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Hurricanes: Drinking Up a Storm and Other Disastrous Cocktails

Once the windows have been boarded up, a cache of water, food and batteries has been stockpiled and the bookcases have been bolted to the wall, sometime there's nothing left to do but have a drink

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The Hurricane cocktail, a New Orleans specialty. Image courtesy of Flickr user Guy Bisson

Between oddball earthquakes and far-reaching hurricanes, much of the country is in disaster preparation mode right now. But once the windows have been boarded up, a cache of water, food and batteries has been stockpiled and the bookcases have been bolted to the wall, sometimes there’s nothing left to do but have a drink.

That’s always been the tradition in places like New Orleans, where people sought safety in numbers, throwing hurricane hootenannies that were as much about partying down as hunkering down. It should be noted that these festivities are reserved for relatively mild hurricanes—after Katrina, at least, I don’t think too many people are laughing off the seriousness of the devastating storm.

Even on bluebird days, though, New Orleans is known for its Hurricane cocktails, the ultra-boozy concoction invented at Pat O’Brien’s, in the French Quarter, during World War II. According to company lore, the fruity, supersized cocktail was born of the need to use up the relative abundance of rum compared to whiskey during the war. Its name comes from the 26 oz. glass, which is shaped like a hurricane lamp.

Though Hurricanes are the most famous drink named for a natural disaster, they aren’t the only one:

A Mudslide—an oozy mixture usually made from Kahlua, Irish Cream and vodka and sometimes served frozen—gets its name from its thick, mud-brown appearance. The inventor, according to LoveToKnow, was a bartender in the Grand Cayman Islands during the 1950s, known only as Old Judd. Drink too many of these rich, sweet concoctions and the slide may reverse course. I know of what I speak.

A Tornado gets its name from its presentation—it’s stirred in between additions of liquor, sugar, cola and ice to resemble a miniature twister—but could just as easily apply to the spinning-room effect that may be caused by mixing whiskey, vodka, rum and tequila in the same drink.

The Earthquake is an absinthe cocktail whose invention is attributed to the Post-Impressionist French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, best-known for his posters for the Moulin Rouge. The name—Tremblement de Terre in French—comes from its effects on one’s head. Noticing a theme? The simplest version of the drink is half absinthe (a favorite of the artist, who was an alcoholic, and others in his bohemian circle) and half cognac, though other recipes call for whiskey, gin or brandy.

During a real earthquake, though, anything goes. I was in college in San Francisco during the 1989 earthquake. After hours of fretting over my missing boyfriend, who had been on his way from the East Bay (over the Oakland Bay Bridge, which had partially collapsed) to visit me, I discovered he had been at a bar on Haight Street, where they were serving free “earthquake specials”—meaning whatever booze bottles hadn’t broken—by candlelight. By the time I found him I needed a drink myself. And a new boyfriend.

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About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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