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Food Porn Friday: What we talk about when we talk about frozen daiquiris

Fresh fruit frozen daiquiris at St. Lawrence, in the French Quarter.  Take that, "Jungle Juice."

Fresh fruit frozen daiquiris at St. Lawrence, in the French Quarter. Take that, "Jungle Juice."

New Orleans, undisputedly, is the birthplace of the American cocktail. It's one of many notable cultural contributions by our town, and something we take a great deal of pride in to this very day. There's a good reason that Tales of the Cocktail, the booze industry's most illustrious meeting of mixology minds, takes place here every summer. The Sazerac, the Ramos Fizz, the Corpse Reviver, and (of course) the Vieux Carre have all called the Crescent City home for over a century, ever since a pharmacist named Antoine Peychaud decided to combine some of his homemade bitters with sugar and a little brandy. Cocktails and New Orleans go hand in hand; you simply can't have one without the other.

Before hipsters started sporting retro-chic handlebar mustaches, suspenders and arm garters (because everybody knows that you can't make a decent drink without painstakingly coiffured facial hair), New Orleans was there, before and through prohibition, all the way through every wacky drinks fad, from tikis to Sex on the Beach shots, from the "everything is a martini if you serve it in a martini glass" days of the late '90s to artisanal gin mixed with homemade tonic water with genuine quinine. We've survived those, and we'll survive all the newer, inevitably more silly trends that are bound to follow. No matter what novel or antique fashion takes the cultural fancy, you'll always be able to get a proper Old Fashioned in New Orleans. That, I know, is a certainty.

But I've been thinking about one unique aspect of New Orleans cocktail culture recently, one that has nothing to do with hand-sculpted ice spheres fashioned with a bar cleaver, house-made falernum, or spirits infused with ghost chiles or rare North African herbs. Quite the opposite. I'm talking about something that, to many, has come to define the drinking culture in New Orleans:

Frozen daiquiris.

Now, I'm not talking about the daiquiri proper, ie. the "Hemingway daiquiri," a splendidly simple combination of white rum, fresh lime juice and sugar. I'm talking about those oh-so familiar Willy Wonka-esque concoctions arriving in every hue of the visible light spectrum from Day-Glo orange to Smurf blue, radioactive chartreuse and cotton candy pink. The ones with names like 190 Octane, Crawgator, Hypnotic, Banana Banshee, Cat 5 Hurricane, Triple Bypass and Tropical Itch. Yes, there is a frozen daiquiri called the Tropical Itch. Hand to God. I've never had one, but my best guess is that it tastes like dark rum, pineapples and regret.

Some -- especially the more snooty mixological types (the worst kind of bartender, in my experience) -- might consider these sugary, overproof alcohol slushies a bastardization of their craft. Especially because they're generally served out of swirling, electronic tankards with soft-serve ice cream spigots into giant polystyrene "go-cups." It flies in the face of their effete, practiced artistry; pretty much anyone can yank a lever to dispense a hooch squishy into a 64 oz. Styrofoam feed-trough punctuated by a straw. No apprenticeship needed, no years of studying recipes, no mustache wax. Just a simple pull, and *sploosh*, out it pours in just seconds, making sure you don't miss your chance at nailing "Living on a Prayer" on the karaoke stage.

It's kind of crazy, and not a little telling, that New Orleanians have a love affair with the frozen daiquiri. And it takes all kinds, too. I know formidable local chefs and bartenders who take nothing but delight in cooling down with a icy Rum Runner or Jungle Juice on a sweltering summer day in the Big Easy. There are now even a number of locations where a hot, thirsty New Orleanian can get a frozen daiquiri featuring top shelf ingredients and juice made from local, seasonal fruit, like the Pontchatoula strawberry and frozen Pimms Cup versions at St. Lawrence (featured above).

Having grown up here, of course I have my own personal history with the city's favorite frozen treat. It was, in fact, the first alcoholic beverage I ever purchased and imbibed, which happened on Bourbon St. during Mardi Gras weekend when I was sixteen years old. On the urging of my buddies, I mustered up enough chutzpah to order a strawberry daiquiri at one of the ubiquitous slushy vendors, which the bartender took no compunction in selling me, as he was literally making money hand over fist. Not that I take pride in or advocate underage drinking, but I didn't get "tourist drunk" and pass out in the unspeakably toxic mess that coats Bourbon St. like liquid garbage. It was only the one, a small one at that, and I was feeling fine and fuzzy, strolling through the French Quarter with my friends and taking in the sights, sounds and smells, making sure to furtively peek inside the open doors of gentlemen's clubs to see if we could catch a glimpse of the girls.

It was magical.

I held this story to myself for many years, until recently, when I decided to share it with my father.

"You walked down Bourbon St. with a daiquiri during Mardi Gras when you were sixteen?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied, somewhat sheepishly.

"Hmph," he said. "Well...so did I."

Now that is a New Orleans kind of tradition.


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.