New Orleans is famous for many things: Mardi Gras, Gumbo, and Jazz (to name a few). But it’s less known for being the home of another great American invention: The Cocktail.
From the Ramos Gin Fizz to the Grasshopper, The Big Easy has contributed more than its fair share of inebriating concoctions to the world. One of its earliest known drinks on record is the venerable Sazerac, now the official cocktail of New Orleans.
The History of the Sazerac Cocktail
Along with New York and San Francisco, 19th Century New Orleans was one of the largest port cities in North America. Consequently, it had access to
Combined with a flourishing trade in spirits and liqueurs from across the globe, barmen started combining all these ingredients into new and original concoctions for their customers.
The story goes that West Indian immigrant Antoine Amédée Peychaud settled in the French Quarter in the 1850s and opened an apothecary there selling his own brand of bitters – still sold under his name today.
Mr. Peychaud started serving his customers a house drink of imported Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils cognac, bitters, absinthe and sugar in an upturned egg cup, called a “coquetier” in French. As New Orleans became less French-speaking and more Anglicized, “Coquetier” morphed into the word we know today: Cocktail.
With the passing of time, the original ingredients of the Sazerac began to change. The 1870s saw the French grape industry decimated by the phyloxera epidemic and cognac became increasingly difficult to get ahold of.
Rye was substituted by bartenders as its main liquor. Then in 1912, Absinthe was made illegal and Herbsaint (a legal wormwood-free substitute) used in its stead.
What Does a Sazerac Taste Like?
Much like a Martini, the Sazerac is not for the faint of heart (or road trip on an empty stomach). It’s a pure, spirit-forward cocktail, stirred over
Only the barest minimum of additives alter the original flavor of its base booze. The Rye whiskey packs a spicy punch, while the Peychaud’s Bitters give it a unique, almost tropical sunset color. The Absinthe and lemon impart a subtle anisette and citrus aroma, with the sugar just toning down its alcoholic bite.
If you think about it, all these ingredients reflect New Orleans unique cultural stew at the time of its creation: Rye brought down the mighty Mississippi River in charred barrels, Absinthe imported from France, and Creole Bitters via the Caribbean. In short: The Big Easy in a glass.
Related: Want a unique take on the Sazerac? Try a Bananerac, a delicious Banana Sazerac.
How to Make a Sazerac Cocktail
If you already know how to make an Old Fashioned, it’s not a big bridge to cross. And now with Absinthe being legal again, you can again make this drink the way it would have been done more than a century ago.
Make sure to stir a Sazerac rather than shaking it. Stirring will cool down your alcohol while preserving a velvety mouthfeel and higher proof. Shaking breaks up the
Sazerac Cocktail (An American Classic)
- Mixing Glass
- Bar Spoon
- Rocks Glass
- 1.5 oz Rye Whiskey
- 3 Dashes Peychaud's Bitters
- 1 Cube Sugar
- .5 oz Absinthe
- 1 Peel Lemon For Garnish
- Fill rocks glass with ice and water to chill.
- Put sugar cube in mixing glass and soak with bitters
- Muddle the sugar cube into a paste
- Add whiskey
- Discard ice and water and add splash of absinthe to the glass
- Swirl absinthe around glass until it's thoroughly coated. Discard excess
- Add ice to mixing glass and stir for 10-15 seconds.
- Strain into glass
- Wipe lemon peel around rim of glass and drop in cocktail.
Where Can I Drink a Sazerac In New Orleans?
Unfortunately, Peychaud’s original apothecary and the nearby Sazerac Coffee House where this drink was first served to the thirsty masses are no longer around. But you can still stop by the beautiful 1938 Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel and have it whipped up for you by white-jacketed mixologists who seem to know what they are doing.
Admire the original Art Deco murals and polished African walnut bar as you sip your “coquetier”. Imagine yourself back in the Pre-War decadence of yesteryear, when men wore hats, women wore little white gloves, and the Crescent City sweltered in the summer heat.
This post was written by Greg Goldblatt. At times, he could be called a world traveling vagabond, but for now, he resides in New Orleans, LA. He’s a self-professed whiskey snob, and in no particular order spends his days taking care of mhis 1-yr old toddler and bartending in the tasting room at Nola Distillery.