In the Land of Cocktails

Take two vivacious cousins, descendants of New Orleans’ most notable bon vivants. Add an omnibus knowledge of the gentle art of imbibing, from how to whip up a perfect Brandy Milk Punch to the difference between Peychaud’s and Angostura Bitters. Blend in years of providing the finest in food, drink, and gracious Southern hospitality to life-loving Crescent City natives and the throngs of gastronomic pilgrims who visit and revisit their hallowed eatery, Commander’s Palace. Don’t go light on the humor, and add a dash of family history as lagniappe.

The delicious, intoxicating result is In the Land of Cocktails, by Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan. Many cities have laid claim to the creation of the cocktail as we know it today, but there is little dispute that mixology was perfected in New Orleans (the home, naturally, of the Museum of the American Cocktail). So leave it to these charming New Orleans natives to show that while cocktail alchemy may seem like chemistry (and there are similarities), the courses of learning and the final exams are far, far more enjoyable. 

Essential Ingredients to Make a Good Cocktail a Great Cocktail

Just because the bartender seems to know exactly how much to pour freehand, doesn’t mean you will (or—shhh! that he or she always will, either). A heavy hand may seem hospitable, but not only will the drink be thrown off-balance, your guests may spend most of the following day recovering from your hospitality. Measuring spoons and jiggers enable the mixologist to use exactly the right proportions for the perfect drink.

Top Shelf Liquor
You can make a Sazerac with the stuff in which you’d ordinarily soak down fruit cakes. And, Leonardo Da Vinci could have painted the Mona Lisa with house paint.  A simple test: Order a scotch and soda in a bar, and you’ll be served the well brand. And if you were to look at the label and read “made from the finest Scotch grapes” – well, you shouldn’t be surprised. Order a Glenfiddich and soda instead – the difference will be clear. Always buy the best liquor you can get.

Fresh fruit juices
It’s more time consuming to take a hand juicer and squeeze a couple of lemons, limes, or oranges as needed than it is to open a carton, can, or bottle of juice. But if you’re not going to rush through the drink, why rush through the mixing? And, you’ll find no taste-altering preservatives or additives in anything you have to peel yourself.

Ice added to the cocktail shaker chills the drink while you shake it. Cubes are OK– but ice chipped with a pick from a block not only melts more evenly and more smoothly through a drink but adds to the surface an alluring diamond-like sparkle. No room in the freezer for an ice block? 1) take ice cubes; 2) wrap them in a towel; 3) place on a work surface, 4) pound away with a hammer. Mission accomplished. (And yes, water makes a difference too. Depending on the taste of what comes out of your tap, you may prefer to use bottled water instead.)

Would you serve champagne in a shot glass?  Didn’t think so.  The stemmed cocktail glass is generally best for cocktails—one with a good-size bowl, a slender stem, and a solid base makes for an ideal drinking experience.

Entirely up to you.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan are first cousins and proprietors of Commander’s Palace and Café Adelaide and the Swizzle Stick Bar in the Loews New Orleans Hotel; their outpost restaurant, Brennan’s of Houston is run by Alex Brennan-Martin. Ti is also the author of Commander’s Kitchen Cookbook. The legendary Commander’s Palace restaurant, where top chefs Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse each launched their career, has won the James Beard Award for Most Outstanding Restaurant in America, and was ranked #1 in New Orleans by Zagat seventeen consecutive times. The authors live in New Orleans, Louisiana.