We New Orleanians generally don’t need much of a reason to raise a glass. From Mardi Gras balls to hurricane parties, Saints games, society galas or just a good old-fashioned Friday night, we’re a city that survives to imbibe. Heck, we even serve beer at our Little League games.
But when the holidays roll around, Crescent City mixologists and cocktail gurus are wont to up their game to make this festive — if not always particularly wintry — time of year ever more special with their seasonal libations.
From the traditional to the novel, here are a few of the city’s newest holiday cocktails that leave us full of good cheer.
Bacon and eggnog at Café B
Ralph Brennan is no stranger to cocktail culture, and his fondness for a good drink is on display at his newest restaurant, Café B in Old Metairie.
Of note this season is a traditional eggnog, but with a Big Easy twist. Said Caleb Chafin, Café B’s bar manager, “It wouldn’t be the holidays without the wonderful taste of eggnog,” and he created a martini featuring New Orleans spiced rum and eggnog from Louisiana’s own Kleinpeter dairy in his quest to not only keep things fun and festive, but also local.
Rich, spicy, and dusted with just the right amount of nutmeg, it surely is the flavor of the season in a glass.
Also worth indulging in at Café B is the Bacon Old-Fashioned, featuring Woodford Reserve Bourbon infused with bacon for two weeks. Because, honestly, everything goes better with bacon, doubly so during the holidays.
Under the Mistletoe at SoBou
Over at SoBou in the French Quarter, we’re entranced by bar chef Abigail Deirdre Gullo’s Christmas concoction, the Mistletoe.
A light, playful combination of gin, Luxardo and California sparkling white wine, its garnish of a long, spiraled lime twist and a fresh cranberry makes the drink look perfect underneath a bough of its namesake. Several of these, and no doubt you’ll be looking for someone special to steal a kiss.
Winter’s Pimms at August
At Restaurant August, bar manager and cocktail guru Robert Wailes combines local, seasonal flavors as well as traditional holiday spices. “When the seasons changed and it started to get cooler, I tried to take our house Pimm’s Cup off the menu, but people kept ordering it.” So he decided to update an old favorite instead of eliminating it.
Wailes fashions the “Winter’s Pimms” from muddled satsuma, mint and rosemary, as well as Pimm’s No. 1, allspice dram and lemonade. It’s garnished with a tall sprig of rosemary, a satsuma wedge and a cherry.
Thirsty diners will appreciate the cocktail for being evocative of the season, but also uniquely of New Orleans, where the weather outside might not be frightful, but the cocktails are always delightful.
Hot times at Borgne
While many of these winter drinks tend to the cool side -- in this town one is more likely to see shorts and sandals at this time of year than a white Christmas -- Brian Landry, the executive chef at Borgne, still likes to keep his holiday cheer hot.
Having worked as a bartender and bar manager while still in culinary school, Landry has a particular fondness for using his chef’s skills in creating the restaurants cocktail program.
Not one but two steaming holiday potables grace Borgne’s drink menu this season. The Honeysuckle Hotty incorporates Cathead honeysuckle vodka, Damman chamomile tea, and a swizzle stick encased in rock sugar that allows you to stir in your desired sweetness.
“When I drink this,” a friend told me, hugging the hot glass in her palms, “it feels immediately as though everything is going to be just fine.”
On the spicier side is Borgne’s Hot Buttered Rum, a holiday staple that Landry has taken to the next level. “My sous chef always drinks hot buttered rum when he decorates his Christmas tree, and we got to talking about recipes. I decided, instead of hot cider as a base, to simply make a warm rum, and use the same spice mix we use to season our duck paté to make a ‘compound paté butter’ that we incorporate into the drink.”
The resulting flavors of clove, cardamom, mace, coriander, anise, bay leaf, and even white pepper shine through and give the drink a complex but not overpowering spiciness that, when paired with the creamy butter, will literally leave you licking your lips.
Scott Gold is a food writer.