7 Famous Cocktails to Try in New Orleans
Countless cocktails have originated in New Orleans, a city that takes pride in its wild and elaborate alcoholic concoctions. NOLA bartenders are undisputed masters at mixing up a perfect aperitif, from famous creations like the Sazerac to Mardi Gras favorites like frozen daiquiris. No matter what you order at a local bar, you’ll never be bored – not when your bartender has to shake your Ramos Gin Fizz for 15 minutes or set your Café Brulot on fire right before your eyes. Of course, there are mellower drink options on the menu, too – but where’s the fun in that? Roll up your sleeves, challenge your taste buds and try one (or more!) of these seven famous New Orleans cocktails.
According to legend (especially if you ask a New Orleanian), the Sazerac has gone down in history as America’s first cocktail, dating back to 1838. Creole pharmacy owner Antoine Amédée Peychaud mixed this Absinthe and bitters concoction in his shop on Royal Street, where he first served it to friends and regular customers before it took off as one of the most famous cocktails to hail from New Orleans.
Peychaud named the drink after his brandy of choice, the French Sazerac de Forge et Fils. However, this ingredient was switched to rye whiskey as local tastes changed and the recipe evolved over the years. Today, the Sazerac is prepared with rye whiskey, a dash of absinthe, Peychaud’s bitters and a cube of sugar (or rich simple syrup), garnished with a lemon peel and served over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Try one at the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel or on a New Orleans drinking tour.
Invented in the 1930s at New Orleans’s Hotel Monteleone, the Vieux Carré (“Old Square” in French) was named for the French Quarter, one of the city’s most visited neighborhoods. Head bartender Walter Bergeron pioneered the recipe that is still a popular favorite at the Carousel Bar, located in the same hotel where the drink got its origins. The bar was built in the likeness of a carousel and even rotates every 15 minutes for a one-of-a-kind drinking experience. Don’t miss a chance to order this iconic NOLA beverage next time you’re in the area.
This classic New Orleans creation represents the effortless charm and upscale experiences of its home city. Vermouth, rye whiskey, Benedictine liqueur, cognac, and Angostura and Pechaud’s bitters come together to make this quintessential New Orleans drink. Served on the rocks and garnished with a lemon peel, the Vieux Carré gets its sweetness not only from the vermouth but also from the Benedictine liqueur in the recipe, which is made up of 27 herbs and spices including cinnamon, saffron and thyme.
For a refreshingly tropical pick-me-up, head to Pat O’Brien’s Bar (where the drink was invented!) and order a Hurricane. Dating back to the 1940s, this strong rum cocktail packs a big punch, but it wasn’t exactly named for the hurricanes that frequent the area. The name for the drink comes from the glass it’s served in, which resembles a hurricane lamp.
Bar owner Pat O’Brien whipped up this signature New Orleans cocktail during WWII when whiskey and scotch were rationed, leaving rum the cheapest and most readily available spirit. He added fruit juices, grenadine to give it its recognizable red appearance, and garnished the hurricane glass with orange and cherry. To make the Hurricane at home, mix light rum, dark rum, passion fruit juice, orange juice, lime juice, simple syrup and grenadine. Bonus points if you have a hurricane glass to serve it in! Need some extra guidance? Book a New Orleans mixology class to learn to make the Hurricane and other cocktails.
Brandy Milk Punch
This New Orleans libation might seem a little strange from the name alone, but we promise it’s better than it sounds. Pairing well with brunch, the Brandy Milk Punch wasn’t invented here in NOLA, but it’s become a Louisiana staple thanks to its smooth, rich finish. Ordering a Brandy Milk Punch is like treating yourself to eggnog year-round.
Brennan’s, one of the most famous brunch places hailing from New Orleans, takes credit for perfecting this sumptuous cocktail – though it supposedly dates back to pre-Colonial times! It’s made with milk, brandy, vanilla and simple syrup, sprinkled with nutmeg. Move over, Bloody Mary – Brandy Milk Punch is New Orleanians’ favorite hangover pick-me-up. Book yourself a brunch reservation at Brennan’s to give it a try.
Ramos Gin Fizz
Can you imagine shaking a cocktail for 15 minutes? That’s exactly what’s in store for NOLA bartenders when patrons order the ever-popular Ramos Gin Fizz. Or at least it was back in 1888, when Henry C. Ramos dreamed up this key lime libation in his New Orleans bar. He even employed dozens of shakers just to keep up with the demand for this frothy concoction. (Today, the average bartender will put in a few good minutes of shaking or make use of a shaking machine instead).
Known for being former governor Huey P. Long’s favorite cocktail, the Ramos Gin Fizz is a festive drink with an interesting combination of ingredients: dry gin, egg white, milk, powdered sugar, orange flower water, lemon juice and lime juice. It’s said to taste like key lime pie in a glass! Since it’s pretty tricky to make at home, we suggest ordering one at the Roosevelt Hotel, where Ramos sold the rights to the drink after Prohibition.
Looking for a light refreshment on a hot New Orleans summer day? Order a Pimm’s cup at any bar in the city for a delicious pick-me-up. Created by London bartender James Pimm in the 1840s, this NOLA staple made its way to the Crescent City a hundred years later when the owner of the Napoleon House took the recipe and added Seven Up, lemonade and a sliver of cucumber for a New Orleans flair. This gin-based aperitif is actually lower in alcohol than other New Orleans cocktails (this city loves strong drinks!), so you can easily get away with ordering more than one.
To make a Pimm’s Cup at home, mix Pimm’s No. 1 (a gin-based liqueur), lemonade and Seven Up. Pour over ice and garnish with cucumber for a delicious refreshment any time of year. You’ll be able to find this cocktail in bars and restaurants all over the city – and ordering it will certainly give you an in with the locals. Visit the Napoleon House, where this drink got its NOLA roots, on a cocktail tour.
The preparation of Café Brulot may be more exciting than the drink itself. After the ingredients are carefully assembled, the whole concoction is set ablaze right before your eyes for the most exciting caffeine fix you’ll ever have. This coffee-based libation was invented in the late 1800s by Jules Alciatore, the son of Antoine Alciatore, founder of the famous Antoine’s Restaurant. This is still the best place in New Orleans to order a Café Brulot. During Prohibition, the strong coffee in this cocktail was the perfect way to cover up the alcohol within.
This is likely a cocktail you shouldn’t try to make at home (unless you have a fire extinguisher handy). When ordering at a bar or restaurant, you’ll get to watch the Café Brulot come to life. Bartenders combine cinnamon, cloves, lemon, sugar and hot brandy in a bowl before setting the mixture ablaze. They then add hot coffee and ladle the drink into cups to be served.
Raise a glass to New Orleans’ history and sample these must-try cocktails. From hangover cures to perfectly prepared nightcaps, NOLA is steeped in classic drinks that remind visitors of a bygone era. Make your rounds at New Orleans’ top bars and pubs or leave the guesswork out of it and book a drinking tour with NOLA locals.