The Creole Cocktail's Outsider Origins

When you think about New Orleans cuisine, dishes like Bouillabaisse, gumbo, crawfish, jambalaya, beignets, Po boys, or classic red beans and rice might come to mind. Mark Twain himself once famously said, "New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin." But, what does the city offer to drink? Introducing, the Creole Cocktail: the New Orleans bevy you've probably never heard of.

There's a version of the Creole Cocktail recipe printed in W.C. Whitfield's 1939 book "Just Cocktails," per The Spruce Eats, so folks have been enjoying it for a while. But, don't let the name deceive you — the Creole Cocktail didn't come from New Orleans. Ben Hatch, beverage director at New Orleans' Elysian Bar, says that hasn't stopped the cocktail from enjoying wild popularity amongst Louisiana sippers. 

"New Orleans is such a boozy town that people aren't afraid to pull up a bar stool when it's 110 degrees outside," says Hatch, via PUNCH. "They order a very spirit-forward cocktail like this and enjoy it just as much." 

So, what exactly are the Creole Cocktail's outsider origins? And how did it come to be associated with The Big Easy?

The spirit of The Big Apple in The Big Easy

According to Neal Bodenheimer, author of "Cure: New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix 'Em" via PUNCH, the Creole Cocktail was created by a New York City-based mixologist called Hugo Ensslin. Ensslin immigrated to NYC from Germany, and the Big Apple had at least as much influence on Ensslin's creation as New Orleans, says Bodenheimer. The Creole Cocktail is equal parts rye whiskey and sweet vermouth, stirred with Bénédictine and Amer Picon. 

The most "New Orleans" thing about the drink, says the outlet, is the French Bénédictine and Amer Picon ingredients. Bénédictine is a spiced, herbal liqueur with top notes of citrus and pine. Amer Picon is a mildly bitter liqueur that's wicked popular among French mixologists, says David Lebovitz, and it's nearly impossible to get outside of France. If you're struggling to get it yourself, Saveur recommends substituting a dash or two of Angostura bitters for Amer Picon.

These French liqueurs narrowly separate the Creole Cocktail from the classic Manhattan cocktail, which aligns with Ensslin's alleged subliminal piety to New York City. But, his creation is nearly indistinguishable from the lesser-known Brooklyn Cocktail, which features rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, maraschino, and Amer Picon, per The lineup of ingredients is almost identical — which, we guess, means the Creole Cocktail must be a pretty fail-safe drink for mixologists to keep in their back pockets.