Serve immediately.

(And, when visiting the Loews, don’t forget to try the refreshing Swizzle Cocktail, created by the Swizzle Stick Bar’s respected female mixologist Lu Brow.)

Brandy Milk Punch
Café Adelaide’s other owner is Ti’s cousin Lally Brennan from the famous family behind Brennan’s Restaurants. Among other imbibe-able pleasures, Brennan’s Brandy Milk Punch is a favorite “eye opener,” as are called breakfast cocktails, in New Orleans:

1 cup ice cubes
1 1⁄2 oz. Napoleon brandy or bourbon

2 tbs. simple syrup
1⁄2 cup half and half
3⁄4 tsp. vanilla
pinch of nutmeg

Combine all ingredients, except nutmeg, in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously, then pour into a chilled old-fashioned glass. Sprinkle with nutmeg and serve.

The Sazerac
The quintessential New Orleans classic cocktail is the Sazerac, which many people say was invented by Antoine Peychaud, himself. Sewell Taylor, who owned the Sazerac Coffeehouse is said to have served this drink around 1853, and only made it with a cognac he imported called Sazerac-du-Forge et fils. It is said that one of his bartenders came up with the idea of coating the glass with absinthe.

Today, the Sazerac Bar, located in the Fairmont Hotel serves its namesake, originally made from cognac, absinthe, sugar, lemon peel and Peychaud bitters. However, throughout the 20th century, expensive cognac was replaced with rye whiskey, and anis-flavored pastis was substituted when absinthe became illegal. Absinthe has just become legal again, a few months ago, and many bars in New Orleans are making use of it!

Pimm’s Cup
The nearly 200-year old Napoleon House was first occupied by the mayor of New Orleans, Nicholas Grid, from 1812 – 1815. It is rumored that the governor set about a plan to rescue the exiled Emperor Napoleon, and offered his own home as refuge. While Napoleon died before that plan could be put into action, the name stuck, and the Napoleon House has provided inspiration for writers and artists throughout most of the 20th century.

One of the most recent temporary residents was author Jenny Adams, who stayed at several New Orleanian landmarks while penning Mixing New Orleans, this spring. (Buy her book here.)

The Napoleon House is known for its Pimm’s
Cup cocktail. While the establishment is quite secretive with its recipe, visitors can try to recreate it at home by purchasing the house-mix Pimm’s #1 and adding lemonade, 7-up and a cucumber garnish.

The Whacker
Liuzza’s was established in 1947, and is located well outside the French Quarter, in one of the neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Katrina. After what locals call “that little weather incident,” the restaurant was submerged in 9 feet of water, and it took nearly a year to re-open.

I was fortunate enough to be turned on to this place by San Fran's Tablehopper, herself, Marcia Gagliardi. She invited me along to sample Liuzza’s decadent sandwich the “Frenchuletta” (a muffaletta served on French bread instead of traditional round white loaf) is a popular draw.

However, being the boozy floosie that I am, I was particularly drawn to the specialty drink of the house, aka: The Whacker, served in a frosty 18-ounce mug. Be forewarned that it is appropriately named. It goes down waaay too easily!

A month would not be enough time to cover everything New Orleans has to offer. However, a few additional alcohol-related highlights include:
  • The Old New Orleans Rum Distillery has been stewing up Louisiana-grown sugar cane and molasses for over 10 years. Stop by for a tour, and support the local spirits industry!

  • The Bombay Club, located at 830 Conti Street and owned by lovebirds Richard & Willie (right) boasts more than 100 “specialty martinis” on its leather-bound drink menu. Catch Johnny Angel & The Swinging Angels, most weekends.

  • Cocktail enthusiasts and spirits industry professionals return “home” to New Orleans every summer for the international cocktail conference, Tales of the Cocktail. There is no better way to get to drink in the local cocktail history.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Thanks for the help Natalie! Great drinking and hanging out with you