Blair Reynolds is a Portland-based tiki fiend and proprietor of Reynoles Galley. He documents these obsessions at Trader Tiki.
A bittersweet irony holds its head aloft during Tales of the Cocktail, as the city so well known for its inspiration in the development of classic cocktails, and the “meeting of the modern cocktail minds” that Tales of the Cocktail is, are so close to Bourbon Street, home to some of the worst drinks known to mankind. These drinks I have chosen to cover for Mixology Monday: New Orleans.
As a brave and thirsty traveler, of stout liver and not quite so stout mind, I set off on a quest to try these beverages and report to you, dear viewer, on these offenses to the senses.
Please note, I try my best to keep my nose out of the high-falutin’ area, and remind myself I float no higher from terra firma than last week’s bathwater, but damned if I’m not being snotty in the next few paragraphs. Snark ahoy!
Developed by Pat O’Brien sometime in the 1940s, the Hurricane was New Orleans top contribution to the rum and tropical flavor tiki drinks of the time. Initially used as a way to get rid of the rum that bar owners were forced to buy (see this video), today it’s become a bright red, flavorless concoction that comes in a souvenir glass. Nary a drop of rum to be found, the modern recipe at the bar consists of crushed ice, neutral distilled spirit, and “the red stuff” in the packet above.
Pat was recently written up in the book, In Pursuit of Pat O’Brien, which I have not yet had the opportunity to read. I did get a chance to look at the original recipe in the back (three ingredients, is it REALLY that damned hard?), and it coincides with the recipe in Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log. It’s delicious when made true to the original recipe of rum, passion fruit syrup and lemon juice. Made from the packet… there’s no discernable flavor to be found for miles, and as I learned on one horrible birthday many years ago, that red color doesn’t fade, guzzling down or gushing back up.
A sweet supple mixture of two of the best friends in the world, rum and lime, along with sugar to tone down some of the bitter, and you’ve got a world class combination. Take all of those, throw them out the window, toss some industrial alcohol, food coloring, and bottom-shelf booze into a slushee machine and you’ve got yourself a Bourbon street favorite. There are two locations of Mango Mango Daiquiri (you can’t miss the sign), but the bright neon seems to give it a bit of omnipresence in the French Quarter.
In one of these establishments, there are as many drinks available as there are slushee machines on the back counter. The drinks are $9 a pop, and each drink comes with a free shot, and some sort of discount off of a second drink. This coupon went quickly into the trash. Having to choose between roughly 15 machines, I decided to go with the interestingly named “Blue Crack“, and a shot of “Jet Fuel“. The Blue Crack was one of the few machines with labeled liquor on it, noting the presence of Tequila and Blue Curacao. I might not have chosen this had I seen it sooner, but oh well, life goes on (or I would hope after drinking this). The shot of Jet Fuel contained Peppermint Schnapps, Neutral Grain Spirit, and Blue Curacao… a straight shot down the hatch gleefully destroyed my tastebuds, preparing me quite aptly for the drink at hand. The flavor was a bit as expected, blue and artificial sour citrus, that tasted not too far from what Bourbon Street itself might taste like, were one so brave as to do so . Despite the thorough mixing, pockets of liquid seemed to have developed in the drink, giving every third sip a bit more bite… and not in a good way. Imagine giving a baby their first taste of Cynar, and that’s about the reaction I had to these little pockets of nasty. But, being brave as I could, I finished the drink and headed out for something more…
The Hand Grenade
This exceedingly potent potable is sold at Tropical Isle and Funky Pirate, two places owned by the same folks, named different because seeing 4 Tropical Isles as you went down Bourbon Street might be a few too many. You’ll see the namesake plastic container dangling from the hands of many a college student, the other hand filled with beads, and a lot of hope. Seeing how prolific these were, I had to try one, and pretty much got what I expected.
Imagine, if you will, a watermelon jolly rancher, dragged along Bourbon street, infused into some everclear, placed into a slushee machine, and the result squirted into what is surely later to be used as a bong. There’s your Hand Grenade. One melon note, with a whole lot of nasty spirit in it. Of course, as I was leaving the establishment, a fellow imbiber on the Vieux Carré explained to me “Dude, aren’t those so good? Twelve of those and you’re totally bombed!”. At $8 a pop, those $96 could go a hell of a lot further in a liquor store… oh well, perhaps he hadn’t passed Economics 101 just yet.
I’d like to point out though, that while these drinks may be bad, they sell like solid-gold pancakes and are likely one of the biggest contributors to keeping Bourbon Street afloat and the whole damned city alive. You can’t ignore that there are probably more Hand Grenades sold then French 75s or Brandy Milk Punches. Hell, I’m even half-tempted to purchase the Ceramic Hand Grenade next time I hit the French Quarter. Perhaps someday they’ll end up in a cocktail database as some lost legend preserved only in fond memory. We can only hope that day is soon.