Tales of the Cocktail: Postcard from New Orleans #2
The Land of Forgotten Cocktails is a virtual — even spiritual — world, but there’s also a physical patch of geography that encompasses it in all its glory and nuance: New Orleans.
The Crescent City stands as a sort of culinary Galapagos, resisting the urges and whimsy of fad and fashion, evolving along lines of her own choosing. It’s the only place on the planet where, should you walk into a dozen bars, better than seven bartenders won’t bat an eyelash when you order a Brandy Milk Punch, Ramos Gin Fizz, a Sazerac, or even a Pimm’s Cup.
So it is that I make the pilgrimage nearly every July for a very wet week of instuporous indulgence known as Tales of the Cocktail. Held for the past seven years, Tales assembles nearly 10,000 of the world’s most ambitious, prestigious and dedicated cocktail weirdos to engage in five days (and nights) of seminars, tastings, parties, competitions and other sordid displays of soaked shenanigans. It’s definitely a land of forgotten cocktails: the sheer volume of sipping means you’ll overlook more than a few, and then there are those pesky blackouts.
It’s a blur factory. A blur factory in an echo chamber.
We did all the things we always do in the French Quarter, the little rituals I wrote about in last year’s “Postcard from New Orleans” (August 2008), but we also hooked up with the guys from Chartreuse (see “A Green With Some Integrity,” October 2008). With a little fancy misdirection, we even ended up with a bottle of their original “Elixir Vegetal” that was destined for writer and mixologist David Wondrich. (Thanks, Dave!)
Lead by former Casco Bay Weekly editor Wayne Curtis, we reprised the salient points of the Land of Forgotten Cocktails edition on hangover cures (“Alas, My Poor Brother,” December 2008) and discovered something that may make the morning-after-the-night-before a lot less fearsome.
AfterShot is the brainchild of David Spitz, a biological engineer who painstakingly dismantled the hangover into its constituent parts and put all the chemicals, enzymes and vitamins you need for a full recovery into a convenient 16 oz. drink. I’ve done a few test drives with the stuff, and I’m guardedly optimistic.
So there I was, fresh off the plane and heading over to the Napoleon House, as is my wont, for my ritual first cocktail, a Pimm’s Cup with a sidecar of espresso, when I got hijacked, waylaid even, by a gaggle of Tales of the Cocktail apprentices on their way to a reception being held in their honor by the good folks at Cointreau. Thus, my first drink was a Sidecar at my favorite joint, the venerable Tujaque’s, which in retrospect seems altogether right and proper.
Tujaque’s has been around since 1856 and is the oldest “stand up” bar in the city. It is also the purported birthplace of brunch and the Grasshopper. So it seemed wholly appropriate to be drinking a Sidecar in this hallowed place. For while the Sidecar itself barely qualifies as a Forgotten Cocktail, the drink’s heritage, its DNA, points right back here to New Orleans, and the Brandy Crusta.
In the very first bartender’s guide, published in 1862, Jerry Thomas described the Crusta as an “improvement” on the Cocktail. He ascribes its creation to a New Orleans caterer known only as Santina. It is executed thusly…
“Crusta is made the same as a fancy cocktail with a little lemon juice added. First, mix the ingredients in a small tumbler [simple syrup, bitters, brandy, Curaçao, ice, lemon juice], then take a fancy red wine-glass, rub a sliced lemon around the rim of the same and dip it in pulverized white sugar so that the sugar will adhere to the edge of the glass. Pare half a lemon the same as you would an apple (all in one piece) so that the paring will fit in the wine glass and strain the Crusta from the tumbler into it. Then smile.”
Brandy Milk Punch
1/2 oz simple syrup
2 oz brandy or cognac
1 oz good, aged rum
Dash of vanilla extract
1 1/2 oz milk
Shake hard with ice until well chilled. Strain into an ice-filled tumbler and dust with freshly grated nutmeg.
1 oz green Crème de menthe
1 oz half ’n’ half
1/2 oz white Crème de cacao
Shake with ice until well chilled and strain into an ice-filled tumbler.
3 oz brandy or cognac
2 oz Cointreau
1 oz fresh lemon juice
Shake with ice until well chilled and strain into a chilled and sugar-rimmed cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.
— John Myers