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A Little Cocktail History for your Mardi Gras

Posted On February 7, 2022

Specialty drinks with ties to the Crescent City

By Elizabeth N. Sugg

Ben Franklin didn’t just light the world with his discovery of electricity, this founding father pioneered some serious food and drink lore as well. He is credited with popularizing our Thanksgiving turkey and corn in its various forms in the new colonies — cornmeal, grits, popcorn — can we imagine our American cuisine without them? He lit up his evening negotiations often with a good stout, one of his most popular quotes being “beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”.

In New Orleans he is credited with improving Milk Punch, a milk-based brandy or bourbon beverage dating back to a 1711 Scottish cookbook, originally served in a punch bowl where it could easily curdle and separate and lose its refreshing cool flavor. Ready to save a drink with a pleasing taste, Franklin, in 1763, concocted a recipe that used brandy and lemon added to the hot milk to help manage the curdling, then it was chilled. The cool beverage often would be served at brunch with a sprinkle of nutmeg on the top. Franklin’s enjoyment of it on his visits to the port city is why it’s a brunch staple during Mardi Gras.

The Sazerac is a cognac or whiskey cocktail original to New Orleans named for the first brand of cognac brandy the drink was made with – Sazerac de Forge et Fils. Many think the Sazerac may be America’s oldest cocktail, the drink’s origins attributed to apothecary owner and bitters creator Antoine Peychaud, whose 19th century French Quarter home opened in 2021 as a new, vibrantly appealing cocktail bar called, and aptly so, Peychaud’s. Visitors to New Orleans can get a lesson about the Sazerac, Monsieur Peychaud and taste his family recipe for bitters at The Sazerac cocktail museum on Magazine Street that dedicates a tour to him.

The method of preparation is the signature quality of the Sazerac which commonly involves two chilled old-fashioned glasses. The first glass is laced with a wash of absinthe, an anise-flavored spirit, the second glass then used to combine the remaining ingredients — one of which is rye whiskey that replaced part of the amount French brandy at some point in most recipes — which are then stirred with ice, then strained back into the first glass.

If you want to celebrate Mardi Gras with a little mixology, toast the Crescent City’s history with this pair of diverse and delicious cocktails.

Milk Punch for Brunch

1 ounce brandy (or bourbon)

1 ounce dark rum (or bourbon)

1 teaspoon sugar

2 dashes vanilla extract (optional)

4 to 6 ounces whole milk, to taste

Stir well with ice and strain into a large goblet over fresh crushed ice (or, pour everything into a mug and add hot milk). Sprinkle with nutmeg. (seriouseats.com)

The Sazerac

Absinthe, to rinse

1 sugar cube

1/2 teaspoon cold water

3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

 2 dashes Angostura bitters

1 1/4 ounces rye whiskey

 1 1/4 ounces cognac

 Garnish: lemon peel

Rinse a chilled rocks glass with absinthe, discarding any excess, and set aside.

In a mixing glass, muddle the sugar cube, water and the Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters.

Add the rye and cognac, fill the mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.

Strain into the prepared glass.

Twist the lemon peel over the drink’s surface to express the peel’s oils, then garnish with the peel. (liquor.com)