I spent a month in the Florida Keys last winter. This year, I’m hanging out in Miami. Key Largo is only 30 minutes away from my campground, and one recent, sunny afternoon, Alabama Jack’s on Card Sound Road beckoned.
Alabama Jack’s is a classic roadhouse, serving up drinks, live music and conch fritters since 1947. I chuckled when I read the Trip Advisor reviews – people complaining it is a dive bar. Of course it is a dive bar! I don’t know about you, but that’s why I go.
I was thrilled to see a patron sitting at the bar, drinking a Rum Runner. I had completely forgotten about that cocktail, despite enjoying many of them last year in the Keys. It’s no wonder the Rum Runner is so ubiquitous in the Keys; legend has it that it was created in 1957 at the Holiday Isle Tiki Bar in Islamorada.
Rum Runner recipes are as varied as the bars and bartenders who serve them, but the basics are ice, pineapple juice, orange juice, blackberry liqueur, banana liqueur, light rum, dark rum or aged rum, and grenadine, blended. (They don’t blend them at Alabama Jack’s; hey, it’s a dive bar!) If you want to get fancy, float an ounce of 151 rum on top.
Happily sipping my Rum Runner got me musing about how certain parts of the country are known for certain cocktails, and those I’ve sampled in my travels. Here’s the boozy breakdown!
A few caveats: Drinks named for cities and towns don’t necessarily make the list, unless they are initimately associated with the area to this day. I won’t tell you to go drink a Manhattan in Manhattan. If you disagree with my conclusions, let me know in the comments. This is not necessarily a “When in Rome, drink like the locals do” article, because the locals may find the libation trite or cliched. They live there, after all. But, don’t you pay them no never mind! If you’re playing tourist, be a tourist.
Arizona – Prickly Pear Margaritas
Prickly pear cacti have been a staple of the Mexican and Central American diet for thousands of years. They grow wild throughout the American southwest. The prickly pear plant has three edible parts: the pad of the cactus (nopal), which is like a vegetable, the petals of the flowers, which can be added to salads, and the pear (tuna), which is a fruit.
Sure, you can find prickly pears in states other than Arizona, but Arizona seems to have the highest concentration of prickly pear products. From jellies to syrups to pies, the stuff is everywhere!
To make a prickly pear margarita, substitute prickly pear syrup or juice for the orange liqueur usually in a marg, such as Triple Sec or Cointreau. It sure makes a pretty cocktail. But beware, prickly pear juice stains!
Louisiana – Daiquiris
Sure, you can have a Voodoo Daiquiri at Jean Lafitte‘s Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and you should. Here I am, imitating Al Hirt’s famous LP cover, holding a daiquiri instead of a trumpet.
But, to properly imbibe a daiquiri in Louisiana, you simply must go to a drive-through daiquiri stand. Here’s one of my favorites, in Natchitoches, Louisiana, where I would stop on the way back to the rig after a day of sightseeing.
Something so legally counter-intuitive and fraught with the potential for abuse can only exist in a state like Louisiana. Don’t put the straw in it, or it will be assumed that you’ve been drinking it while driving. And don’t think you’re clever by taking off the lid and taking a sip – police will check.
Maine – Coffee Brandy
I was chatting up the locals in Bangor, Maine at the Waverly bar, when I noticed a sign for homemade cookies.
I asked the bartender what Allen’s was, and I was introduced to “The Champagne of Maine,” coffee brandy. Specifically, Allen’s Coffee Brandy.
Mixed with a little cream, you have a tasty concoction akin to a White Russian. It is such a Maine phenomenon that Atlas Obscura has even written an article about it.
New Orleans – Sazeracs & Vieux Carres
To hear tell it, so many cocktails have been created in New Orleans. Some of the stories are actually true! Be sure to stop in for Ramos Gin Fizzes (1850) at the Roosevelt Hotel.
It is a drink so near and dear to my heart that I paid my respects at Henry Ramos’s grave!
The Ramos Gin Fizz originated in New Orleans, but the adult beverages that truly epitomize NOLA are the Sazerac (1850’s) and the Vieux Carre (1930’s).
Legend has it that the Sazerac was one of the first cocktails ever made.
* 1 teaspoon sugar
* 3 or 4 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
* a few drops water
* 2 ounces rye
* 1 teaspoon Herbsaint, Pernod, pastis, or absinthe
* lemon peel
Vieux Carre literally translates to “French Quarter,” where the Carousel Bar is located in the Hotel Monteleone.
Do your best to snag a seat at the revolving bar and taste a little bit of history.
* 1/2 teaspoon Benedictine
* 1 dash Peychaud’s Bitters
* 1 dash Angostura Bitters
* 3/4 ounce rye
* 3/4 ounce cognac
* 3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
Savannah – Chatham Artillery Punch
Whenever I’m in Savannah I have one (or 10) Chatham Artillery Punches, especially since you can get them to go! Here’s one at the Pirate’s House, in a Go Cup.
Now before you go doubting what I’m about to tell you, here’s a quote from Howard Hughes: “Never research interesting facts.” Savannah is located in Chatham County, Georgia. The Chatham Artillery, the oldest military organization in Georgia, was visited by George Washington. The boys all ran back to their barracks and grabbed whatever ingredients they had for a communal drink. (This is a very difficult drink to reduce down to one cocktail because of it!)
A word of warning: This punch carries quite a punch! It will really sneak up on you.
Wisconsin – Old Fashioneds
When in Wisconsin, don’t miss the chance to sip an Old Fashioned at a supper club. The Old Fashioned is taken to new heights in Wisconsin, where you can order it sour (with sweet and sour), sweet (with lemon lime soda), or pressed (a little of both). The most popular liquor for the libation is brandy, but you can have it with bourbon or Southern Comfort. Be sure to use a whole lot of Angostura bitters! (At least four or five dashes.) Choice of garnish is either cherries or olives.
In Milwaukee I even found Old Fashioneds pouring from a “bubbler,” which is Cheese Head Speak for “water fountain.”
* 1 sugar cube, muddled with the booze and bitters
* Splash lemon-lime soda, or sweet and sour, or both
* 2 oz brandy or bourbon or Southern Comfort
* Several dashes of Angostura bitters
* Garnish with either cherries or olives
Wyoming – Koltiska Liqueur
Koltiska is a liqueur (60 proof) made since the 1800s by the Koltiska family in Sheridan, Wyoming. It is grain-based. It’s primary note is cinnamon, although it is much smoother and more buttery than the Fireball variety. Now in their fifth generation, the family takes pride that they were the first distillery in Wyoming.
Folks generally shoot Koltiska, or drink it in a Kowboy Kool-Aid: Koltiska, Red Bull, and cranberry juice. Okay, as if you couldn’t tell from that last recipe with Red Bull in it, ”folks” are mostly Wyoming college students.
That’s the list for now! I’m sure I’ll have more to add as I continue to travel around North America. Please leave recommendations in the comments!