September 9th, 2008
I’ve been meaning since I returned from Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans to write about the Ninth Ward, a drink that Brother Cleve created for the event. First, a little context. Cleve was supposed to be a presenter at this year’s Tales but wasn’t able to travel because of an illness from which, thankfully, he now appears to be recovering. His cocktailian friends from Boston (and around the country) were as sad as he was about this state of affairs. To cheer both him and ourselves up, we carried a framed photo of him wherever we went, taking snapshots of him ‘hanging out’ with us at the Napoleon House, the Absinthe House, the Carousel Bar, Vaughan’s, etc. As Cleve remarked when he saw the photo album, “Maybe Travelocity can get rid of that gnome and use me instead.”
In addition to taking the majority of the Cleve pics, Boston bar doyenne Misty Kalkofen graciously subbed for her friend at the Tales Cocktail Hour, introducing the Ninth Ward to spirits enthusiasts from around the world. The drink — a play on Boston’s best-known cocktail, the Ward Eight, and an homage to one of the NOLA neighborhoods most beset by Hurricane Katrina flooding — was a hit. It’s an unusual, sophisticated and damn tasty cocktail. The best thing for me to do is let Cleve tell you in his own words the story behind its creation.
“I wanted to create a drink for the event that would have some sort of New Orleans and Boston connection. As disparate as the cities’ cultures may be, I’ve spent a lot of quality drinking time in both. The Saturn Bar, in the Ninth Ward, is probably my favorite bar of all time — definitely my favorite dive bar. The owner-bartender, O’Neil Broyard, died not long after Katrina, which almost destroyed the bar as it did so much of the Ninth Ward. The Ninth Ward shares certain similarities with my neighborhood, Dorchester. While both are among the poorest and most crime-plagued areas of each city, there are also some spots of architecturally stunning homes in areas mostly revitalized by gays and artists.
“So my idea was to take the Ward Eight, the best-known drink created in Boston, and turn it into a tropical cocktail for New Orleans. The Ward Eight is bourbon, grenadine and lemon juice. First step, keep the bourbon. I used the Bulleit brand (known as a ‘frontier whiskey’) since the Ward Eight was a 19th-century drink, and Bulleit has the character of that era’s whiskies, sharp and smoky and not too sweet. I flipped the grenadine for falernum, since falernum is a Caribbean syrup and is found in many tropical drinks. Lime juice is also more ubiquitous in the tropics than lemon juice; almost all the classic Don the Beachcomber/Trader Vic concoctions use it.
“I added a new ingredient to the mix, the fab St. Germain elderflower liqueur. Even though elderflowers grow in the Alps, St. Germain is a French-produced beverage, and the U.S. bought Louisiana from the French. Plus, tropical cocktails almost always feature some form of liqueur, so here’s one for this drink. Then, to hold it all together, a few dashes of Peychaud’s bitters, which of course were created in New Orleans.
“I guess, as a postscript, one could also say that the politics of both Boston and New Orleans have historically always been corrupt. Let the good times roll!”
The Ninth Ward
1 1/2 oz Bulleit bourbon
1/2 oz St. Germain elderflower liqueur
3/4 oz Fee Brothers falernum syrup*
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Shake well with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
* Cleve says, “I used the Fee Brothers falernum, which is non-alcoholic but works beautifully. I tried making the drink with Velvet Falernum, but it was too light. This is a problem with VF in most classic tiki drinks, as Ted Haigh has pointed out. (The VF is great in a Corn ‘n Oil or anything with black rum, like Gosling or Cruzan). The homemade (alcoholic) falernum syrup works just fine. I think this is probably closer in flavor/texture to the classic/discontinued Sazerac brand, which was probably used by Don & Vic in the ’40s. I’m sure there are some small Bermudian or Trinidadian brands that are not imported that may be closer to the Sazerac. Time for an investigative field trip!”