Secrets Of New Orleans' Cocktail, The Sazerac

Sazerac | © Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr
Sazerac | © Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr
Photo of Tori Chalmers
8 December 2016

From the festivities on Bourbon Street to the Cajun food, festivals, art galleries, and jazz music, The Big Easy is a glistening diamond of the South. Stop and savor it all over a quick drink; the Sazerac is a classic cocktail here has been around for donkey’s years and still has people traveling far and wide to taste it.

Sazerac | © Patrick Truby/Flickr

Since 2008, the Sazerac has served as the official cocktail of New Orleans. Many may feel that the Hand Grenade is a worthier contender. Sure, this firecracker of a drink will always play an important role in Nola drinking culture. However, nothing tops the Sazerac. Riddled with history, the Sazerac is a dark horse and a source of contention amongst drinks experts. Some say that its pre-civil war origins make it the oldest cocktail in America. Others beg to differ.

Sazerac Ingredients | © Patrick Truby/Flickr

The way in which the ingredients blend perfectly will satisfy any palates. Cognac and rye whiskey are used interchangeably. Peychaud’s Bitters add that extra kick, with the grand finale being a dash of absinthe or Herbsaint. Just a touch of water and sugar helps the medicine go down. This drink is made in a meticulous manner using two chilled old-fashioned glasses. Yes, it will make you fall weak at the knees. Literally.

Peychauds Bitters | © Graeme Maclean/Flickr

A most unfortunate epidemic of phylloxera caused pandemonium in Europe during the late 19th century. France took a hit, as did the French vineyards. This devastation led to the main ingredient being changed from Cognac to rye whiskey. When the green fairy was banished from America in 1912, other anise flavors (such as the locally produced Herbsaint) were used.

Now, hop in your time capsule to early 19th-century New Orleans and meet the apothecary Antoine Peychaud. This loose cannon of a man deserves recognition for creating ‘Peychaud’s Bitters,’ one of the most important ingredients in the Sazerac. Next, place yourself in 1850 and meet Sewell T. Taylor. This chap sold his New Orleans bar, ‘The Merchants Exchange Coffee House,’ and made a career change to an importer of spirits. He favored a specific brand of Cognac called Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils. After this, a man named Aaron Bird took on the bar and changed it to the ‘Sazerac Coffee House.’ In case you were wondering, they didn’t just sell coffee. And so, the plot thickens. Apparently, Bird started selling Taylor’s beloved imported Sazerac and added Peychaud’s bitters. As the years progressed, several hands took over the bar until eventually a bloke named Thomas Handy grabbed the wheel. It was Handy who officially printed the first Sazerac cocktail recipe in 1908. The lines are hazy regarding who is responsible for officially creating the first Sazerac. Whether it was just one person or a collective effort, what they created is dynamite.

Sazerac | © Susanna Bolle/Flickr

It is worth noting that this stellar tipple has even made a couple of cameo film appearances. The Bond villain in Live And Let Die ordered two Sazeracs while in New Orleans, as did Benjamin’s father in The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. Whether you liken yourself to a Bond villain or just your average Joe Bloggs, this little beauty of a drink is worth a taste. Besides, it’s not like you need an excuse to take a trip to New Orleans. If you are looking for an excuse, though, you know what to get.

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