Mardi Gras refers to events of the Carnival celebration. It begins on or after the Christian feast of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and concludes on the day before Ash Wednesday. The term "Mardi Gras" is French for "Fat Tuesday." It recognizes the practice of eating rich and fatty foods before fasting during the season of Lent.
However, many people celebrate the occasion by wearing costumes and having some cocktails and other types of alcohol. Read on to learn about its history and see our list of the best Mardi Gras cocktails for the festival period.
Mardi Gras Origin
The true Mardi Gras origin began in Medieval Europe, continuing into Rome and Venice, and to the French House of Bourbons in the 17th and 18th centuries. French explorers and settlers brought the traditional revelry of "Beouf Gras," or "fatted calf," to their new territories in North America.
Arrival In North America
On March 2, 1699, French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived on land 60 miles south of New Orleans. He named it "Pointe du Mardi Gras" to celebrate the holiday's eve.
He also established Fort Louis de la Louisiane in 1702, which later developed into the modern city of Mobile, Alabama. This small settlement celebrated America's first Mardi Gras festival in 1703 and founded the Masque de la Mobile, a secret society, in 1704. This was the event that is recognized as being the Mardi Gras origin in North America.
Carnival in New Orleans
The explorer de Bienville later founded New Orleans in 1718. By the 1730s, it became an open celebration in town, with elegant society balls established in the 1740s. These balls set the blueprint for modern balls in the city.
A 1781 report to the Spanish colonial governing body was the first mention of "Carnival." By the 1830s, New Orleans saw street parades of maskers with carriages and horseback riders. In 1857, the Mystic Crew of Comus featured anonymous members parading spectacular floats and organizing masked balls.
In the 1870s, newspapers promoted the festival's events in advance. Governor Henry Warmoth signed the "Mardi Gras Act" in 1875, making Fat Tuesday a legal holiday in Louisiana.
The festival season varies from city to city and around the world. New Orleans considers it to begin on Twelfth Night (the last night of Christmas and beginning of Epiphany) to Ash Wednesday. Many other cities and towns recognize the three days before Ash Wednesday as Mardi Gras.
The festival events in Mobile begin in November with mystic balls on Thanksgiving. They continue in January and February with parades and balls leading up to midnight before Ash Wednesday.
Costumes and Colors
Mardi Gras usually includes the use of costumes and masks by its participants. In New Orleans, people often dress up as fairies, mythical characters, animals, or wear costumes from the Middle Ages. Numerous modern costumes feature colored capes and feathers.
Participants in Venice often wear gold masks as part of their costumes. The most popular celebratory colors are purple, gold, and green. Purple represents justice, gold stands for power, and green means faith.
Mardi Gras Cocktails
Don't worry if you can't make it to New Orleans this year. We've compiled a list of the best cocktail drinks (with simple cocktail ingredients) you can make in the comfort of your own home. They're sure to get you in the mood for celebrating Fat Tuesday.
Here's our list of top 10 Mardi Gras cocktails:
This cocktail originated in New Orleans at Pat O'Brien's in 1941. Served in a glass named for the drink itself, it includes rum-learn how to make a cocktail with rum, fruit juices, maraschino cherries, and a cocktail umbrella. It's one of the most popular cocktail drinks served in the bars on Bourbon Street year-round and is regarded as the quintessential Mardi Gras cocktail. It can use any of all the types of rum.
The Sazerac is considered the official drink of the city of New Orleans. If you're in the Big Easy, stop by the Roosevelt Hotel's bar, which has been serving it since 1949.
We recommend this drink if you're a fan of the Old Fashioned, as the Sazerac recipe is similar. When you think of Mardi Gras cocktails, this one should be near the top of your list. It's one of the most popular cocktail recipes in New Orleans at any time during the year.
3- Vieux Carré
The Vieux Carré is also perfect for fans of the Sazerac and Old Fashioned. Walter Bergeron, a bartender at the legendary Carousel Bar in New Orleans' Hotel Monteleone, created the Vieux Carré in the 1930s. It's the ideal mixed drink for more relaxed celebrations.
