Although a search for Mardi Gras cocktails could lead you on a dark path of artificial ingredients and goofy garnishes, Geoffrey Wilson of Chandler's Barrelhouse is here to keep you from being led astray. While working with the legendary New Orleans bartender Chris McMillian, Wilson learned a fair amount about the history of each of the delicious craft drinks he makes. With an infectious level of passion and excitement for bartending and a love of Big Easy-style imbibing (although he is a New Jersey native), Wilson showed us three of the most classic and delicious drinks NOLA has to offer, along with one of his own creation.
Sazerac The Sazerac is a classic drink in pretty much anyone's cocktail book. Wilson calls the simple, flavorful cocktail a New Orleans Old Fashioned and says the drink is Louisiana's official cocktail. Originally mixed with cognac and a local apothecary named Antoine Peychaud's bitters, the recipe was altered slightly by Thomas Handy, when he took over the Sazerac House and began using rye and absinthe in his iteration.
A small drizzle of absinthe 1/2 ounce rye 1/2 ounce simple syrup 6 dashes Peychaud's bitters
Pour a small amount of absinthe in the glass, coating the edges with the spirit. You can pour it out and do a rinse or leave the small remaining amount in the glass, as Wilson does. He also recommends Rittenhouse bonded for the rye if you're using smaller ice, so it takes less time to stir it, which means less dilution. Combine the remaining ingredients in a separate glass and quickly stir approximately 40 times. Strain the cocktail into the absinthe coated glass and garnish with a lemon peel, squeezing the essential oils over top.
Ramos Gin Fizz For a more refreshing, light, and tart Mardi Gras cocktail, the Ramos Gin Fizz is pretty much synonymous with being a crowd-pleaser, although it's better for some if they don't know what's in it. Henry C. Ramos concocted the drink for himself in 1888 at the Imperial Cabinet Saloon and quickly began hiring children as cocktail shakers to keep up with demand. Wilson says it's just one of those drinks that once one person gets it, everyone at the bar has to have one.
1 1/2 ounce Old Tom gin 1 ounce simple syrup 1/2 ounce lemon juice 1/2 ounce lime juice 1 ounce half and half 1 egg white 3 drops orange blossom water 4 drops Peychaud's bitters
Combine all elements in a shaker, except the bitters. Shake vigorously for about a minute un-iced until milky. Shake vigorously with ice for another minute and then strain. The whipped up drink should have a nice, light foam on top, which Wilson decorates with the four drops of Peychaud's.
Vieux Carré Wilson's love of making drinks becomes obvious as he excitedly shakes, pours, stirs, and mixes drinks, chattering the whole time. Once each drink is combined to his satisfaction, he takes a sip and almost always whispers something like "yeah" or "that's right," apparently his stamp of approval. The cocktail that repeatedly had us singing its praises was the Vieux Carré, a Manhattan-like cocktail invented in the 1930s by Walter Bergeron at the Monteleone hotel.
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3/4 ounce rye whiskey 3/4 ounce cognac 3/4 ounce sweet vermouth 1 tsp. bénédictine 2 dashes Peychaud's bitters 2 dashes Fee Brother's Old Fashioned bitters
Combine all elements together, add ice, and stir approximately 40 to 50 times. Strain the ice and garnish with a lemon peel, squeezing the essential oils over top. Wilson recommends vermouth like Punt e Mes, rather than a more overpowering Carpano Antica. He also recommends the Rittenhouse bonded rye for the same reasons as in the Sazerac.
Bonus: Wilson's McMillain Lucky for cocktail lovers, Wilson is in Chandler for now, slinging drinks and telling stories like any good bartender would do. Some of his favorite spots in town to drink include Crudo, Last Drop Bar, Mabel's on Main, and Blue Hound. However, back in New Orleans, Wilson loved going to Bar Tonique, Tivoli, Cain and Table, and Bellocq. While working at Loa, he made this cocktail in homage to his Southern mixology mentor, Chris McMillian, which got him in Gaz Regan's 101 Best Cocktails of 2013.