The Creole Cocktail, an Early Manhattan Variation, Made Modern
The Creole Cocktail is not the most famous drink to come out of New Orleans—probably because, despite the name, it didn’t originate there at all. “I’ve never really treated that cocktail as part of the New Orleans canon,” says Neal Bodenheimer, author of Cure: New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em. “The Creole Cocktail,” he notes, “was an ode to New Orleans by an outsider.” That outsider was Hugo Ensslin, a German immigrant to New York whose relative obscurity during his lifetime failed to presage the legacy of his self-published Recipes for Mixed Drinks.
Originally a stirred, equal-parts mixture of rye and sweet vermouth with small measures of Bénédictine and Amer Picon, plus a lemon twist, the Creole Cocktail reflects both its birthplace—New York—as well as the city that inspired it. It is, in essence, a modified Manhattan in the style of that drink’s earliest decades, before it became more whiskey-forward and ditched the liqueurs and syrups. One could speculate that the French origin of both of the Creole Cocktail’s supporting liqueurs is the reason for the nod to New Orleans.
When Ben Hatch was beverage director at The Elysian Bar in New Orleans’ Hotel Peter and Paul, he was on the hunt for a lesser-known template associated with the city that he could make his own. One of the bartenders on staff told him about the Creole Cocktail, describing it as a cross between an Old-Fashioned and a Manhattan. Hatch was intrigued.