12 Traditional New Orleans Drinks You Must Try
This post covers 12 famous New Orleans cocktails, including a brief history, a top 12 list of mixed drinks, as well as the best cocktail bars to drink them in.
- History of the Cocktail in NOLA
- 12 Must-Try Cocktails
- Cocktail Tours
- 12 Must-Try Foods in NOLA
- Other Things to Do in NOLA
HISTORY OF MIXED DRINKS IN NEW ORLEANS
In the earliest days of the city, barrels of brandy were as important to the French and Spanish colonists as their saws and hammers. By the time Napoleon sold the territory to the Americans 1803, this port city could offer bourbon from upriver, rum from the islands, brandy, absinthe and wine from the old country.
By the end of the Nineteenth Century, New Orleans was already gaining a reputation for fine dining, naughty jazz, and of course, a good cocktail.
In the next century, Prohibition seemed to be more of a suggestion than an actual law, as there were so many speakeasies and so much open selling of alcohol that a Federal investigator marveled at how easy it was to find them.
The rise of Bourbon Street in the 1950s as sort of a Southern Las Vegas brought a smokey, burlesque element to the city; though these days the suits and gowns of trendy types have given way to daiquiri shops and less-elegant strip clubs, but there are a couple of places worth a look.
Now, New Orleans finds herself in a post-Katrina renaissance and offers every sort of cocktail experience from the most decadent of high-end venues to the most decadent, in the opposite sense, of dive bars.
Some folks will tell you that the actual word ‘cocktail’ started here: The story is that in the 1830’s Antoine Peychaud, a local apothecary, offered a drink of cognac, absinthe, water, sugar and his patented bitters in an egg cup called a ‘coquetier’ in French.
And the story continues that the word got ‘English-ized’ into ‘cocktail.’ As much as we’d like to claim credit, the word cocktail as a mixed drink appears in many books and newspapers at least a century earlier. Still, his cocktail is still around, the classic Sazerac, which will make an appearance on our tour.
Click here for more on the history of New Orleans cocktails.
12 MUST-TRY COCKTAILS IN NEW ORLEANS
Below, we list our top 12 famous mixed-drinks that are associated with or originated in New Orleans, including a video either of how to make the drink or of the establishment most associated with it.
When you are finished reading, why not join us on one of our pay-what-you-wish French Quarter cocktail tours?
You will want to visit Pat O’Brien’s on Bourbon Street for this original New Orleans mixed drink. Pat O’s is the home of the Hurricane and offers a variety of atmospheres with their main bar, piano bar, patio bar, and a courtyard restaurant.
The Hurricane, named for the hurricane lamp-shaped glass it is served in, was born during World War II when whiskey supplies were limited. This sweet and fruity rum drink packs a punch worthy of its name.
Take home a bottle of Pat O’Brien’s hurricane mix and a signature souvenir glass.
The Sazerac is not only unique to New Orleans, but it is also said to be the world’s very first cocktail! Developed by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud using French brandy and his special bitters in 1838, the Sazerac quickly grew in popularity, and by 1850 was the country’s first branded cocktail.
The recipe has gone through a few changes over the years, and today includes sugar, rye whiskey, Herbsaint, and Peychaud’s Bitters.
Try Arnaud’s French 75 for this original.
Ramos Gin Fizz
The favored drink of Louisiana’s most infamous governor, the Ramos Gin Fizz, was invented by Henry Ramos in his Gravier Street bar in 1888. The orange flower water and egg white make the Ramos a truly unique gin fizz.
Legend has it that during Carnival 1915, Ramos’s Imperial Cabinet Saloon employed 32 bartenders hired specifically to mix this famous drink. This frothy fizz requires 12 minutes of mixing time and is well worth the wait.
Enjoy your Ramos Gin Fizz in the same place Huey Long enjoyed this favorite, The Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel.
The Vieux Carre cocktail was invented at the Monteleone in 1938 by bartender Walter Bergeron. It’s New Orleans twist on a Manhattan. It’s straight booze and New Orleans in a glass, blending several cultural contributions in one cocktail.
Made with equal parts Cognac (brought over with the original French Settlers), American Rye Whiskey (prized by the Americans, who settled in the city in droves, after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803), and Italian Sweet Vermouth (Italian immigrants flocked into the city in the late 19th Century, transforming the French Quarter into an Italian neighborhood).
Add to this a bar spoon of Benedictine (French Liqueur made with 27 herbs and spices) and a few dashes of both Angostura Bitters and Peychaud Bitters (Which have roots in Trinidad and Haiti. Peychaud was a Haitian refugee and one of the over 10,000 Haitians who fled to New Orleans after the Haitian revolution in the 1790’s. Reinforcing the cities Carribean flair).
Though you can find the Vieux Carre cocktail at pretty much any craft cocktail bar in New Orleans. We recommend the Carousel Bar in the Monteleone Hotel, of course.
The Grasshopper Cocktail was created by Philibert Guichet in 1919 the proprietor of Tujague’s Restaurant in the French Quarter. He created the cocktail for a drink competition in New York City in 1919. It took the 2nd prize. He then sold the cocktail in his restaurant.
The ‘Grasshopper’ owes its name to its bright green color. It’s equal parts cream, Creme de Cacao, and Creme de Menthe. It was most popular in the 50’s and 60’s. When it was fashionable for housewives to serve at dinner parties. It tastes like mint chocolate chip ice cream. Making it the perfect dessert cocktail.
We usually stop at Tujaque’s on our free French Quarter Food Tour.
