Cocktail & Other Recipes Occasion Winter

10 Cocktails to Make for Mardi Gras

Let the good times roll with these New Orleans drinks.

Cajun Martini cocktail with pickle garnish / Tim Nusog

Mardi Gras is a celebration as old as, if not older than, New Orleans itself. According to the celebration’s official website, Governor Warmoth of Louisiana signed the Mardi Gras Act in 1875, making Fat Tuesday—a day recognized predominantly by Catholics as the last time to indulge in all the food and alcohol you desire before Lent begins—a legal holiday in Louisiana.

To most revelers, this celebratory festival conjures images of green, yellow and purple, exorbitant costumes and masks, and musical performances and dances. New Orleans, a city with no shortage of its own historic cocktail culture, has plenty of drinks to help fuel the revelry.

Just because you aren’t partying in New Orleans doesn’t mean that you can’t celebrate Mardi Gras wherever you are. These 10 cocktails, many of which originated in the Crescent City, will bring the festivities to you.

  • Sazerac

    Sazerac / Tim Nusog

    If there’s one classic cocktail that perfectly represents New Orleans, it’s the Sazerac. Lovers of a good Old Fashioned are sure to adore this drink, since it follows essentially the same basic formula—bitters, a spirit (or two), water, a sweetener, and a lemon twist—plus an absinthe rinse. The base spirit can be rye whiskey or cognac, or a combination of the two for those who enjoy both rye’s spiciness and cognac’s heftier body. Two types of bitters, Peychaud’s and Angostura, are employed. And if you’re already a fan of the classic cocktail, you’ll want to try these twists, too. 

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  • Brandy Milk Punch

    Brandy Milk Punch / Tim Nusog 

    Although the exact origins of this decadent frozen concoction are unknown, storied New Orleans restaurant Brennan’s has served the blend of brandy, milk, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract since the 1940s. While the drink’s base spirit is right in its name, you can also make a version with bourbon or other darker spirits. Whichever spirit you choose, invite friends to join in your festivities—this recipe serves four.

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  • Brandy Crusta

    Brandy Crusta / Tim Nusog 

    The Crusta was long-forgotten by the masses until David Wondrich published his James Beard Award-winning book Imbibe! in 2007, which established the drink as one of the oldest recorded classic cocktails in history and brought it back into the mainstream. The Brandy Crusta was invented in the 1850s by Joseph Santini, an Italian bartender plying his trade in New Orleans. The original recipe skewed tart, but Chris Hannah of Arnaud’s French 75 Bar adjusted the specs for the palates of contemporary cocktail enthusiasts in 2004. Served with a trademark sugared rim and lemon twist, the balance of brandy, dry curaçao, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice, simple syrup, and Angostura bitters provides a real taste of New Orleans history.

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  • French 75

    French 75 cocktail / Tim Nusog 

    The French 75 didn’t originate in New Orleans—the recipe actually first appeared in a New York magazine in 1927 and was included in Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930—but it became one of the city’s most popular drinks after award-winning Arnaud’s French 75 Bar opened in 2003. The French 75 is both sophisticated and simple to make. It’s built right in the glass, and all you need is gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and sparkling wine.

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    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • Cajun Martini

    Cajun Martini cocktail with pickle garnish / Tim Nusog

    The Cajun Martini was the only cocktail on the menu of K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen from 1980 to 2020, when the New Orleans restaurant closed. Late chef and owner Paul Prudhomme figured the jalapeño-infused Vodka Martini would scare off rowdy customers, but it in fact became a hit and led Prudhomme and his wife Kay to enforce a strict two-drink limit. This pre-batched recipe from K-Paul’s, recorded by cocktail historian David Wondrich, calls for an entire bottle of vodka and can easily be prepared before a Mardi Gras party.

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  • Ramos Gin Fizz

    Ramos Gin Fizz / Tim Nusog

    The Ramos Gin Fizz isn’t exactly no-fuss, but the results are rewarding. The cocktail was brought to life in 1888 by Henry Charles “Carl” Ramos at the Imperial Cabinet Saloon in New Orleans—a combination of gin, citrus, a sweetener, heavy cream, egg white, and orange blossom water, topped with club soda to give it its iconic soufflé-like head. The fussy aspect of this cocktail is the amount of agitation needed to aerate it effectively (i.e., you need to shake the hell out of it). Historically, Ramos had a line of bartenders behind the bar where, it’s said, they’d pass the tin around and shake each drink for at least 12 minutes. These days, that process sounds a bit crazy (and unnecessary), but the cocktail still does require at least a minute’s worth of shaking, both with and without ice, to produce a drink worthy of the name. Are you up for the challenge?

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  • Hurricane

    Hurricane cocktail / Tim Nusog

    The Hurricane is a cocktail you’re probably familiar with, but it’s not one for the faint of heart. If you’ve been to New Orleans, specifically Pat O’Brien’s, where the cocktail originated in 1941, you’ll know what it’s all about: a lot of rum, a bit of citrus and other fruit juices, sweeteners, some red maraschino cherries, and a cocktail umbrella, all served in a curvaceous glass named after the drink itself. This recipe calls for a full four ounces of rum, so we suggest doing yourself a favor and sticking to just one.

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  • Jell-O Shot

    Jello Shots / Tim Nusog

    All right, hear us out. Jell-O Shots may remind you of younger years, but they have their role to play in festive drinking environments. They’re also relatively easy to make, and can be prepared ahead of time. Pick your spirit, make sure to buy appropriately-colored Jell-O flavors (those would be yellow, purple, and green for Mardi Gras), and get batching.

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    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • Vieux Carré

    Vieux Carre / Tim Nusog

    If you’re a fan of the Sazerac, then the Vieux Carré is the next step up. It was created in New Orleans in the 1930s by Walter Bergeron, a bartender at New Orleans’ legendary Carousel Bar inside the Hotel Monteleone. It’s a high-octane cocktail traditionally made with rye whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth, Benedictine liqueur, and a combination of Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters. The addition of vermouth steers the drink into the Manhattan cocktail category, but it’s served over ice with a lemon twist and brandied maraschino cherry. The classic cocktail is fantastic for more low-key celebrations—elegant, delicious, and perfect for sipping.

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  • A La Louisiane

    A La Louisiane / Tim Nusog

    The former house cocktail of New Orleans restaurant La Louisiane, which was built in 1881, this rye-and-Benedictine drink is a variation on the Vieux Carré. Though similarly spirit-forward, it dials up the rye whiskey, skips the cognac, and calls for a few dashes of absinthe. Although the cocktail was first recorded in Stanley Clisby Arthur’s Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ’Em in 1937, it was revived in 2011 when Jim Meehan featured a recipe in The PDT Cocktail Book.

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