Sebastian Diaz is one of three New Orleans brothers who began talking about creating unique brands of alcohol tied to their home state of Louisiana. “We always wanted to do something different in the market,” Diaz said. Their King Cake Vodka and Beignet Vodka have become so popular, the Diaz brothers are on their third production round — and they only launched the brand last October.
In Healdsburg, California, the Murray Family of New Orleans produce award-winning, limited-production wines in their Flambeaux winery, named for a Mardi Gras tradition that continues today. Both make the perfect addition to any Carnival gathering, whether in New Orleans, Mobile and along the Gulf Coast or at a celebration in your own home.
The first idea for the Diaz brothers was a king cake vodka, tailored after the cakes enjoyed during the Carnival season in Louisiana, which begins on Jan. 6, known as the Epiphany or Twelfth Night. The tradition of the gateau de rois began in France, with the recipient of a bean within the pastry becoming the royalty of the evening. In Louisiana, the tradition expanded. Those who receive the baby inside a piece of king cake must purchase the next cake, and so on. King cakes are enjoyed from Jan. 6 to Mardi Gras, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. This year, the honored date of Mardi Gras is March 1.
Louisiana king cakes are also much sweeter than the French variety, a cake dough shaped into an oval that’s adorned with icing and other flavors and sometimes stuffed with cream cheese and flavored jellies.
But the Diaz Brothers entered the market first with a Beignet Vodka, patterned after the fluffy doughnut-type pastry, topped with confectioners sugar, that’s sold at Café du Monde in the city’s French Quarter. To achieve that sweet flavor, the brothers add the sugar when the alcohol reaches 180 proof and is diluted with water, which breaks down molecules and heats up the alcohol. Adding the sugar at this heated stage makes all the difference, Diaz said.
“It works for a better flavor, nothing artificial,” he said. “We cook it (the vodka) like a fried beignet.”
The Birth of a Carnival-Inspired Spirit
The brothers developed both products during the pandemic, launching first Beignet Vodka in October 2021, then Masquerade King Cake Vodka on Jan. 6, the beginning of the Carnival season.
Beignet Vodka is made from 100 percent corn, distilled six times and is gluten free. The Masquerade King Cake Vodka comes with a hand-crafted hologram label sporting the colors of Carnival with its bottle top coated in a white wax to resemble the icing on a king cake.
Both products are currently available in all Louisiana markets and will be distributed soon in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and in the Florida Panhandle. The vodkas may be enjoyed straight, as shots or combined with flavors for unique cocktail creations.
Here are two recipes to serve this Carnival season.
Beignets & Coffee
Courtesy of Cena Restaurant, Hammond, Louisiana
2 ounces Beignet Vodka
1 ounce Coffee Liqueur
Shot of espresso
Splash of whole milk
Mix the ingredients together in a cocktail shaker with ice. Coat a champagne coup or similar glass with powdered sugar, then strain the mixed ingredients into the glass.
Note: We used Cathead Hoodoo Chicory Liqueur for an added New Orleans flavor.
Courtesy of Roux & Brew, Ponchatoula, Louisiana
2 ounces Beignet Vodka
1/2 ounce Irish Cream
1/2 ounce white chocolate liqueur
Splash of Half-and-Half
Sprinkle the top of a martini glass with cinnamon sugar. Rim the glass with powdered sugar. Combine ingredients into a cocktail shaker and pour into the glass.
Light up the Night with Flambeaux
Before the advent of electricity — or at least the kind that travels — Carnival parades used flambeaux, fire torches carried by men to light the parade route. Flambeaux comes from the French flambé, meaning flame. Carrying these heavy wooden beams with several oil-burning lanterns on top was quite the job, and parade watchers would toss coins to the men for their service.
Today, Carnival parade floats come equipped with elaborate lighting, but some parades still use traditional flambeaux. Men dance and swing their flambeaux to the delight of parade watchers and the grateful still throw money for the men’s efforts.
In honor of this tradition, the Murray Family of New Orleans named their California vineyard Flambeaux Winery. Vintner Art Murray creates delicious cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, chardonnay and a rosé in their Healdsburg winery, all bottles adorned with the traditional flambeaux carrier on labels. It’s all grown and bottled in Sonoma County.
The acclaimed, award-winning Flambeaux is available in select markets around the country and in several locations in and around New Orleans and makes for an excellent addition to any Carnival celebration. Flambeaux wine may be also purchased online from the company’s website at www.flambeauxwine.com.
A native of New Orleans, Cheré Dastugue Coen is an award-winning food and travel writer who never misses a call for king cake this time of year. She writes about quirky Southern places and people in her Weird, Wacky and Wild South blog at WeirdSouth.com. Cheré also writes popular fiction under the pen name of Cherie Claire.
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