4- French 75
The French 75 recipe first appeared in a New York magazine in 1927. It first appeared in one of the best cocktail recipe books, Harry Craddock's "The Savoy Cocktail Book," in 1930. Since the opening of Arnaud's French 75 Bar in 2003, it's become one of the most popular New Orleans drinks and Mardi Gras cocktails.
The Grasshopper features green crème de menthe, white crème de cacao, and heavy cream. This mixed drink was probably first served at Tujague's in the French Quarter in 1919 and became popular in the 1950s. Many people would say a Grasshopper brings to mind the flavor of mint chocolate chip ice cream.
6- Brandy Crusta
A New Orleans bartender named Joseph Santini invented this drink in the 1850s, making it one of the oldest cocktails in recorded history. It had been out of the public's mind until David Wondrich included it in his book Imbibe! in 2007 and returned it to popularity.
Bartender Chris Hannah of Arnaud's French 75 Bar in New Orleans revived the drink in its home city in 2004. He also updated the recipe for modern cocktail enthusiasts and now it's become one of the essential Mardi Gras cocktails.
7- Mint Julep
Here's another mint-flavored drink that's the signature drink of The Kentucky Derby. The Mint Julep gained popularity in the South in the 18th century. It first appeared in print in John Davis' book "Travels of Four and a Half Years in the United States of America."
Don't wait until the first weekend in May to enjoy a Mint Julep. It's a signature French Quarter cocktail and perfect for any festive occasion throughout the year.
8- Bourbon Hot Toddy
Evenings in late February or early March can still have cool temperatures in New Orleans. That's why we've included the Bourbon Hot Toddy on our list of Mardi Gras cocktails.
The drink originated in Scotland in the 1850s, but most Americans use whiskey nowadays. It's a customizable cocktail, but it usually always includes a spirit, hot water, sugar, and a lemon peel. Get warm after an evening of festivities on Bourbon Street or in the comfort of your living room.
9- Ramos Gin Fizz
The Ramos Gin Fizz was first mixed and served at the Imperial Cabinet Saloon in New Orleans in 1888. Henry Charles "Carl" Ramos served the first one, and it's now one of the city's most iconic cocktails. It's a great step up from a classic gin and tonic water concoction.
However, not all bartenders enjoy making this cocktail because of the shaking effort required to mix it. If you have a cocktail shaker in your home bar essentials and don't mind the extra effort, it's worth mixing up.
10- Brandy Milk Punch
Brennan's in the French Quarter claims responsibility for this mixed drink. Versions of it appeared in Ireland before it became popular in New Orleans in the 1940s.
Brennan's still serves Brandy Milk Punch as part of their brunch menu. Many residents ponder what is brunch without one as it's become a staple of New Orleans culture and is a prominent French Quarter cocktail.
Frequently Asked Questions About Mardi Gras Cocktails
What is the traditional drink of Mardi Gras?
The Hurricane cocktail was created at Pat O'Brien's in the French Quarter in the 1940s. It's a well-known New Orleans cocktail and is regarded as the signature drink of Mardi Gras.
What is the most popular cocktail drink in New Orleans?
The Sazerac is the most popular cocktail and the signature drink of the city of New Orleans. Cognac, whiskey, and absinthe combine to make this drink. It's one of the most popular Mardi Gras cocktails and originated in New Orleans in the 1940s.
What is the purple drink in New Orleans?
The Voodoo Daiquiri is often called the "Purple Drank." It's the signature cocktail at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, built in 1772. The drink is a grape-flavored frozen daiquiri containing bourbon and Everclear.
Experience Mardi Gras at Home
No matter which type of cocktail you prefer, there's one on our list that will suit your tastes. After all, if you can't travel to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, this is the best way to experience the festivities without leaving home. Get together with some friends and whip up your favorite Mardi Gras cocktails.