Although the word “cocktail” has become somewhat of a universal term for “mixed drink,” it was once a very narrow category of drinks. The original definition included any drink made up of spirit, sugar, water, and bitters…nothing more, nothing less. Perhaps the most popular drink today that still fits that definition is the Old Fashioned. A close second in popularity, however, is the Sazerac.
Next week marks a decade since the Sazerac was declared the official cocktail of the New Orleans by Louisiana legislators. It is one of – if not the – oldest iterations of the original whiskey cocktail. The drink dates back to the mid 19th century when Antoine Peychaud, owner of a NOLA apothecary, began prescribing his patented herbal bitters mixed into a standard toddy made with water, sugar, and brandy as somewhat of a “cure-all” treatment – the bitters being the defining ingredient that takes this drink from a toddy to a cocktail.
Although the Sazerac is almost universally made with whiskey today, it was originally made with a French brandy called Sazerac de Forge et Fils – hence the name. And while there were numerous similar cocktails being served around the city, often using bitters other than Peychaud’s own, the Sazerac garnered the most attention at Merchants Exchange, a coffee house which exclusively used Sazerac de Forge et Fils brandy and Peychaud’s bitters. In fact, the drink became so closely associated with Merchants that they renamed the place “Sazerac Coffee House” in 1852. It was here that the absinthe-rinse entered the recipe. Unfortunately, the French company that made the famous Sazerac brandy closed in the late 19th century due to the Great French Wine Blight and the signature brandy was no longer available. Before too long, rye whiskey was the go-to base spirit for crafting this New Orleans classic.
The Sazerac is a drink with a rich history, and while it does require a little more time and care than the Jack and Coke your buddy is drinking, you’ll find that it’s worth the extra effort.
Making The Drink
- 2 oz Rye Whiskey
- 1 Demerara Sugar Cube
- 3-4 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters
- 1/2 oz Absinthe
- Lemon Twist for Garnish
- Start by filling an Old Fashioned glass with ice and water. Set aside to chill (For an extra chilled glass, throw it in the freezer for a minute or so.
- In a 2nd Old Fashioned glass, add 1 Demerara sugar cube, 3-4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters, and 1 dash Angostura bitters. Muddle until fully dissolved.
- Add 2 oz Rye whiskey and stir with ice.
- Empty the chilled Old Fashioned glass, add 1/2 oz absinthe, and swirl to coat the inside of the glass.
- Dump the excess absinthe and strain cocktail into the absinthe-rinsed glass.
- Twist a lemon peel over the drink to express the oils and drop the peel into the drink to garnish.
As they say in New Orleans, Laissez les bons temps roules – Let the good times roll!
New Orleans’ Best Cocktails: The Sazerac – Video featuring NOLA Bartender Chris McMillian