The Sazerac, a close relative to the esteemed Old Fashioned, stands as a timeless cocktail that has been savoured for more than a century in the vibrant city of New Orleans. Also the state’s official cocktail, the drink was traditionally fashioned with rye whiskey or brandy, accentuated by bitters, sugar, and a subtle touch of absinthe.
The recipe for a Sazerac, as prescribed by the International Bartenders Association, maintains the core ingredient of 5cl of cognac. Complemented by 1cl of absinthe, a sugar cube, and two dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters, this concoction is elegantly presented in an Old-Fashioned glass.
Its rich history traces back to as early as 1838, culminating in the official trademarking of the cocktail by the Sazerac Company in 1900. The year 2008 marked a significant milestone when the Sazerac cocktail earned the distinguished title of New Orleans' official libation.
The drink originated with the renowned Sazerac de Forge et Fils, a French cognac that bestowed its name upon the cocktail. In the mid-1800s, Antoine Amedee Peychaud, son of a Haitian immigrant, managed a pharmacy nestled in New Orleans’ French Quarter neighbourhood. Within the assortment of tonics and remedies he offered, Peychaud crafted his own medicinal bitters, aptly named Peychaud’s Bitters. The lore suggests that Peychaud took pleasure in concocting cocktails using his bitters, and the imported French Sazerac cognac. These libations were presented in egg-cups, known as coquetiers in French, sparking speculation that the term "cocktail" may trace its origins to this distinctive serving vessel.
Around the same time, a local bar owner named Aaron Bird, who is thought to have been privy to Peychaud's cocktail creation, skillfully adapted it for commercialisation in his establishment. Bird embraced the concoction as his signature cocktail and rebranded his establishment as The Sazerac House.
The ownership of the Sazerac Coffee House underwent multiple transitions until approximately 1870 when Thomas Handy assumed proprietorship. During this period, the devastating phylloxera epidemic decimated French vineyards, causing a scarcity of cognac supplies. This crisis prompted resourceful bartenders to innovate, substituting the scarce French spirit with robust American rye whiskey.
This marked the inception of what would evolve into the present-day million-dollar Sazerac Company, boasting ownership of numerous distilleries across the United States and Canada, most notably the renowned Buffalo Trace.
Prior to his passing in 1889, Thomas Handy documented the recipe for the cocktail. This recipe saw its inaugural printed appearance in William T. Cocktail Bill Boothby's The World's Drinks and How to Mix Them in 1908. Notably, Handy's recipe differed, as it specified Selner Bitters rather than Peychaud's.
Following the prohibition of absinthe in the United States in 1912, the banned ingredient was substituted with various anise-flavoured liqueurs. Herbsaint, a locally produced alternative, emerged prominently, making its debut in 1934. Now, the prevailing perception of the Sazerac aligns it primarily with a whiskey-based libation, though some mixologists choose to harken back to the original cognac formula.
Rinse a chilled rocks glass with absinthe, discarding any excess, and set aside.
In a mixing glass, muddle the sugar cube, water and the Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters.
Add the rye and cognac, fill the mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into the prepared glass.
Twist a lemon peel over the drink’s surface to express the peel’s oils, then garnish with it.