The New Classics: New Orleans mixologists put their twists on classic cocktails

These New Orleans cocktails are landing in bars all over the country and becoming "the new classics."

by Paula Echevarria
September 17, 2018

There is a lack of clarity about the origins of the cocktail. Some historians believe it was invented here in New Orleans, and even though we’d sure love to take the credit, the jury is still out on that theory. However if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that New Orleans is the birthplace of some of the classic cocktails we know and love today, like the Sazerac, Carousel Bar’s Vieux Carre and your bartender’s favorite, the Ramos Gin Fizz. And as our bars gain global notoriety, we continue to concoct some remarkable drinks that are slowly but surely becoming the new era of classic cocktails.

But what makes a cocktail a classic? The specs vary as much as opinions on the subject do, but for the most part the cocktail needs to be accessible, easy to replicate, and obviously, delicious. Here are some of New Orleans’ very local cocktails that have garnered this reputation.

Abigail Gullo’s The Big Chief at Compere Lapin

Abigail Gullo is one of New Orleans’ most recognized and lauded bartenders, and she was recently inducted to the Tales of The Cocktail Dames Hall of Fame. She currently shakes and stirs things up behind the bar at Compere Lapin, but her roots are in New York. Not-so-ironically, her popular libation is a variation of the Manhattan, which is traditionally made with whiskey sweet vermouth, and bitters.

The drink has become so popular, in fact, that it has been featured in numerous digital and print publications, including the book The Manhattan: The Story of the First Modern Cocktail with Recipes by cocktail author Phillip Greene, with a forward by the godfather of modern mixology, Dale Degroff.

The Big Chief is a strong and boozy drink, with complex layers of flavor. The garnish presentation is a show-stopper, flambeauxing an orange peel to create a final touch of aromatic presence. What’s best about it is that it’s easy to duplicate.

“You really want a cocktail that kind of transcends the idea of a sense of place, and becomes classic to your own personal sense of place, no matter where you are. I think that’s why the Big Chief definitely can be a modern classic, because it has these ingredients that used to be really hard to get, but are now pretty common.  All you need is ice and a cocktail glass, and a little bit of orange… It’s simple in its construction, but complex in its flavor, and it’s just a magic combination that makes it really delicious.”

The Big Chief
2 oz. Of Bourbon
½ oz. of Punt e Mes
½  oz. of Averna
Garnish: Flambeaux orange peel

Pour all of the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir gently. Strain and serve neat in a Nick and Nora glass. Garnish with a flambeaux orange peel.

Cole Newton’s The Baudin at Twelve Mile Limit

When Commander’s Palace and Coquette bartending alum, Cole Newton, took over the old Mid City neighborhood jaunt Marvin’s and turned it into a “cocktail dive,” he never imagined that it would garner the reputation of one of the most important bars in the city. Twelve Mile Limit has been named one of New Orleans’ top 10 bars by | The Times-Picayune consecutively since it opened its doors on the corner of Telemachus and Baudin streets in 2010.

One of the cocktails from that opening menu paid homage to this particularly magical corner of the city, properly named after its cross street. The Baudin became so popular that it has remained on the list for the past eight years. It’s now spanned its wings, making it all the way to a New Orleans-themed bar in Los Angeles.

The cocktail’s use of Louisiana hot sauce, in particular the globally renowned Tabasco, is what makes this drink so appealing.

“I do think there is a sort of global fascination with New Orleans. The music, the food, there are almost as many New Orleans-themed bars as there are Irish pubs,” shares Newton.

“It’s a concept that people are inherently attracted to; it’s a way of life that people are inherently attracted to. So, it’s not just a modern cocktail, it’s a New Orleans modern classic cocktail, specifically, in that it is very much a cocktail of a place. It has its own sort of cocktail terroir, if that’s a thing that exists.”

The Baudin

1 1/2 oz. Of Bourbon
¾ oz. of Honey Syrup
½ oz. of Lemon Juice
Dash of Tabasco hot sauce
Garnish: lemon peel|

Mix all of the ingredients in a shaker. Strain and serve with ice. Zest lemon peel over it and garnish the drink with it.

Nick Detrich’s Jazz Daiquiri at Manolito

It was during multiple trips to Cuba that Nick Detrich fell in love with its hospitality culture, which is still practiced today, almost as a relic of its past. At the turn of the 20th century, Cuba was the leading force in bartending, or cantinero culture.

“People looked at Cuban bartenders the way we look at Japanese bartenders today,” says Detrich. “Not only for technique and style but for their hospitality, and that was something that I thought was very thoughtful. And it was very humbling, and I definitely wanted to bring back here, to honor it.”

And Cuba is, after all, the birthplace of one of New Orleans’ drinks of choice, the daiquiri. But we share another passion in common: coffee. This is why adding this ingredient to the mix was a no-brainer for Detrich, who explains that “having the bitter bite of the coffee in the cocktail is akin to having chicory root: it adds a bit of bitterness and an extra layer of flavor.”

The Jazz Daiquiri
10 oz. of crushed ice
7 whole coffee beans
2 oz. of dark rum
¼ oz. dark crème de cacao
2 tsp. granulated sugar
¾ oz. fresh lime juice

Pour all ingredients over ice in a blender except the rum. Blend and add rum as it’s blending. Serve in a martini glass.


Gunshop Fizz at Cure

The most “Rogue Cocktail” — as its original creators Kirk Estopinal and Maksym Pazuniak named an athenaeum of drinks they compiled — on this list can still be found a decade later in the special section of Cure’s menu, Reserve Classics.

But it has made incredible waves throughout the craft-cocktail world because its spirit base is Peychaud’s bitters. You probably winced when you read that, but in a chemistry experiment sort of way, the bartenders managed to create a drink that tastes a lot like a fizzy, refined Kool-aid.

The name references the antique gun store that now resides in what used to be Antoine Peychaud’s apothecary, where the bitters were invented. 

The Gunshop Fizz
2 oz. of Peychaud’s bitters
1 oz. of lemon
1 oz. of simple syrup
2 strawberries
3 cucumber slices
3 swaths of orange peel
3 swaths of grapefruit peel
1 oz. of Sanbitter (or Campari and soda water)

Muddle all but Sanbitter, and allow it to rest for 2 to 3 minutes for mixture to macerate an turn sweet. Add ice, shake, strain, collins glass. Garnish with cucumber slice.

Born in Madrid, raised in Miami, bred in New Orleans: Paula is a gregarious locavore always in search of a good cocktail and a great story. She won an Emmy for her kitchen production work while at NBCUniversal, and was nominated for a second one while working as the Associate Producer for PBS's Check, Please! South Florida with host, James Beard Award Winner, Chef Michelle Bernstein. While she worked as the Miami editor for national digital food and drink powerhouse, Tasting Table, she was chosen by Tom Colicchio as one of his secret diners for Bravo's Best New Restaurant. Food...

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