“What makes a great holiday cocktail is that sense of nostalgia,” says Kimberly Patton-Bragg, the bar director for Palm & Pine, a South American–influenced restaurant and cocktail bar on North Rampart Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter. “We are all gathered together, and at the holidays, we want something symbolically warm and fuzzy, even if it’s served cold; something that takes us back to childhood. Here in New Orleans, childhood is all about the sno-balls.”
Sno-balls, an iconic New Orleans staple, were invented in the city in the 1930s by a man named Ernest Hansen, who crafted a machine that would finely shave ice. Sno-ball stands dot the city today, each serving its own roster of flavor combinations, but that ice is essential.
In fact, want to start an argument real quick-like? Refer to a sno-ball as a snow cone in New Orleans. The consistency of a sno-ball is a thing of beauty, with packed ice that holds a flavored syrup deftly throughout, each bite an icy kiss of sweet almond or tart cherry. No crunchy, sharp snow cone ice will be tolerated.
“The drink I created,” Patton-Bragg continues, “was meant to honor that childhood treat of going to the stand with your family, with a wintery twist. I always think of roasted nuts and sugary desserts at Thanksgiving and in December. Oh, and bourbon. Because we are Southern.”
The recipe uses many of the holiday-time flavors we Southerners adore during the cold months, including roasted sweet potato, sweetened condensed milk, and orange. And while Patton-Bragg couldn’t get her hands on a sno-ball machine for the bar, she says you can easily make the crushed ice at home. “You can work out those holiday moments of frustration with this one too,” she says with a laugh. “I’d say get a Lewis bag and a mallet and pound the hell out of some ice. Or, go over to Sonic and buy a bag. Man, don’t you just love Sonic ice?”
She notes two potential pitfalls when making this drink. “Don’t use a blender to create the crushed ice,” she warns. “It’s going to make ice that melts too fast, and the result will be a watery cocktail. Plus, “Make sure you strain your bourbon after it infuses. You don’t want bits of sweet potato in your drink.”
And if you happen to be in the French Quarter this season, stop in at Palm & Pine to try Patton-Bragg’s take. She plans to put the cocktail on the roster, for the holidays only.