Louisiana

New cocktail book is the Cure for tired New Orleans cocktail recipes

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Even the inside cover of Cure: New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, Neal Bodenheimer and Emily Timberlake’s beautiful new cocktail book, reminded me why Crescent City is my favorite place on earth to have a drink.

This inside cover is a map of some of the top pubs, restaurants and live music venues across the city. For those lucky enough to know New Orleans, it is a map of delights to be remembered and yet to be discovered; For those who have yet to eat, drink, and explore this happy, sad city, it’s a cartographic to-do list that will later be complemented by a “New Orleans Cocktail Bucket List.”

The map captures something about the spirit of the book, which isn’t just a celebration of Cure, one of the country’s top cocktail bars — a perennial James Beard nominee, who won for best bar program in 2018 — but a celebration of its community and city . Plenty of books teach readers about cocktails through the lens of the bar they represent and recipes for drinks their bartenders have created. Far fewer also reinforce their city and their neighbors (and nominal competitors) so generously.

Bodenheimer almost had to be tied up in hogties and dragged to write.

To be fair, it’s not like the man doesn’t have a few other projects up his sleeve. Along with Cure, which he opened in 2009 after returning to his native Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, Bodenheimer owns Cane & Table in the French Quarter, and over the pandemic, while writing, he opened Dauphine’s (a New Orleans-inspired restaurant in Washington, DC), as well as Val’s (a taqueria and agave liquor bar in the same neighborhood as Cure) and Peychaud’s (a cocktail bar in the courtyard of a French Quarter building that was once the home of Antoine Peychaud, the inventor of the red bitters, which today gives countless cocktails a licorice-like kick). And he also serves as a partner at Tales of the Cocktail, the annual bars conference that draws thousands of industry insiders and dedicated drinkers to the city each summer.

“Which all sounds like I’m… crazy… but it shouldn’t be,” Bodenheimer says, noting how the pandemic has played hell with so many plans and messed up so much original project timing. But he knew he would never finish the book without help, and Timberlake, a veteran food writer and editor from Oakland, California, proved to be the perfect partner on the project. Her phone calls and planning sessions for the book helped him stay sane during the pandemic, when so much seemed to be falling apart.

Bodenheimer knew that he “didn’t want to do another bar-bar book because so many bars have made bar books that I think it’s a pretty complete genre. And I didn’t want to do a vanity project either… I want to talk about what Cure is and what it does, but I want to put it in the larger context of drinking in New Orleans.”

As such, the book features many original drinks from Cure and the many creative mixologists who have worked there over the years, but it also provides the history of many classic New Orleans cocktails and recipes for iterations and riffs of such drinks as the French 75 and the Pimm’s Cup, not originally a New Orleans drink but indelibly linked to the city through certain bars (Arnaud’s and Napoleon House respectively).

To explore the historical component of drinking in New Orleans, one had to wrestle with the mind of Stanley Clisby Arthur, the journalist whose 1937 book Famous New Orleans Drinks And How to Mix ‘Em was subtitled to the Cure book inspired.

Clisby Arthur’s book helped establish an early history of cocktails and New Orleans’ place in it. The problem with the story it set up is that much of it is what Bodenheimer describes with an expressive meaning of bovine waste.

For example, in the intro to his book, Clisby Arthur writes of New Orleans: “It is here that your most modern of all American beverages, the cocktail, first arose and received its jaunty name,” and then grumbles about a series of fake stories about how the word ” Cocktail” came into being, before insisting that Antoine Peychaud himself was responsible for the name, through a bastardisation of the French word “coquetier”, which referred to a type of eggcup in which the apothecary placed once-served doses of brandy, fortified with its stomach-soothing bitters.

Unfortunately, it’s now known that the word “cocktail” was printed when Peychaud was still in diapers.

And yet drinks such as the Sazerac – the quintessential New Orleans cocktail and, since 2008, the city’s official cocktail – also appear in Clisby Arthur’s book – the Vieux Carré, the Cocktail a la Louisiane, the Ramos Gin Fizz, the Roffignac (see recipe below) , and several absinthe-centric drinks. (The liquor, which was illegal in the United States for almost a century largely due to misconceptions about its alleged herbal dangers, had a deep impact on the city’s cocktails and drink style.)

“We used ‘Famous New Orleans Drinks, and How To Mix ‘Em’ as a guide when we opened Dauphine’s,” says Bodenheimer, and that meant he ended up spending a lot of time on the book. “That’s why I have this deep respect for him, because he really created this canon of New Orleans drinks. … Without him, I don’t think New Orleans would hold this important place in the drinking world. At the same time, I’m looking at part of his story and I’m like, “Man, you really fueled it.” But that’s also kind of perfect, because that’s like the bar world too. There are a lot of people who fake it until they make it.”

Luckily, the Cure team spent a lot of time refining and remixing recipes – the book’s exact specification for the Sazerac delivering the preferred amount of Peychauds down to the last drop – and developing their own great drinks. In this development process, says Bodenheimer, Cure has long followed a very specific hierarchy of considerations: “How does it taste? How does it taste? How does it taste? how does it smell How does it look like?”

It’s not necessarily a recipe for success in an Instagram-driven world, he concedes, but over time it seems to have worked for the bar. “With Cure, there was our desire to do what we wanted to do, and then there was what New Orleans has always done,” with cocktails and their preservation, he says. “Together it created that magic where people wanted to take the journey with us and see where we were going.”

Scale up and get a printer-friendly desktop version of the recipe here.

This upgrade of an old New Orleans drink makes for a more balanced take on what was originally a very sweet drink. The old recipe in Stanley Clisby Arthur’s classic cocktail book called for whiskey, but this version from Bar Cure’s new cocktail book uses Darroze 8 Year Les Grands Assemblages Bas-Armagnac, a French grape brandy, as the base. Co-author Neal Bodenheimer notes that the recipe “works surprisingly well with any number of unaged spirits,” but doesn’t like it with the original whiskey. The raspberry bush can be kept in the refrigerator for several months and can be added to sparkling water, lemonade or other drinks.

storage: Refrigerate the shrub for up to 3 months.

  • 1/2 cup fresh raspberries
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • Ice
  • 1 1/2 ounces bas-armagnac (or your preferred spirit; see top note)
  • 1 ounce raspberry bush
  • 2 to 3 ounces soda water, top
  • Fresh raspberries for garnish (optional)
  • Mint sprig for garnish (optional)

Make the bush: In a blender, combine the raspberries, water, sugar, and vinegar and process on high until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth, transfer to a bottle and refrigerate until ready to use. You should get about 1 1/4 cups (enough for about 12 drinks).

Prepare the drink: Fill a Collins, tall coupe, or stemmed punch glass with ice.

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, then add the armagnac and raspberry bush. Shake for about 15 seconds to cool, then strain into the glass and top up with soda water. Garnish with raspberries and a sprig of mint, if you like, and serve.

Adapted from “Cure: New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix Them” by Neal Bodenheimer and Emily Timberlake (Abrams, 2022)

Tested by M. Carrie Allan.

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