The Sazerac is as essential to New Orleans as butter is to toast. The official spirit of the Crescent City just got its own venue-the only one of its kind. The Sazerac House, the highly anticipated brainchild of locally owned liquor group Sazerac Company, has finally opened its doors, to much fanfare. "It's unbelievable," said one visitor who had a chance to tour the facility in advance.
For over thirty years, the circa 1860s Italianate building at the corner of Canal and Magazine stood vacant and neglected. In 2016, the Sazerac Company purchased the building from the Sheraton Hotel and commissioned Trapolin-Peer, a firm that specializes in historic preservation, to design the project. Painstakingly brought back to life with much of the original features left intact, the completed site now houses an immersive three-story cocktail museum, a microdistillery, an event space and a new corporate offices. The location is especially significant, as it's just a stone's throw away from the original Sazerac Coffee House-the birthplace of the Sazerac cocktail and the Sazerac Company itself.
The earliest iteration of the Sazerac is thought to have been prepared with Sazerac-de-Forge et Fil-a cognac imported from France-with bitters from a local Creole apothecary, Antoine Amédée Peychau, who set up shop on Royal Street. In 1869, The Sazerac Coffee House was purchased by Thomas Hardy, who founded the Sazerac Company and eventually acquired the rights to Peychaud's bitters. By the 1890's, a phylloxera plague decimated the vineyards of France, drying up the European cognac supply. It was then that rye whiskey became the core component of the drink, with a hint of absinthe added for dimension. Thomas Hardy's first recorded Sazerac recipe was officially published in 1908.
As you enter Sazerac House, the most apparent feature is the multistoried wall of spirits illuminating the various brands of liquor produced by the prolific Sazerac Company. Guests are invited to explore a 48,000 square foot space that features three floors of interactive exhibits with historical relics, state-of-the-art informational displays, virtual bartenders, and more.
The microdistillery, a first for the Central Business District, is visible from Canal Street. A custom made still will produce about a barrel of Sazerac Rye per day. Visitors hoping to try the first New Orleans distilled batch will have to wait six years-that's how long the rye whiskey is aged. In the meantime, there's plenty of finished product to sample. Though the exact recipe remains a proprietary secret, visitors are welcome to observe the production of Peychaud's bitters on site and interact with some of the core aromatics.
The New Sazerac House is not the first restoration project for the Sazerac Company. In the 1990s, they purchased the ramshackle Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky and brought it back to life. But it's the first time the company will have a home of its own in New Orleans-a welcome development for a local legacy.
Tours are free and open to the public. Walk-ins are allowed but reservations are recommended, as Sazerac House expects to accommodate over 150,000 guests in its inaugural year. Special events, classes, and tastings are scheduled for October and November, with more to come. You can book your experience at sazerachouse.com.