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A Trip Down New Orleans Cocktail Lane with Brent Falco and MOTAC

By Maren Swanson • July 25th, 2014

Brent Falco and the MOTAC (Museum of he American Cocktail)

I recently took a trip to New Orleans, and no it wasn't for the acclaimed cocktail event, Tales of the Cocktail. I headed to Louie's of Mar Vista where Brent Falco, originally of Kentucky, and now burgeoning cocktail star at First and Hope, explained the origins of the Mint Julep and the history of New Orleans cocktails. Yes, we were still technically in Los Angeles County, but the Museum of the American Cocktail event I attended the other night guided me through a tasty trip down New Orleans cocktail lane.

Falco grew up making and sneaking sips of Mint Juleps in her Southern home since she was a little girl. "Julep" has many different origins, dated as early back as the 1400s, but the current spelling is a French version, she says. Since it was originally prescribed to treat stomach ailments in 1784, the Mint Julep has become extremely popular and is sold by the thousands at each annual Kentucky Derby. In 1896, the Julep strainer was introduced - some say to prevent the cold ice from causing pain against sensitive teeth, and regular sugar or sugar loafs were replaced with a less expensive powdered sugar due to soaring Civil War prices.

Some make their Juleps with cognac and others with rum, but Falco prefers her preparation "Kentucky style" with Bourbon. She recommends using a sugar cube and gently pressing the sugar loaf gently on the mint leaf starting with the stem and working your way out. The Mint Julep she made for us the MOTAC event featured Bulleit Bourbon, mint, a brown sugar cube and 1/4 oz floater of Bacardi 8 aged rum.

The Mint Julep

Mint Julep
In 1836, St. Charles Punch was developed and introduced at the St. Charles Hotel and became a popular drink for hotel guests until it closed down in 1974. Usually made with a Ruby Port, Falco presented her St. Charles Punch version with a Tawny Port, Remy 1738, bitters, fresh lemon juice, sugar and orange and lemon peels. This was one of my favorite drinks served that evening.

St. Charles Punch

St. Charles Punch
Next, we moved on to the Sazerac cocktail, which was created and first served in 1850 at the Sazerac Coffee House bar. In the 1870s, Absinthe was introduced into the Sazerac and Thomas Hardy, the new owner of Sazerac Coffee House, changed the cognac to rye due to the Phylloxera epidemic. Falco presented her Sazerac with Rye, Peychauds Bitters, lemon zest, a sugar cube and absinthe (sprayed top to bottom in the glass).

The Sazerac

Sazerac cocktail

And then came the infamous Prohibition era; all alcohol was banned in the United States and crime and illegal sales of alcohol rose. Apparently, New Orleans was the city that just did't care. Ocean trade of booze and speakeasies sprung up everywhere, and the 13 years of dry drinking caused bartenders to loose their jobs, some becoming penniless overnight.

All's well that ends well. On December 5th, 1933, Prohibition ended and the creation of new and now legal cocktails was surgent. Up rose the Vieux Carre, created by Walter Begeron at the Hotel Montelone. The Vieux Carre served that night was made with Bulleit Rye, cognac, Benedictine, double bitters and sweet vermouth. Careful, this drink can sneak up on you!

The Vieux Carre

The Vieux Carre

The cocktail aficionados in the group raved about our last drink: The Hurricane. According to cocktail legend, bartender Pat O'Brien tried to get rid of his rum surplus by creating a new drink to sell to sailors at his New Orleans bar that was comprised or two different rums. Oftentimes the secret password to enter his bar was, "storm's brewing." Served in the coined hurricane glass, Falco combined Bacardi 8 rum, Napa Perfect Puree of passion fruit, pineapple, lemon and lime juice. The presentation and flavors were fantastic.

The Hurricane

The Hurricane Cocktail
The MOTAC evening wasn't complete without a round of bites sent out by Louie's of Mar Vista's head chef, John Atkison, who sent out some head cheese, sandwiches and delicious dips. Louie's also has a happy hour I'm dying to check out. After all the history, sips and treats from the New Orleans MOTAC event, I'm ready for the real Louisiana deal!

Chef John Atkinson at Louie's of Mar Vista
Classic cocktails like these are making a huge comeback, so I urge you to try one of these drinks the next time you're out or even try making them on your own. For more information on MOTAC events, check out their website. Cheers!

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