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4 Local Bartenders Spill on How to Make Classic New Orleans Cocktails at Home


4 Local Bartenders Spill on How to Make Classic New Orleans Cocktails at Home
Hi, I'm Madigan!

Madigan Talmage-Bowers is a writer based in Denver, Colorado. She has also lived in Italy, San Francisco, and New York City, where she studied media theory at the New School. She loves introducing her kids to ancient history, local art, hiking trails, and new foods on adventures around the globe.

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Cocktail culture reigns supreme in New Orleans, with locally crafted recipes decorating menus at rambunctious French Quarter bars, modern Uptown taverns, and historic Creole restaurants alike. But you don't have to plan a trip to the Big Easy to sip southern-inspired flavors. Four local mixologists share their behind-the-bar tips so you can shake, stir, and pour some of the city’s classic cocktails right at home.


Brandy Crusta

Chris Hannah pours a brandy crusta at Jewel of the South. Photo: Denny Culbert

Tips from Chris Hannah, owner and bartender at Jewel of the South

A veteran mixologist with more than 20 years behind the bar, Chris Hannah poured drinks at Arnaud’s French 75 before opening his own French Quarter tavern, Jewel of the South. The time-honored brandy crusta, invented in the 1850s, is the bar’s signature drink. “All other famous short, citrus cocktails came from the crusta—the margarita, sidecar, daisy, and cosmopolitan,” says Hannah. “It's both impressive and inspiring that the first sugar-rimmed cocktail was made right here in New Orleans.”

What you'll need:

  • 1 ¾ oz brandy or cognac
  • ¾ oz lemon juice
  • ½ oz orange Curaçao
  • ¼ oz maraschino liqueur
  • 2 dashes Angostura® bitters
  • Sugar

How to recreate it at home: Coat the rim of a stemmed glass with lemon juice, then dip it in sugar. Hannah adds ground Ethiopian coffee to the sugar for an extra depth of flavor. In a cocktail shaker, shake all the ingredients vigorously with ice, strain into the glass, and garnish with lemon peel. “I like that its balance enables it to be universal and can be enjoyed any time of the day and year,” Hannah says.

Sazerac

A sazerac served up (left) and the bar at Cure in Uptown New Orleans (right). Photos: Shutterstock, Randy Schmidt

Tips from Morgan Sullivan, bartender at Cure

A New York City transplant, Sullivan can be found behind the bar at Cure, a James Beard award–winning cocktail bar in Uptown New Orleans. “The sazerac cocktail is one of my favorites,” she says. “It's boozy, herbaceous, and steeped in New Orleans history, dating back to the late 1800s. I think a sazerac is a perfect pre-dinner or happy hour cocktail because it has a light but spirited quality to it.”

What you’ll need:

  • 2 oz rye whiskey or cognac
  • 2 tsp demerara syrup or a sugar cube
  • 3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • Absinthe or Herbsaint
  • Lemon peel

How to recreate it at home: Chill one glass in the freezer. In another glass, combine the bitters, demerara syrup (or a muddled sugar cube), and your choice of rye or cognac. Add ice, and stir with a bar spoon or metal straw to chill. “This is the essential part,” Sullivan notes. “You want to chill it fast but prevent over dilution. Give it about 30 rotations.” Coat the inside of the chilled glass with absinthe, and then discard the excess. Strain the cocktail into the chilled glass, and garnish with a lemon peel. “You can get playful and swap out demerara syrup for honey or maple syrup, or garnish with cherries and dehydrated fruit,” Sullivan says.

French 75

A glass of French 75 on a bar. Photo: Shutterstock

Tips from Christoph Dornemann, bartender at Arnaud’s French 75

With a resume that includes the classic New Orleans Creole restaurant Brennan’s, Dornemann now mixes handcrafted cocktails behind a vintage 1800s bar at Arnaud’s French 75, winner of a James Beard award. “The versatility of the French 75 is really satisfying,” Dornemann says of the bar’s signature drink, which gets its name from the French 75mm field gun—a crucial Allied Forces weapon during World War I. “It’s a great celebratory cocktail, and I've always loved its history.” While the Champagne makes it go down easy, this gin-based drink has quite a kick.

What you'll need:

  • 1 ½ tsp cognac
  • 1 ½ tsp simple syrup
  • 1 ½ tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp Champagne or sparkling wine

How to recreate it at home: Shake the cognac, simple syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker, strain into a Champagne flute, and top with Champagne. If you don’t have a shaker at home, Dornemann recommends a pint glass and a metal tin that is big enough to fit over it. “If you have a tea strainer or something small,” he adds, “that works best to strain the ice.”

Vieux Carré

Bryson Downham (left), the beverage director at Toups' Meatery, and a vieux carré cocktail (right). Photos: Denny Culbert, Shutterstock

Tips from Bryson Downham, bartender at Toups' Meatery

After pouring drinks at fine-dining houses such as Commander's Palace in the Garden District, Downham now designs creative cocktails to pair with the house-cured meats and centuries-old Cajun family recipes at Toups’ Meatery. “I love how the vieux carré takes the skeleton of a sazerac (rye, bitters, herbal liqueur), and folds in more layers and depth of flavor for the discerning drinker,” Downham says.

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 oz rye whiskey
  • 1 oz cognac
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1/4 oz Bénédictine
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 2 dashes Angostura® bitters

How to recreate it at home: Stir all ingredients, strain into a rocks glass with ice, and garnish with a lemon peel. “I recommend making this one with any strong rye and Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac, which uses a formula that closely replicates the flavor of cognac from the mid-1800s,” Downham says. “For the sweet vermouth, try Cocchi Torino—it has a beautiful cacao note that elevates the whole drink once it's combined with the Bénédictine.”

Bonus: Bourbon Milk Punch

The Bourbon House recipe for bourbon milk punch blends American whiskey and vanilla ice cream. Photo: Sara Essex

Recipe by Dickie Brennan, founder of Bourbon House

Legendary New Orleans restaurateur Dickie Brennan came up with this extra-creamy, frozen variation on the classic brandy milk punch. “The sweetness and caramel of the bourbon lends itself nicely to this adult milkshake,” says Wesley Janssen, marketing manager at Bourbon House. “It consistently receives accolades as one of the best cocktails in New Orleans.”

What you’ll need:

  • (1 pitcher makes 4 servings)
  • 1 cup American whiskey
  • 3 cups vanilla ice cream
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp simple syrup
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • Blender

How to recreate it at home: Bourbon House uses a frozen daiquiri machine to blend all the ingredients into a sweet, creamy consistency, but a blender works almost as well.

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Hi, I'm Madigan!

Madigan Talmage-Bowers is a writer based in Denver, Colorado. She has also lived in Italy, San Francisco, and New York City, where she studied media theory at the New School. She loves introducing her kids to ancient history, local art, hiking trails, and new foods on adventures around the globe.

Keep exploring
See all New Orleans tours
560 tours & tickets
Things to do in New Orleans
See all things to do in New Orleans
How to Experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans
How to Experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans