Even if you don’t plan to spend this Mardi Gras strolling down Bourbon Street in New Orlean’s French Quarter, there are plenty of ways to celebrate at home—and by that, of course, we mean mix drinks. Mardi Gras is a state of mind, isn’t it?
The holiday is closely associated with the city of New Orleans, where it has gained a reputation for bacchanalian excess. Perhaps that’s because the drinking culture in the Crescent City is like no other in the world, with a deep history that’s yielded some of the cocktail canon’s most celebrated sips. Consider the whiskey-based Sazerac, with its absinthe-rinsed glass, which became the city’s official cocktail in 2008. Or the aromatic Vieux Carré, which mingles bourbon, Cognac, sweet vermouth and herbal Bénédictine—its name translates to the French Quarter’s original title, “old square.”
But New Orleans isn’t a city that exclusively drinks in the past. Its modern-day cocktail scene, which includes countless drinking dens of note, continues to innovate, yielding delights like a twist on St. Charles Punch spiked with Port wine or the spooky Terror from the Deep, which gets its ocean-blue hue from blue curaçao. The city also has a sprawling influence, inspiring drinks in locales far beyond its physical boundaries
Looking for cocktails to serve at your own Mardi Gras celebration? Here are some of our favorites.
Mardi Gras Drinks You Should Try
Likely invented in the 1830s by Antoine Amédée Peychaud, the Sazerac is a close relative of the Old Fashioned. Peychaud was a Creole apothecary from Saint-Domingue, or what is today Haiti, and sold a proprietary brand of gentian-based, anise-forward bitters—aptly named Peychaud’s Bitters—at his New Orleans shop. In the evenings, Peychaud’s pharmacy transformed into something of a bar, with the apothecary slinging a medicinal potion of his bitters, absinthe and brandy.
Later, the recipe caught on at other New Orleans establishments and evolved into what we today know as the Sazerac—a boozy blend of rye whiskey, Peychaud’s Bitters and simple syrup served in an absinthe-washed glass.
Get the Full Recipe Here: How to Make a Classic Sazerac
2. Hurricane Cocktail
Allegedly created during World War II amid whiskey shortages, the Hurricane cocktail is a heady blend of rum (both light and dark varieties), plus passion fruit, orange, pineapple and lime juices. A dash of grenadine gives the drink an iconic blush hue.
Its stormy name might be a nod to the history of the bar where it was invented: Pat O’Brien’s Bar, founded in 1933 in New Orlean’s French Quarter, operated as a speakeasy during Prohibition. To gain entry, customers shared the password, “Storm’s brewin’.”
Get the Full Recipe Here: How to Make a Hurricane Cocktail
3. Vieux Carré
Back in the 1930s, Walter Bergeron, the bartender at the Carousel Bar inside the Hotel Monteleone, invented this booze-forward cocktail. Its name translates in French to the original title of the French Quarter—”old square”—and bears some resemblance to another New Orleans classic, the Sazerac. Unlike that drink, however, the Vieux Carré features two types of bitters—both the Peychaud’s and Angostura varieties—and calls on bourbon, Cognac and sweet vermouth rather than rye whiskey and simple syrup.
Get the Full Recipe Here: How to Make a Vieux Carré, the Quintessential New Orleans Cocktail
4. Port Wine St. Charles Punch
This riff on the St. Charles Punch, which was once the house cocktail at New Orlean’s historic St. Charles Hotel, incorporates fruit-forward ruby Port and aromatic Cognac. Pour the concoction over crushed ice for a relatively light refresher, or serve it warm like mulled wine—the choice is yours.
Get the Full Recipe Here: A St. Charles Punch with a Port Wine Twist
5. Terror From the Deep
Don’t be scared to try this spookily-named sipper. Created by the former head bartender at New Orlean’s tiki spot Latitude 29 as a Halloween offering, this cocktail is delicious year-round. Blue curaçao lends the drink its neon-blue color, while aged rum gives the drink a complex-flavored foundation. Star anise-infused apple syrup adds spiced notes, while macadamia liqueur delivers a nutty, tropical element.
Get the Full Recipe Here: Terror From the Deep Cocktail
6. Saz Arak
You’ve heard of the Sazarac, but what about the Saz Arak? This drink, which reimagines the classic New Orleans cocktail with Middle Eastern ingredients, swaps out the aforementioned drink’s absinthe for anise-flavored arak.
Get the Full Recipe Here: An Ancient Spirit Stars in this Revamped Classic Sazerac
7. Moon Over Pontchartrain
With dark-aged rum, cherry-forward Cocchi Vermouth di Torino and bittersweet cynar, this sipper is perfect for a hip flask. It’s named for Lake Pontchartrain, the estuary that separates the city of New Orleans from the rest of the continental U.S.
Get the Full Recipe Here: Moon Over Pontchartrain
8. Ramos Gin Fizz
Originally called the New Orleans Fizz back when it was created in 1888, the drink became so revered that it eventually became known by the name of its creator, Henry Charles “Carl” Ramos, bartender and proprietor of the now long-gone Imperial Cabinet. As its name suggests, the Ramos Gin Fizz is, well, fizzy thanks to the vigorous shaking its recipe requires.
Once all shook up, the combination of gin, lemon juice, heavy cream, egg white, orange flower water, simple syrup and seltzer yields a milkshake-like concoction with a whiff of orange creamsicle.
Get the Full Recipe Here: The Ramos Gin Fizz is Cocktail Royalty. Here’s Why.
9. Creole Eggnog
This custard-like take on the Christmas favorite evokes zabaglione, the rich Italian dessert. What makes this eggnog Creole, you ask? It was invented by baker Lisa White of Willa Jean in New Orleans.
Get the Full Recipe Here: Creole Eggnog
What Do You Drink on Mardi Gras?
In modern-day New Orleans (and beyond!), Mardi Gras drinks might include any of the above cocktails. It’s not so much the exact drink, but rather the act of drinking that’s traditional to many Mardi Gras celebrations.
According to Food, Feasts, and Faith by Paul Fieldhouse, Mardi Gras—which translates to “Fat Tuesday” in French—marks the end of the pre-Lent season known as Carnival.
“In the Middle Ages in Catholic regions of Europe, Carnival was a time of social license, with ribald public revelry, excessive eating and drinking, dancing and games. Great processions were held, and a mock queen and king were crowned for the day,” writes Fieldhouse. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this eventually evolved to be the Mardi Gras festivities we know today.
What Is the Official Drink of Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras isn’t organized by any one official organization, but rather by a handful of krewes, which are non-profit organizations whose members plan parades, costumes and more. With such a decentralized structure, it’d be hard to declare any one official drink for the festival. This is all to say: Drink whatever you feel like! We think any of the above New Orleans-inspired sips will do the trick.