New Orleans has spectacular cocktails, and it’s also home to several iconic drinks that you may have heard of. Whether you are planning a visit to New Orleans, celebrating Mardi Gras anywhere in the world or simply want a great drink any day of the year, this is a guide to the best cocktails in New Orleans.
A City Of Cocktails & Elixirs
In this city, you can choose from venues on Bourbon Street known for their non-stop party atmosphere and tall, potent libations, or places in the French Quarter with Louisiana’s classic charm and well-crafted cocktails.
From hot spots that serve up a fantastic Sazerac to Pat O’Brien’s hurricane, New Orleans has heavily influenced the cocktail scene. There is even a legend that a word used by “the French-speaking people of Old New Orleans” may have led to the word cocktail.
To this day professional bartenders and mixologists continue the city’s cocktail legacy and New Orleans hosts the annual Tales of the Cocktail event every summer. The city is also the birthplace of a few spirited elixirs, including Southern Comfort and Peychaud’s Bitters. And while Germany’s Jägermeister may be one of the hottest spirits in the city today, among the classic recipes, you’ll find plenty of brandy, gin, rum, and whiskey among the historic recipes.
America’s very first cocktail and the “Official Cocktail of New Orleans” since 2008, the Sazerac is made with Rye Whisky, Herbsaint (or Absinthe), Peychaud’s Bitters, and sugar. It’s served straight up in an Old Fashioned glass and topped with a lemon peel.
The recipe was first documented in print in 1899, and by the turn of the century, had gained notoriety across the U.S. It’s now regarded as one of the greatest Whiskey drinks ever created, but the history of the Sazerac dates back to the 1830s.
The most repeated story about its creation says that a Creole apothecarist named Antoine Peychaud created this famous cocktail at his pharmacy in the French Quarter pharmacy on Royal Street by adding his family’s bitters to his favorite cognac, Sazerac-de-Forge et fils (hence the name “Sazerac”). Another well-told story says that the owner of The Sazerac Coffee House was the one who started serving a drink with Sazerac-de-Forge et fils cognac and Peychaud’s bitters.
Great places to try a Sazerac in New Orleans are:
- The Sazerac Bar at The Roosevelt Hotel
- The Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone (yes the bar does actually spin)
- Jewel of the South
- Roost Bar at Brennan’s
- The Columns Hotel
- French 75 Bar
One of the most popular cocktails in New Orleans, and the forefather of all the boozy fruit punches on Bourbon Street is the Hurricane. It’s made with light rum, dark rum, passion fruit juice, orange juice, lime juice, simple syrup, and grenadine and is usually served with an orange slice and a cherry.
The Hurricane was created at Pat O’Brien’s bar during World War II when whiskey was hard to come by. It got the name Hurricane because the glass it’s served in resembles a hurricane lamp.
A perfect place to sip a Hurricane is still in Pat O’Brien’s legendary courtyard, overlooking the flaming fountain, but you can also find them all around the city. It’s really easy to have one too many Hurricanes though.
You can’t truly party in New Orleans without a Hand Grenade…but be warned this cocktail is renowned as NOLA’s most powerful drink. It’s made with Vodka, White Rum, Gin, Melon liquor, Grain Alcohol, Sugar Syrup, and Pineapple and is served either as a frozen slushy or on the rocks. This potent specialty cocktail is sold in a translucent green plastic container with a grenade bulb base, a shaft to hold onto, and a straw of course. It has a sweet melon-like taste with a slight burn that follows. Unknown is exactly how much alcohol is in the drink itself, but from experience, it’s very strong and I caution against drinking many of them.
If you visit New Orleans and want to try it, the Hand Grenade is only available at 5 licensed nightclub bars on Bourbon Street in the New Orleans French Quarter:
- Tropical Isle
- Papa Joe’s
- Bayou Club and Music Bar Funky Pirate
- New Orleans Grapevine
New Orleans Fizz
The New Orleans Fizz, also called the Ramos Gin Fizz (after its creator, legendary bartender Henry C. Ramos), was born in the late 1980s. It’s a lively creamy cocktail that’s made with Gin, Simple Syrup, lime juice, lemon juice, egg white, cream, orange flower water, and soda water.
The tall frothy topping and tanginess of the lemon and lime make it taste like lemon meringue pie. It is also a staple of the Mardi Gras celebrations, Ramos’s saloon famously had a crew of “shaker boys” aiding bartenders to keep up with demand.
Brandy Milk Punch
New Orleans bartenders are not responsible for all of the city’s renowned drinks. A few were adopted from other areas but quickly became a local favorite, and the brandy milk punch is one of those. This creamy recipe comes from the 1860s, though its origins likely date to the 1700s. Famously served for brunch at Brennan’s restaurant with brandy alone, you can add rum and egg white for a slightly more complex mix and enjoy it on the rocks or up.
Vieux Carré Cocktail
Flash forward to the 1930s at New Orleans’ Hotel Monteleone to the creation of the Vieux Carré. Developed by bartender Walter Bergeron, it’s another recipe that showcases the city’s love for rye whiskey and cognac. The spirits come together in spectacular fashion when accented by two types of bitters, sweet vermouth, and a touch of Bénédictine.
When in New Orleans, stop by Tujague’s Restaurant for a grasshopper. It’s disputed as to whether that’s where it was created, but the 1918 recipe remains a signature drink of the French Quarter establishment. Definitely unique among the city’s cocktail scene, it’s a creamy mint-chocolate delight that’s fabulous for dessert. Making it at home requires just three ingredients, and you can add that New Orleans touch with a shot of cognac.
Martinis are not a New Orleans original, though the city’s restaurants still promote the 25-cent, three-martini lunch. Popular for business meetings from the 1940s to ’60s, at places like Commander’s Palace and Antoine’s Restaurant, you can still enjoy a mid-day round of gin or vodka martinis. The prices are incredibly low by today’s cocktail standards, and, like most classic cocktails, they’re kept short because they’re made entirely of alcohol. Keep it that way when making them at home, and use top-shelf spirits so you can enjoy every sip.
These 8 cocktails are just a few of the many on offer in New Orleans. Personally, I have only tried the Hurricane and the Hand Grenade so far, so I will be working through the rest of the cocktails on this list. Have you tried any of New Orlean’s best cocktails? Let me know in the comments.
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Gemma Lawrence is the creator of This Brits Life. Born and raised in England, she has been living in British Columbia, Canada as a permanent resident since 2016. A solo traveler for the past 9 years, she hopes to inspire and help others to enjoy solo adventures too. As someone who has always struggled with her self-confidence and mental health, she also shares tips and inspirational stories relating to self-love, self-care, and mental health.