“I’ve never had a memorable Hurricane,” says Kirk Estopinal. It’s not a statement you’d expect from a lifelong New Orleanian, whose French Quarter cocktail bar, Cane & Table, is located a stone’s throw from Pat O’Brien’s.
Like so many cocktails, the origin of the lurid red Hurricane is shrouded in mystery. The most popular account, however, asserts that during the time of the drink’s invention in the 1940s, in order to receive a case of whiskey—a hard-to-come-by commodity during the war years—bars had to agree to a shipment of several more cases of rum. To offload the excess rum, Pat O’Brien created the Hurricane, a mixture of rum and store-bought tropical fruit–flavored syrup called fassionola, drawing its name from the glass it was served in. Despite the radioactive glow, or perhaps because of it, Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane in its billowy glass has become an oft-imitated Bourbon Street staple.
The dearth of memorable expressions owes, in part, to the inherent artificial nature of the original drink. Fassionola syrup, the key to the cocktail’s generic “tropical” flavor, is a bottled mixture produced by the Jonathan English Company, and whose true ingredients have only ever been guessed at. “They had three tropical syrups—red, green and yellow,” explains Estopinal. “The labels were exactly the same, there was no differentiator [on the labels] of what the flavors were.” (Today, Pat O’Brien’s signature version is made from a proprietary mix that comes in both liquid and powdered forms and is best described as “red-flavored.”)
The murky nature of that key ingredient has spawned a school of drinks that bear the Hurricane name, but taste little alike. When Estopinal set out to put the famed NOLA classic on his menu almost a year ago, there was no standard-bearer to turn to. Even honest attempts to create a fresh alternative were unified only in color and glassware. For the most part, what tied them together them was a tendency toward cloying. “It’s always so crazy sweet,” says Estopinal. “We knew that if we were going to sell a Hurricane, we had to make it very dry.”
This came down to the formulation of the bar’s own house fassionola syrup, a process that took plenty of trial and error to perfect. Digging around old tiki forums and archived eGullet posts from more than a decade ago, Estopinal mapped the most common characteristics that appeared in homemade versions of the syrup. “It was always passion fruit,” he recalls. To that, he added pomegranate juice for color and reduced the mixture to a syrup-like consistency. “It was pretty good, but it tasted more cherry than ‘exotic,’” he notes. To correct course, he ultimately dropped the pomegranate juice in favor of guava jelly, another popular ingredient in DIY versions. The only problem was the color. To get that signature red hue, he ended up steeping hibiscus in the mixture for 24 hours, a technique that adds dramatic vibrancy and a drying quality from the tannins. “It has all the weird tropical vibes, but it’s also dry,” explains Estopinal.
It’s this version that stars in the Cane & Table Hurricane, a menu mainstay since debuting nearly a year ago. To the house fassionola syrup, Estopinal adds three-quarters of an ounce of lime juice and, for the spirit component, a blend of Puerto Rican Don Q and Jamaican Coruba rums, for a more robust molasses profile, compared with the typical float of 151-proof rum.
Of course, the whole thing is served in the signature Hurricane glass, modeled after New Orleans’ hurricane lamps. “To me,” says Estopinal, “that’s really what makes the drink iconic.”