New Orleans Cocktails Stir Up Memories

A Commander's Palace Martini i i

The blue in a Commander's Palace Martini comes from a half-ounce of Blue Curacao. The color is darker but just as vibrant as the exterior of the restaurant, which is aqua. Noah Adams, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Noah Adams, NPR
A Commander's Palace Martini

The blue in a Commander's Palace Martini comes from a half-ounce of Blue Curacao. The color is darker but just as vibrant as the exterior of the restaurant, which is aqua.

Noah Adams, NPR
Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan i i

Cousins Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan offer up what they call "blurry memories" in In the Land of Cocktails. Courtesy HarperCollins hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy HarperCollins
Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan

Cousins Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan offer up what they call "blurry memories" in In the Land of Cocktails.

Courtesy HarperCollins

You can sit at the bar at Commander's Palace in New Orleans and drink history. Order a Sazerac – it's the very first cocktail, dating back to the early 1800s, when Antoine Peychaud, who owned an apothecary in the French Quarter, served customers a recipe of his own bitters and Sazerac cognac for extra zest.

Cousins Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan, who preside over Commander's Palace, say of this drink, "Cocktails would never have caught on if the original one wasn't such a perfect concoction."

Martin and Brennan are the authors of In the Land of Cocktails, a compilation of cocktail recipes and stories about drinking in New Orleans.

The Sazerac recommendation comes with a caution about having a second: "You're not nearly as attractive as you think you are after two, so do just have one."

The cousins believe a cocktail revolution is coming, especially when mixed with fresh fruit and top-shelf liquor.

And young people are excited now about being bartenders, or "bar chefs," they say.

Martin compares the atmosphere today to when she and Brennan were growing up in the kitchen with Paul Prudhomme, "when people were starting to respect our profession of cooking. That is now beginning to happen with bartenders."

Martin and Brennan are sophisticated restaurateurs today, but they do admit to "blurred memories" from their right-of-passage teenage years drinking in a venerable New Orleans bar called Nick's.

Brennan says, "We thought we were so grown up, and then we realized our parents had done the exact same thing."

Martin adds, "Same drink, same bar."

The famous drink at Nick's? A brandy and rum cocktail called Between the Sheets. In the Land of Cocktails includes recipes for Between the Sheets and Sazerac, as well as the Commander's Palace Martini, which is mixed to a rich shade of blue.

Excerpt: 'In the Land of Cocktails'

Sazerac

"Do have just one, as you won't be nearly as attractive as you think you are after two."

— Ti Adelaide Martin

We are Sazerac enthusiasts. Perhaps cocktails would have never caught on if the original one — the Sazerac — wasn't such a perfect concoction.

The Sazerac is easy to make but hard to master. As with all cocktails, proportion and balance are important. We've had as many bad Sazeracs as good ones — even in our beloved New Orleans. It should be reddish orange in color. To our taste, Old Overholt rye whiskey or Sazerac are balanced and preferred, and in place of the original absinthe we like Herbsaint, which is not as intense as Pernod or Pastis. We use simple syrup in place of the traditional sugar cube, which most people don't keep on hand anyway.

In the early 1800s, the Sazerac was originally made with Cognac and Peychaud's Bitters, created by Antoine Peychaud. He named the drink for his favorite brand of Cognac from Limoges, France, the Sazerac-de-Forge-et-fils. In 1870, with Cognac harder to come by due to phylloxera in France, rye whiskey was substituted. Absinthe was banned in the United States in 1912, and hence Pernod or Herbsaint was substituted to coat the glass.

As young girls, we were mesmerized when Leroy, the Commander's Palace bartender, held up a glass and twirled it to coat the inside with Herbsaint, the first step in making this classic cocktail.

Makes 1 cocktail

1 tablespoon Herbsaint

1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey, preferably Old Overholt or Sazerac rye

1/2 teaspoon simple syrup

4 to 5 dashes Peychaud's bitters

2 dashes Angostura bitters

1 lemon twist with the white pith removed, for garnish


Pour the Herbsaint into a rocks glass and swirl to coat the inside. Discard any excess Herbsaint. Fill the glass with ice to chill.

Combine the rye, simple syrup and Peychaud's and Angostura bitters in a cocktail shaker with ice. Cover and shake vigorously.

Discard the ice from the glass and strain the shaker mixture into the glass. Rub the rim of the glass with the lemon twist, add to the drink and serve immediately.


Lindy Boggs, a dear family friend, longtime New Orleans congresswoman, and Sazerac aficionado, was the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican under President Clinton. Lindy lives on Bourbon Street in a magnificent home right in the middle of all the French Quarter action. When Lindy worked in Rome, her daughter, Cokie Roberts (famed political analyst, friend and hero of ours), quipped that it really wasn't that much of a change since her mother was used to seeing men in red dresses.

Books Featured In This Story

In the Land of Cocktails

by TI Adelaide Martin, Lally Brennan and Tim Trapolin

Hardcover, 144 pages | purchase

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