In New Orleans, cocktails are more than just cocktails. The Sazarac. The Hurricane. These are a taste of the city’s history.
Alan Walter, head bartender at Loa, located in the International House New Orleans hotel, updates this concept. To him, each cocktail is a way for tourists to experience the splendor of the present-day Big Easy.
“Visitors are searching for the essence of New Orleans, looking for something they’ll really remember,” he says. “What would give them the best feel for the place in the short amount of time they have?”
Walter walks through City Park, foraging as he goes. He grabs hearts of palm that grow by the waterways. He also collects moss that he’ll turn into a triple-strength tea that will be added to a combination of pisco, rum, dried lime and fennel.
He scoops up pounds of Calamondin tangerines that he’ll make into syrup. He’ll use it over the following months “as a preserved memory of the season before.”
For Walter’s latest concoction, a spin on an Old-Fashioned, inspiration struck him in the oddest of places: his market’s pet food aisle. While picking up food for his cat, Walter spotted a bag of wild birdseed, full of cracked corn, sunflower seeds, millet, quinoa and sesame.
“Once you think about it, it’s not too weird,” he says. He turned the mix into a simple syrup and brought it into the bar, where “it was an instant match for Bourbon.”
Toasted Wild Birdseed Old Fashioned
Courtesy of Alan Walter, head bartender of Loa, New Orleans.
- Long, wide grapefruit peel, without pith
- ⅓ ounce Louisiana Birdseed Syrup (recipe below)
- 2 dashes Bitter Truth Mole Bitters (or chocolate bitters)
- 2 ounces Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon
In a rocks glass, muddle peel with syrup and bitters. Add Bourbon. Add ice and stir well.
Louisiana Birdseed Syrup
¾ cup wild birdseed blend (or a mix of seeds and grains like sunflower seeds, millet and quinoa)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
4 cups water
4 cups sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread grains, nuts and seeds on a sheet pan. Bake until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Let cool.
Meanwhile, make simple syrup by bringing water and sugar to boil. Stir until sugar has dissolved and let cool. Combine syrup and toasted seed mixture in blender. Pulse until well incorporated, then strain through fine mesh.