The History of Hurricane Cocktails
Of the seemingly infinite number of New Orleans cocktails, the Hurricane is perhaps the one that represents our city’s ability to adapt best. Born of necessity, this cocktail has become a Crescent City classic and a bartending staple. So let’s take a peek into its tropical past and see what makes the Hurricane New Orleans’ most recognized cocktail.
The contemporary Hurricane is a quite literally a fruit cocktail. The most common recipe touts a blend of light rum, dark rum, passion fruit juice, orange juice, lime juice, simple syrup, and grenadine. Quite the sugar rush… or should I say rum punch! The cocktail is always red in color, thanks to the addition of grenadine, and can be served over ice or as a slushie. And of course, no Hurricane would be complete without an orange slice and a maraschino cherry for garnish.
It’s rumored in New Orleans that the drink was named for the catastrophic hangover the Hurricane can leave in its wake. While the hangover part certainly can be true, the cocktail was actually named for another reason, and it wasn’t for the frequency with which hurricanes hit the Big Easy either. The cocktail was named for the curved glass it is iconically served in, resembling a hurricane lamp.
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Pat O’Brien is a name so integral to New Orleans that it wouldn’t be a jaunt down Bourbon Street without a visit to his bar by the same name. Located Bourbon adjacent on St. Peters Street, Pat O’Brien’s is the birthplace of the infamous Hurricane, and the only bar to still serve its original recipe.
So how did Patty O’s concoct a classic? Well, World War II caused an alcohol shortage in both European imported and American distilled liquors. This not only put a stranglehold on American bar services, but liquor sales by vendors as well. Scotch, whiskey, bourbon, and gin were in short supply in the late 1940s and vendors were completely overloaded with cases of rum. Because of New Orleans’ proximity to the Caribbean (not to mention our prime position within pirate trade routes) rum was being imported in droves. And while this may seem like a solution to the shortage, rum wasn’t actually very popular at the time. It had a reputation for being cheaply made and unsophisticated, and its spiced flavor was not attuned to American palettes. In an attempt to move some of their excessive rum stores, vendors began forcing purchases upon local bartenders. For every case of scotch, whiskey, bourbon, or gin bars wished to purchase, they also had to purchase a case of rum. The rum was thus transferred to bar backs, creating an abundance of almost one to one in ratio for every other type of liquor.
In comes Pat O’Brien, or rather his head bartender Louis Culligan. After much experimentation, he created a cocktail that helped to mask come of the flavors of the rum. His original recipe, however, was pretty vastly different than the one usually served today. Culligan’s Hurricane was comprised of golden rum, lemon juice, and a passion fruit juice called Fassionola. Though it’s no longer used, the Fassionola is actually what gave the drink its red color, now created today by the addition of grenadine. Despite its sweetness, the Hurricane was a big hit and had rum flying off the shelves for the first time.
The Hurricane’s sweet tropical flavors instantly made it a tiki bar staple, transporting its drinkers to warmer climates with each sip. Much like the daiquiri, the Hurricane has been bastardized across not only New Orleans, but the country as well. Some recipes boast pineapple juice, while others tout the incorporation of mango; the recipe variations are vast. And while they remain loyal to their recipe (with the minor substitution of Fassionola for another passion fruit puree mix), Pat O’Brien’s even batch mixes their cocktails to keep up with the demand of thirsty tourists strolling down Bourbon. Even featured as the Tales of the Cocktail’s celebrated cocktail in 2014, one thing is for sure: the Hurricane is as resilient as the city that birthed it.