I am not going to lie to you; this Drink of Disney World series is one of my favorites to write and most certainly my favorite to research. It started with a trip behind the drinks that are served at the UK Pavilion in Epcot. Today, I’m going to throw a change up and head over to a resort that I recently spent some time at: Port Orleans.
As you are no doubt aware, the Port Orleans resorts are designed to resemble different aspects of southern living. French Quarter is a Disneyfied version of central New Orleans (meaning no…uh, gentlemen’s establishments), while Riverside is an equally sanitized depiction of a more rural lifestyle. In reality, the adult beverages available in these two areas would be equally different, but this is not quite reality.
Sadly (to me anyway), the drink menus are nearly identical at both Riverside and French Quarter. They both have a full liquor array and mostly standard beer lists, as well. The only interesting beer choices come from the Abita brewery, which is a relatively small brewer from New Orleans. Abita has some good quality brews, but its story is not particularly interesting, nor is it very long (Abita has been brewing for under 30 years, and any product younger than I am does not count as history).
Where you can find some true Louisiana history in a glass is in the cocktails. No, you won’t come across moonshine hidden in the back woods of Riverside, nor will you run into the Duke boys evading Rosco P. Coltrane (although that would be fantastic). What you will find is two mixed drinks with a lot of history that leads straight back to New Orleans: the Hurricane and the Sazerac.
The Hurricane is a rum-based cocktail invented by Pat O’Brien, the proprietor of the French Quarter bar, Pat O’Brien’s (I wonder how he thought up the name). During World War II, good quality whiskey and vodka were hard to come by, but rum was widely available-a little too widely available. Liquor distributors in the New Orleans area began requiring the purchase of several cases of rum for every case of whiskey or vodka bought. Obviously, bar owners were trying to find ways to move all of that less popular liquor, and Mr. O’Brien decided to concoct a cocktail of rum and fruit juice. In an attempt to make it more desirable, he began serving it in a large, curvy glass shaped like a Hurricane lamp…and a legend was born.
Today people flock to the original site of Pat O’Brien’s to imbibe in the famous drink and take home a souvenir glass. While the bartenders of Port Orleans will gladly make you a real authentic Hurricane, they may not be as happy with your trying to take the glass home (although I have never tried).
The Sazerac is a lesser known cocktail, but it is every bit as dear to New Orleans as the Hurricane. In fact, it was named the “Official Cocktail of New Orleans” in 2008 after several amended bills in the State Congress (who says government wastes time on silly things?). It is made almost entirely of rye whiskey (or sometimes cognac) and simple syrup (sugar water), so it is a pretty stiff customer, but having a Sazerac at Port Orleans will instantly link you to centuries of Louisiana history.
In short, a bar owner began serving a cocktail in New Orleans around 1850 that was made from a particular brand of cognac: Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils (did you make a link to the name yet? Of course you did). The drink became so popular that the bar was renamed “The Sazerac House.”
Since you’re pretty smart you are probably wondering why the drink is named after a cognac yet made with rye whiskey, right? Well, around 1870 there was a vegetation decimating disease in France that devastated the grape crop, making cognac scarce. The recipe was amended to rye, which was much more reliable and apparently did not impact the cocktail’s popularity (there is now a rye named Sazerac, but it is predated by the drink).
There are subtle and obvious links to Louisiana, and specifically New Orleans, all over the Port Orleans resort. You may not have realized the relationship at the bar before, but now you can amble into the River Roost or Scat Cat’s and confidently order a real connection back through history.