The Story Makes the Drink

The Story Makes The Drink

Or, How to Make a Hurricane

At our 2015 summer symposium in New Orleans, Brett Martin argued that the recipe for any iconic cocktail is less important that the idea of the cocktail itself. In other words, the story makes the drink. On the next episode of our Gravy podcast, Wayne Curtis tells the story of, well, storytelling—as it relates to Southern cocktails.

Whet your appetite with this sneak peek at the Southern Foodways Alliance Guide to Cocktails, available in full this fall. This SFA-curated, bartender-developed, contemporary drink manifesto from the South is a collaboration between SFA editor Sara Camp Milam and veteran bartender Jerry Slater, with photographs by Andrew Thomas Lee.

Here Comes the Story of a Hurricane

“Pour me something tall and strong. Make it a Hurricane before I go insane. It’s only half-past twelve, but I don’t care: It’s five o’clock somewhere,” country boy Alan Jackson and beach-rock icon Jimmy Buffett sing in their 2003 paean to afternoon drinking. In that spirit, the drinks that populate this chapter, including the Hurricane itself, encourage you to take yourself less seriously. (We’re not saying you have to cut out of work early, don a pair of flip-flops, and queue up a playlist of dubious country-pop. You decide where to draw your own line.)

Hear Wayne Curtis talk French Quarter Cocktails at the 2015 Summer Symposium in New Orleans.

Outside of that beachbilly hit, the Hurricane is virtually inseparable from Pat O’Brien’s, the French Quarter bar at which it was invented. The drink began as a way to sell off surplus rum. During WWII, when the federal government limited the output of domestic distilleries and funneled most of their production toward the war effort, whiskey was hard to come by. Caribbean rum, on the other hand, flowed freely to the mainland. Importers required bar owners to purchase several cases of rum to get just one case of whiskey or Scotch. The bar owners didn’t mind too much, for they could sell the whiskey at a premium and turn a profit regardless. Some began to look for creative ways to get the extra rum off their shelves and into their customers.

In 1933, one day before the Twenty-First Amendment repealed Prohibition, Pat O’Brien opened his eponymous French Quarter bar in an eighteenth-century former theater with a lovely flagstone-and-brick courtyard. He and his co-owner, Charlie Cantrell, dreamed up the Hurricane around 1940. O’Brien wasn’t the first to name a cocktail after the meteorological phenomenon, but Pat O’s almost certainly originated the potent, red, sticky-sweet punch we know as a Hurricane today. The recipe called for a hefty four ounces of rum, topped with a blend of passion fruit and citrus juices, served over ice and garnished with fruit.

Rien Fertel interviewed Shelly Waguespack for SFA’s French Quarter Cocktails oral history project. Photo by Denny Culbert.

Shelly Oechsner Waguespack, the third generation of Oechsners to manage the bar, says the drink actually takes its name from the tall, curvaceous, footed glass (similar in shape to a hurricane lantern) in which it has been served since the beginning. At the dawn of the Hurricane era, she explains, O’Brien and Cantrell would ask comely young women to circulate around the patio with Hurricanes in hand, offering tastes of the exotic new drink to male patrons. By the 1950s, it was a proto-Tiki hit.

In the 1960s, Bourbon Street began to cater to tourists and locals who wanted to stroll the Quarter but not necessarily sit for the whole evening in a single night club. In 1967, Bourbon Street go-cups began fueling a new kind of Crescent City flaneur. Four years later, the street closed to car traffic. Nearly a half-century later, Bourbon is still packed with pedestrians, some walking straighter lines than others. Through it all, Pat O’s has thrived, thanks in large part to its signature drink. Unless you order your drink to go or request a plastic cup, your Hurricane will be served in the namesake glass. And, unless you specify otherwise, you’ll pay for that glass. For each Hurricane ordered at the bar or on the patio, Pat O’s tacks on a glass surcharge to the base price. So many tourists walked out with the glasses as souvenirs, that it just made sense to sell the vessel along with the drink.

Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee.

While the glass has stayed the same, its contents have not. Today, bartenders top those four ounces of rum not with fresh juice, but with four ounces of a premade mixer. They add rum and ice to each glass, and then use a claw-like nozzle behind each of the bar stations to dispense juice mix from a central tank, filling three glasses at a time. The bartender garnishes each with an orange slice and a maraschino cherry. Thanks to this assembly line, Pat O’Brien’s turns out Hurricanes seven days a week—half a million every year. And that’s not counting the Pat O’Brien’s franchises at the San Antonio River Walk and Universal Studios Orlando. If you can’t make it to one of these locations, you can purchase Hurricane mix by the liter online or at many liquor stores. Mix with care, though: four ounces of rum is twice the strength of your average cocktail, and your backyard is a far cry from Bourbon Street.

Hurricane

Get to know Chris Hannah of New Orleans’ Arnaud’s French 75 Bar. Photo by Denny Culbert.

For the history buffs, New Orleans bartender Chris Hannah has imagined an approximation of the original Hurricane. It’s a little fresher and a little lighter than today’s pre-fab version, with half the rum of Pat O’s recipe, and it was a hit with the crowd at the SFA’s 2015 Summer Symposium in New Orleans.

Yield: 1 (4-ounce) cocktail

Cocktail:
2 oz. full-bodied rum, such as Appleton Estate Signature or Bacardi 8 Años
1/2 oz. fresh orange juice
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. passion fruit syrup (store-bought or homemade)
1/4 oz. grenadine

Garnish:
Orange or lime wheel

Service ice:
Cubed or crushed

Glass:
Hurricane

Place all ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake. Strain into ice filled glass, and garnish with orange or lime wheel.