Around the 1850s in New Orleans, Louisiana, a Creole apothecary named Antoine Amadie Peychaud often served up a drink to his friends made from his own bitters concoction, french brandy, water, and sugar. Before long, the drink became quite popular and made its home at several local bars, most notably The Merchants Exchange Coffeehouse. Eventually that drink would become the Sazerac.
The proprietor of the Merchants Exchange was Sewell Taylor, a man who, when given the chance, sold his business to become a liquor importer. One of his most popular products was a Cognac called Sazerac-du-Forge et fils. Probably as a tribute to Mr. Sewell and his popular product, the Merchant Exchange was renamed the Sazerac Coffee House by its new owner, Aaron Bird. With the new moniker, and their large bartending staff now using Sazerac-du-Forge et fils to mix Mr. Peychaud’s drink, the Sazerac cocktail was officially named.
In 1870, a new owner would once again change up this popular drink. Europe was in the midst of the phyloxxera epidemic, which devastated its wine crop and limited the supply of Cognac and other wines throughout the world. The Sazerac’s new proprietor, Thomas Handy, replaced the Cognac with rye whiskey, due not only to availability but to appease the American taste for good whiskey drinks. A coat of absinthe in the glass was also added, and remained until 1912 when absinthe was officially banned in the United States. As a replacement, locals looked to Herbsaint, a local anise liquor. The recipe has remained the same ever since, and is still served in the Sazerac Bar & Restaurant at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans.
New Orleans official cocktail
In 2008, a bill was introduced in the Louisiana senate to make the Sazerac the official cocktail of the state. Although that bill was defeated, the state legislature recognized that the cocktail is a much beloved enterprise in New Orleans, and on June 28, 2008, it became the city’s official cocktail.
Fill an Old-Fashioned glass with ice and water, and set aside to chill. Once cold, drain ice water and rinse with absinthe.
In a 16-oz mixing glass, combine:
1 tsp 2:1 simple syrup
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters
2 oz rye whiskey*
Fill mixing glass with ice and stir contents until well-chilled. Strain into absinthe-rinsed old fashioned glass. