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The Hurricane cocktail: how a cheap New Orleans tipple became a classy drink, and where to sip it in Hong Kong

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 7/12/2018 Robin Lynam
a glass of orange juice © SCMP

Scotch and American whiskies were both in short supply in the United States during the second world war, but rum was plentiful. Suppliers accordingly took to twisting the arms of bar managers, such as George Oechsner Jnr, of Pat O'Brien's Bar, in the French Quarter of New Orleans, to take more of their surplus bottles.

The deal was that the bars could buy a few cases of premium liquor, but only if they also bought a much larger quantity of basic Caribbean rum - for which there was little customer demand. Oechsner asked his bartenders to come up with a rum-based drink that would help him move the inventory he had reluctantly built up. After much experimentation, they came up with a formula involving rum and passion fruit, although the rest of the details are unclear.

The Hurricane - an insensitive name, you might think, for a cocktail sold in that part of the world - was so called because it was served in a glass shaped like a hurri­cane lamp. There are versions of the story that have the first Pat O'Brien's Hurricanes being simply given away to drunken sailors, but over the long term the idea has served the bar well as a more conventionally commercial proposition.

The Hurricane is still the Pat O'Brien's signature drink, although the original recipe is long lost, and the version served today is based on a much simplified formula, involving the house's own bottled premix and a single gold rum, mixed in equal parts.

The drink is also popular in other New Orleans bars, often made with lemon juice and orange juice as well as rum and passion fruit - quite often also with a dash of grenadine and/or simple syrup, and garnished with a maraschino cherry.

a glass of orange juice © Provided by South China Morning Post Publishers Limited

In its birthplace, the Hurricane is still primarily a means of shifting large volumes of rum, but other bars worldwide take the finer points of the drink more seriously.

Among them is Foxglove, on Duddell Street, which features a drink called Hurricane Mania in the "Exotic" section of its new cocktail list.

"The Hard Rock Cafés have made a big thing of a Hurricane, but theirs is more of a punch, using the hurricane glass. We've gone for something a bit different," says group beverage manager Gerry Olino.

Foxglove's take on the drink reconnects it with its original strong passion fruit character and incorporates the blend of different rums that most serious versions of the cocktail use as a spirit base.

All Foxglove's cocktails have a fictional backstory, involving a bon viveur called Frank Minza who, according to Olino, is supposed to have discovered this particular formula in a bar on a Caribbean island. On many of those islands the name can refer to a wide range of concoctions served in hurri­cane glasses - in the Bahamas a Hurricane is made with cream and coffee liqueur - but the Foxglove version is closer to educated guesses as to what the original New Orleans formula might have been.

"The trick is in the blend of rums - white and spiced - which go into the drink," Olino says, adding that the house has its own "secret formula" for this.

"The basic formula is 60ml of the house blend of rums, 22.5ml fresh lime juice and 30ml of a combination of fresh passion fruit and passion fruit purée - which, along with a little extra sugar, intensifies the fruit flavour," he explains.

The other ingredient, which adds a subtle aromatic touch and a hint of anise, is La Fée absinthe.

"We use a pilsner glass, rather than the traditional hurricane glass, which we spray with absinthe to get the aroma. It's shaken, double strained, poured over crushed ice, then garnished with fresh mint and our home-made dehydrated orange," Olino says.

The result is a well balanced cocktail with fresh acidity from the lime comple­menting the strong tropical character of the passion fruit, in harmony with the spicy hints of the rum blend.

"It's quite dangerous," says Olino. "You don't really notice the alcohol."

The pilsner glass also gives the drink some gravitas - the hurricane glass has become associated with some fairly frivolous tiki cocktails over the years, many of them a vivid grenadine red. Hurricane Mania takes its colour naturally from the rum and the passion fruit.

If you go to Pat O'Brien's in New Orleans you will get the drink in a traditional glass - indeed, souvenir glasses are a big part of the bar's business - but, generally speaking, if you order a Hurricane in the Big Easy it will come in a not very environmentally responsible plastic cup.

New Orleans is unusual in the US in that it is legal in the city to carry an open drink from a bar out onto the street, and to consume it as you stroll along. In fact,it's a near obligatory part of the experience of visiting the city, but you don't want to be carrying a breakable hurricane glass down Bourbon Street.

You won't get a plastic cup at Foxglove - or be encouraged to carouse on the street outside - but in the present climate of opinion on plastic straws I was a little surprised to see them using one for the Hurricane Mania, and say so to Olino.

"It's not plastic," he says, with a smile. "We don't use plastic. This is actually biodegradable. It looks like plastic but it's made with potato starch. The whole group is using bamboo and biodegradable potato-starch straws."

If you feel like sampling the Hard Rock Café's popular version of the Hurricane as a point of comparison, Lan Kwai Fong is a short walk from Duddell Street. The variant at the Island Shangri-La's Lobster Bar, which incorporates pineapple juice and home-made lime cordial, also makes a refreshing change.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Copyright (c) 2018. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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