Cocktails have always had a deep and mysterious history and some spirit historians dedicate their lives to discovering the truth, digging up old journals and trying to separate the contradicting information available. It is agreed that a handful of cities such as New Orleans, London, Paris and New York have been a hub for the burgeoning cocktail scene for centuries. As part of a series I will glimpse into each city's history and discover their link to famous whisky cocktails, how bartenders have pulled inspiration from these cocktail hubs spread across the world and how important spirit history is to the cocktail movement.
For a long time, it was believed that NOLA was the birthplace of the cocktail with the creation of the Sazerac in the 1830s by an apothecary named Antoine Peychaud. Mr Peychaud sold his homemade bitters and discovered they worked wonders with Cognac, water and sugar. These bitters are still commonly used today. He measured his concoctions with a 'coquetier', a French term meaning egg cup, which led many to believe that this was the origin of the word cocktail; hence the great pride of NOLA being the birthplace of cocktails.
Unfortunately, a recent discovery showed that the word cocktail was used for the first time in a New York newspaper as early as 1806. While NOLA isn't the birthplace of cocktails, its heritage is invaluable. An explantion follows which will introduce you to original, inspired cocktails and which offers you a view of the creative systems behind the bartender's creations.
The Sazerac name was inspired by a brand of Cognac used exclusively for the drink, Sazerac de Forge et Fils, an American company importing Cognac to the US. Sadly, during the 19th Century, the curse of phylloxera which destroyed French vineyards and as a result the Cognac industry, forced the company to create a rye whiskey to replace the now extinct Cognac of old. Here we use the staple fiery Sazerac Forge et Fils rye whiskey with a healthy amount of Peychaud bitters and a touch of sugar to empower this simple but incredible drink. We stir the cocktail and pour it into an absinthe rinsed glass revealing an incredible aniseed nose completed by fresh lemon oils from a zest brightening and lending the final touch to the Sazerac. This drink is incredibly simple in form, but difficult to get perfect.
We now travel to the 1940s to discover our next libation, the Arnault Special Cocktail created after World War II in Arnault's French 75 bar in NOLA. This drink is a perfect example of the exchange of ideas and creations between different cocktail hubs as it was inspired by the Rob Roy, a drink created by the bartenders at the Waldorf Astoria, New York in 1894. To make this cocktail, we combine Monkey Shoulder's versatility and character to a touch of Dubonnet, a sister to sweet vermouth with deeper red berry notes and a bitter pungency finished with a couple of dashes of orange bitters for freshness and depth of flavour. The result is a gorgeous libation which will enchant any Scotch lover.
Last but not least, we journey to a bar which I hold dear to my heart for the discovery and love for New Orleans it has created for me, NOLA London. Dan Priseman and the team introduced me to the Marie Laveau, inspired by the Voodoo queen of NOLA from the 19th Century. She was well known for her influence on a large multi-racial following which came to observe and admire her legendary rites by Lake Pontchartrain. Dan created a drink which combines the spicy richness of Hudson rye combined with the herbal dry notes of Noilly Prat completed by a touch of St. Germain elderflower liqueur. The result is a spicy, light, floral and well balanced cocktail which was a great crowd pleaser during my time behind the stick at NOLA.
50ml Forge & Fils rye whiskey
5ml sugar syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water)
7 – 8 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Chill rocks glass with ice and set aside. Combine in a mixing glass all ingredients besides the absinthe. Add ice and stir for 20 – 30 seconds until fully diluted and chilled. Discard ice in the rocks glass and coat the glass with absinthe making sure to discard any leftover absinthe into a sink. Strain the chilled drink in the rocks glass, squeeze a lemon zest over the glass and discard it.
Discarded lemon twist.
Arnault Special Cocktail
50ml Monkey Shoulder
25ml Dubonnet Rouge
2 – 3 dashes Raegans orange bitters
Chill rocks glass and set aside. Combine all ingredients in mixing glass and stir for 20 – 30 seconds until fully diluted and chilled. Strain the drink over cubed ice.
30ml Hudson rye whiskey
30ml Noilly Prat Original Dry
15ml St. Germain elderflower
Chill coupette and set aside. Combine all ingredients in mixing glass and stir for 20 – 30 seconds until fully diluted and chilled. Strain the drink over cubed ice.