New Orleans is a city all its own. One visit and you realize that The Big Easy has a special vibe that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. The city just seems to overflow with character that envelopes you from the moment you arrive, especially in New Orleans’s French Quarter.
A huge part of the character and culture of New Orleans is attributed to its amazing food scene. Home of Creole cooking and an incredible cocktail scene, it is easy to see why foodies flock to New Orleans!
The story goes that New Orleans actually invented the cocktail, so it should come as no surprise that this city is famous for its flowing libations. Don’t get pulled into the sweet, thrown-together drinks on Bourbon Street during your visit. Instead, dive into the craft cocktail scene and check out some of the classic cocktails in New Orleans that locals love!
We visit New Orleans at least four times a year and always check out the cocktail scene during our visit. On our most recent trip, we spoke to some of our NOLA friends, bartenders, and local tour guides to find out where locals go to enjoy their favorite New Orleans classic cocktails.
So, let’s Laissez les bon temps rouler — “Let the good times roll” — and get busy exploring the New Orleans cocktail scene!
The Sazarec is said to be the official cocktail of New Orleans. This can be attributed to the fact that it was invented in the city in the 1800s by Antoine Amedée Peychaud.
Peychaud was the owner of an apothecary shop in New Orleans, and he combined rye whiskey, Peychaud’s Bitters, absinthe, a sugar cube, and a lemon twist to create the Sazerac.
Granted, you can find the Sazerac cocktail at bars all over New Orleans, we agree with the locals on where to get this one. You have to go to The Sazerac Bar inside of the Roosevelt Hotel!
While many claim that this was the first cocktail ever invented, this claim has not been substantiated by cocktail historians. Regardless, you still need to try a Sazerac!
If you are a fan of the Old Fashioned cocktail, then you should definitely give the Sazerac a try as the two share a similar flavor profile. What sets the Sazerac apart is that spray of absinthe in your glass prior to mixing the drink.
Pro Tip: If you want to learn more about Peychaud and the New Orleans cocktail scene, visit the Sazerac House museum on Canal Street.
2. Ramos Gin Fizz
One of the most well-known cocktails in New Orleans is the Ramos Gin Fizz. This New Orleans cocktail was invented by bar owner Henry Ramos in the late 1800s.
While this is a favorite New Orleans cocktail for the consumer, the bartenders you talk to might have a different feeling about it as this cocktail is extremely labor-intensive to make. The Ramos Gin Fizz is made by combining gin, lemon and lime juice, flower water, egg whites, powdered sugar, and milk. The ingredients are then hand-shaken vigorously for 12 minutes! The drink is then topped off with a little soda water to give it the “fizz.”
The Ramos Gin Fizz is one of the most interesting cocktails I have ever drank. The texture is almost like a cloud in your mouth. The sweet and tart flavor combination makes this New Orleans cocktail easy and fun to drink, especially on a hot day in the city.
There were actually two bars that were mentioned time and time again when we asked where to get the best Ramos Gin Fizz in New Orleans: the Sazerac Bar and Brennan’s. So, of course, we tried both.
The Sazerac Bar’s Ramos Gin Fizz was slightly less sweet and had an extreme amount of fluffy, fizzy texture. The Ramos Gin Fizz at Brennan’s was a little sweeter, and while it still had the fluffy texture, it was also a little more liquid-heavy. Personally, I preferred Brennan’s, especially given the fact that I could enjoy it in their beautiful courtyard.
Pro Tip: Give your bartender lots of encouragement and a nice tip for this drink. They worked hard to make it perfect for you!
3. Pimm’s Cup
The refreshing Pimm’s Cup is definitely a classic New Orleans cocktail that should be on your list to try. There are several versions of the Pimm’s Cup, but we have London barkeep James Pimm to thank for the Pimm’s Cup No. 1.
The recipe for the Pimm’s Cup No. 1 made its way from London to the Napoleon House in New Orleans. where the owner added lemonade, 7-Up, and a cucumber garnish to the popular Pimm’s tonic before serving it up. The Pimm’s Cup No.1 is the perfect cocktail to keep you refreshed and happy on a hot summer day in New Orleans.
You have to head to Napoleon House to enjoy this one. Not only do they serve up the Pimm’s Cup No. 1, but they also add a seasonal Pimm’s Cup to their menu. Of course, these vary with the season, but I have had a Pimm’s Cup made with cranberry and one made with satsuma. While they are all delicious, nothing beats the cucumber punch of the Pimm’s Cup No.1.
Pro Tip: Be sure to try a famous Muffaletta sandwich during your visit to Napoleon House. You won’t regret it!
The Hurricane is by far the most popular cocktail in New Orleans. This fruity concoction consists of rum, passionfruit juice, orange juice, lemon juice, simple syrup, and grenadine.
Of course, the quintessential place to get a Hurricane in New Orleans is Pat O’Brien’s bar. Why Pat O’s? Well, the drink was invented there!
The Hurricane originated when Patrick O’Brien, the owner of Pat O’s in the 1940s, needed to get rid of a large stock of rum. He whipped up the concoction of rum, passion fruit, and lemon juice and put it in a Hurricane lamp-shaped glass, and the Hurricane was officially born.
Pro Tip: Enjoy your Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s on dueling piano night or sitting in the courtyard by their flaming fountain!
5. Vieux Carre
If you like a strong cocktail, then the Vieux Carre is for you. Vieux Carre is French for “Old Square,” a tribute to the French roots of New Orleans.
The cocktail consists of cognac, vermouth, whiskey, and bitters. The taste reminds me of a fancy Manhattan and is perfect for those of you that love to sip on a good whiskey.
To enjoy this classic cocktail during your time in New Orleans, head to where the drink originated: the Carousel Bar inside of the Hotel Monteleone.
Pro Tip: The Carousel Bar is centered around a revolving carousel that is located in the bar. If you want a seat at the carousel, I would recommend getting there about 15 minutes before they open so you can be one of the first ones in line!
6. Brandy Milk Punch
While the Brandy Milk Punch wasn’t invented in New Orleans, it can credit the city for some of its notoriety. This popular drink was perfected in the Big Easy when Owen Brennan opened Brennan’s restaurant. Brennan wanted a breakfast cocktail to serve with brunch and settled on the Brandy Milk Punch.
The primary ingredients in this cocktail are milk and brandy, so it only makes sense to have it with breakfast, right? When you throw in some powdered sugar (or simple syrup) and a sprinkle of nutmeg, then you have the classic New Orleans cocktail.
Like a couple of other drinks on our list, the locals we spoke to were torn on where to go for this one. While several people said Brennan’s, the Bourbon House actually received the most recommendations. So, when you are ready to try a Brandy Milk Punch, you decide whether you want to visit Brennan’s or Bourbon House.
Pro Tip: If you want to try the Brandy Milk Punch at Brennan’s, then go ahead and indulge in their famous brunch as well. Just be sure to make reservations as they fill up fast!
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