The Pimms Cup is New Orleans favorite summertime libation and has been for over 75 years. Pimms No 1 was invented in London by James Pimm. He opened an oyster bar in the financial district of London in the 1820’s. ‘Fruit Cups’ were in fashion at the time in London bars, which were a house made blend of dry gin, liqueurs, fruit, and herbs served with sparkling soda.
The aperitif has a complex refreshing flavor with floral and herbal notes, that makes it perfect for mixing. In the UK it’s usually served with Lemonade (British lemonade is sparkling citrus soda) and as many strawberries, cucumber, mint, and orange slices as you can pack in.
The Pimms Cup was introduced to New Orleans at the famous Napoleon House in the 1940’s. When Emperor Napoleon was captured by the British in 1815 and exiled to the Island of St Helena, the Mayor of New Orleans famously offered the house to Napolean for sanctuary. Going so far as commissioning a band of Pirates to rescue the exiled Emperor.
But it wasn’t to be. Three days before they planned to set sail to rescue the exiled Emperor, they received word that he had died. So though Napoleon Bonaparte never stepped foot in New Orleans, the name stuck.
Napolean House was purchased by the Brennan family, in 2015. Before they acquired it, it was in the Impasto family for 101 years. Pete Impasato’s religious convictions lead him to frown upon drunkenness. This inspired him to introduce the Pimms Cup to New Orleans in the 1940s.
Pimms is only 50 proof. At Napolean House and all the other bars in the Crescent City, the recipe is a little different than in the UK. It’s Pimms Liqueur, lemonade, and a splash of Spite (or ginger ale), garnished with a cucumber. It’s light and refreshing.
The Voodoo Daiquiri is often also called “Purple Drank”. It is the signature cocktail at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. The sweet grape-flavored frozen daiquiri is spiked with bourbon and Everclear (190 proof, grain alcohol), and is very strong.
Lafitte’s was built in 1772, making it not only one of the oldest structures in New Orleans but also one of the oldest buildings that serves as a bar in the nation. It is named after the famous privateer Jean Lafitte.
To keep the old-timey allure and maybe help bolster their false claim that they are the oldest bar in the nation, the bar doesn’t have electric lighting.
It is one of the coolest bars on Bourbon Street. It’s definitely worth a visit. Enjoy their signature, the Voodoo Daiquiri. It is the crown jewel of daiquiris in a town known for them. You can call it Purple Drank, or Grape Drank!
The Absinthe Frappe was invented at the Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street. When Absinthe became the drink of Paris in the late 1800’s. In 1874 the Frappe, or Green Monster, became their signature drink. It is a blend of Absinthe, sugar, mint, and soda over crushed ice.
Patrons of the Old Absinthe House have included the likes of Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley.
Though it does contain approximately 45% alchohol, Absinthe is misconceived as being hallucinogenic or dangerous. Wormwood, the controversial ingredient, has a long association with magic and the occult. Hallucinations occurred when distilleries were coloring Absinthe with poisonous Copper Sulfate, to cheaply achieve the desired green color. The additive is no longer present.
Absinthe (Green Fairy)
The traditional way to serve absinthe is called “The Green Fairy”. They simply put 2 oz of Absinthe in a fluted glass. Then a sugar cube is placed on a special slotted spoon and placed over the top of the glass. Ice water is then slowly dripped over the glass dissolving the sugar.
There are many Absinthe Bars in New Orleans that offer the traditional service, namely; Pirate’s Alley Cafe, Mahogany Jazz Hall, and of course The Old Absinthe House. We suggest the Pirates Alley Bar above the rest as the folklore associated with Shanghaiing pirates on Absinthe is quite entertaining.
Another Harry’s New York Bar standard, besides The Bloody Mary, is the French 75. First served during World War I, the drink includes; Champagne, Gin, Lemon Juice, and Sugar. The drink was so strong it got to be known to have a kick like a French 75mm Machine Gun. Variations of the cocktail are served throughout the season. Our favorite is the Chambord 75.
The place to have one in New Orleans is at the French 75 Bar (video) attached to the famous Arnaud’s Restaurant. The bar itself is named one of the top 5 bars in the United States. Originally opened to only men, women gained entrance in 1979. It a great place to get an expertly crafted concoction, like the 75, but also hunt down celebrities.
Brandy Milk Punch
A New Orlean’s Sunday Brunch staple, the Brandy Milk Punch is a must-have. If you want to know exactly what you’re imbibing in, the drink includes; 2 oz Brandy or maybe Bourbon, 1 cup of whole milk, 1 teaspoon of powdered sugar, 3 ice cubes, cracked ice, and freshly grated nutmeg. The taste is sweet, but don’t let that fool you, it packs a punch.
Brennan’s says they were the first, but there are punches all over town. The drink is a holiday staple, but any time is a good time for a Milk Punch.
Cafe Brulot Diabolique
Jules invented Cafe Brulot Diabolique in the 1880’s. The drink is made tableside in an ornate copper bowl. The bowl is filled with Brandy and Orange Liqueur, spiced with citrus peel, sugar, cloves, and cinnamon. The bowl is set ablaze, then ladled into the air and onto the table, filling the air with a wonderful aroma. Then the coffee is added and it’s served still flaming. The Cafe Brulot Diabolique is an exciting finale any meal. Historic “Grande Dames” such as Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, and Arnaud’s still serves it.
Café Brulot Diabolique, or “Devilishly Burned Coffee,” was invented at the legendary Antoine’s Restaurant in the French Quarter. Antoine’s was established in the year 1840. The restaurant has been in the Alciatore family for the last 178 years. Thus making it the oldest Restaurant in New Orleans, as well as the family-run restaurant in the United States.