New Orleans' Cocktail
To make a perfect Sazerac for a complete stranger is like guessing how much hot sauce someone likes in his or her gumbo. Everyone has different tastes, and if you’ve ever ordered a Sazerac throughout New Orleans’ bars, you have probably noticed that every bartender makes this infamous cocktail to their own liking. This does not make one right and the other wrong, but proves that the Sazerac is a unique drink that has adapted to the taste buds of time. It has also kept historic prominence through history. The Professional Mixing Guide produced in 1947 has an entry for the Sazerac, which states:
“Out of respect for the property rights of others, no attempt is made herein to list any recipe for a Sazerac. Others have, on occasion, printed what proported [sic] to be a recipe for a ‘Sazerac Cocktail,’ but so far as it is known, the genuine recipe is still a deep, dark secret.”
What is known for certain is that the Sazerac was never made to be a subtle cocktail, and if it can be gulped down, it was defi nitely made the wrong way. Each pleasant layer of the Sazerac, from its spice, bite and tang, to its aroma and sweet eminence, is truly appreciated when sipped slowly. Though it has been frequently fi ddled with since its creation over 160 years ago, a carefully crafted Sazerac must have fi ve key components: the spirit, sugar, bitters, wash, and peel. Thus the controversy begins. There is an ongoing debate between which spirit to use: cognac or rye whiskey? Which form of sugar: cube or syrup? Which brand of bitters: Peychaud’s or Angostura? Which wash: Herbsaint or absinthe? To drop the peel, or to not drop the peel: these are the questions.
The Sazerac was designated by the state legislature as New Orleans’ cocktail in 2008, although it’s been our city’s unoffi cial cocktail since the early 1800s. Antoine Peychaud crafted the backbone of the favored Sazeracs that exist today. Peychaud used his preferred cognac brandy, Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils, along with his own bitters recipe, which was a hit amongst 1830s New Orleanians. In the 1870s, France’s grape crops, from which cognac is made, were destroyed, and the Sazerac cocktail’s main ingredient changed from cognac to rye whiskey. This concoction went on to be the novel Sazerac we know and love today. When absinthe was banned from the U.S. in 1912, Herbsaint, an anise-fl avored liquor, was used as a substitute.
Now absinthe is back in business, and bartenders are using either form of wash in their Sazerac. Today, cognac and rye whiskey are occasionally used together in the cocktail. Both Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters are also known to be used in the same Sazerac, but many Sazerac traditionalists would call this a mistake. They are known to be very vocal about the way a Sazerac “should be made”. Don’t dare put it on ice, and absolutely never shake it. It is always and only stirred.
There are many places in New Orleans to try a Sazerac, but fi nding the perfect recipe for you is a matter of trial and error. Bar inside of the Roosevelt Hotel comes close to making the original Sazerac from the 1830s. Their “1840 Sazerac” consists of Pierre Ferrand cognac, Demerara syrup, Peychaud’s Bitters, an Herbsaint wash, and a lemon twist. Demerara syrup is a raw sugar that makes this blend of Sazerac a bit sweeter than others. Their Sazerac glass is coated with Herbsaint, but the Sazerac Bar stocks a few absinthes if you prefer to enjoy a drink closer to Leon Lamothe’s original recipe.
The Jazzeraco, a tasty spin on the Sazerac cocktail, can be found at the Carousel Bar inside of Hotel Monteleone. The Jazzeraco is made with Barsol Pisco, Gran Classico, simple syrup, fresh orange and Aztec Chocolate Bitters. Barsol Pisco, a Peruvian grape-based liquor, along with Gran Classico and fresh orange, make this cocktail fruity and easy for drinking. This take on the Sazerac is sweet, not spicy, and has no bite compared to the more traditional versions. For those who enjoy the kick of a Sazerac, but would prefer something lighter, this is a nice fi t.
