Forget taking a ghost tour when you go to New Orleans. If you want to get in touch with the real spirits that inhabit New Orleans, try some of the original cocktails that were born in The Big Easy.
Guest poster, Kit Wohl offers a peek into her newest book from her Classic series called New Orleans Classic Cocktails.
“CIVILIZATION BEGINS WITH DISTILLATION” —WILLIAM FAULKNER
THE FIRST COCKTAIL
by Kit Wohl
The oldest known American cocktail is credited to an enterprising pharmacist, Antoine Amédée Peychaud, who devised Peychaud’s bitters. Not surprisingly, it became an ingredient in his 1870s concoction. The French native established a pharmacy in the Vieux Carré, serving his libations in a coquetier, a French egg cup. Localization of the word resulted in mispronunciation — cocktail. This tale could be true, perhaps not.
The word cock-tail was noted for prior to 1870 in a newspaper north of the Mason-Dixon line. Earlier it had been used in a different context, and rudely so, in London. It didn’t refer to our spirited coquetier. There, it was simply a word. Here it’s a tradition.
A coffee bar down the block from Peychaud’s pharmacy was quickly renamed The Sazerac House to toast the cocktail. On everyone’s lips, the new drink was wildly popular, creating grins and new Sazerac bars around the city.
While the Sazerac was our first, it was certainly not the last in an ever-evolving array of fancy mixed drinks and cocktails. We’re still smiling.
~ Kit Wohl
SAZERAC BAR, ROOSEVELT HOTEL
dash Peychaud’s bitters
3 ounces rye whiskey
1/2 ounce absinthe
Many Sazerac bars emerged when Peychaud’s bitters was introduced, with only one surviving. The fanciful bar is in residence at the restored Roosevelt Hotel. Ingredients in the original recipe included cognac, absinthe, sugar and Peychaud’s bitters. Pernod and Herbsaint replaced absinthe when it was banned in America in 1912. Absinthe is once again back on the shelf after an evil scheme that labeled it as a poisonous hallucinogen.
In a cocktail shaker, saturate the sugar cube with the bitters and crush. Add ice, the rye and absinthe and stir. Strain the shaker into a chilled Old Fashioned glass. Garnish by twisting the lemon curl over the drink to release the oil then place it over the side of the glass.
OLD ABSINTHE HOUSE
RAMOS GIN FIZZ
One of New Orleans’ most revered cocktails, the drink was created by barman Henry Ramos in the 1880s. As governor of Louisiana, Huey Long often traveled with his bartender so he would always have his cocktail prepared just so. It dates to the Old Absinthe House at the corner of Bourbon and Bienville where a secret room was created to harbor pirate Jean Lafitte. Pirates still hang out in the bar, usually on Friday afternoons.
The Ramos Fizz needs to be shaken like mad, sometimes five minutes or more to properly emulsify the cream, egg, and spirit, producing an exquisitely frothy drink.
11/2 ounces gin
2 ounces half and half
2 ounces whole milk
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon simple syrup
2 drops orange flower water (available in the baking section of supermarkets)
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Using a shaker half filled with ice, combine all the ingredients. Shake as long as you can stand it. Pour into a chilled glass.