There are many bartenders throughout the city with their own off-the-menu twists on the Sazerac. Avenue Pub is a classic New Orleans bar on St. Charles serving beer 24/7. Inventive bartender Sam Halhuli has named his Sazerac-inspired cocktail “The Dustbowl”. It includes Buffalo Trace bourbon, Peychaud’s, Amaro, sugar cube, an allspice spray, and an orange peel. Halhuli’s spray gives all the spicy aroma of an original Sazerac without leaving a lingering taste on the palate. Halhuli’s take on the Sazerac is bold and highly recommended for the adventurous souls. Not to mention that the streetcar can take you right to him!
Finally, the New Orleans traditional Sazerac is a hearty cocktail, not for the weak. This style is most often served from our bar tops and embraces Peychaud’s Bitters, Sazerac rye whiskey, Herbsaint, simple syrup, and a lemon peel. Dallas Ray, bartender at the Maison on Frenchmen St., knows how to pour it fl awlessly. Ray’s traditional Sazerac warms the throat and the punch of the spice keeps the tongue tingling. As the cocktail rests on the bar, more of its layers are revealed. The traditional is a can’t-miss experience whether you’re in New Orleans for the weekend or have lived here for life. Try these classic and nontraditional cocktails on for taste, and enjoy a fi rsthand favorite New Orleans cocktail.
The Official Sazerac
Courtesy of Marvin Allen, Carousel Bar
• 2 oz . rye whiskey
• 1/4 oz. Herbsaint
• 1/8 oz. simple syrup
• 5-6 dashes Peychauds Bitters
• 1 lemon twist for garnish
Take an 8 oz. ice-fi lled rocks glass, add Herbsaint and set aside. Place rest of ingredients, except lemon twist, in an ice-fi lled Boston shaker and stir until well chilled. Never shake the Sazerac. Empty the Herbsaint and ice-fi lled rocks glass; there should be a slight fi lm of Herbsaint left in the glass. Strain the contents of the Boston shaker into the Herbsaint-coated glass and add the lemon twist.
Substitute cognac for the rye whiskey and absinthe for the Hersaint.
The Sazerac Coffee Shop, home of the fi rst Sazerac, is estimated to have been located where James H. Cohen and Sons antique gun shop is now on Royal St.
The Sazerac has a vast Louisiana history, dating back to the early 1800s. Below is a brief timeline, courtesey of the Sazerac Co.
1840s: Sewell Taylor establishes the Merchants Exchange Coffee House at 16 Royal Street. Becomes very popular.
1850: Taylor moves his businesses to 15-17 Royal Street and opens a liquor store. Hires a young clerk named Thomas Handy.
1850: After Taylor moves out of 16 Royal Street, Aaron Bird moves in and renames the establishment "The Sazerac Coffee House" after the French brandy used in its now famous toddy made with brandy and Peychaud's Bitters.
1871: Handy creates an importing business—The Thomas Handy Co.
1873: Handy alters Sazerac recipe to replace French brandy with American rye whiskey and to include a dash of absinthe.
1919: The Sazerac Coffee House and Thomas Handy Company are sold to Christopher O'Reilly, who reorganizes as The Sazerac Company.
1919: The Sazerac Coffee House closes due to Prohibition.
1919: Marion Legendre and friend Reginal Parker secretly begin making absinthe in New Orleans.
1933: Prohibition is repealed.
1934: Legendre begins making and marketing Legendre Absinthe, but in March 1934, is forced to drop Absinthe from the name. The new name becomes Herbsaint.
1940: The Sazerac Company purchases Herbsaint from Legendre and changes the offi cial Sazerac Cocktail recipe to include Herbsaint instead of absinthe.
1948: Stephen Goldring and Malcolm Woldenberg purchase The Sazerac Company from Christopher O'Reilly.
2008: In June of 2008, the Louisiana Legislature announces the Sazerac as New Orleans's offi cal cocktail after previously defeating Edwin Murray's bill to do so in April of 2008.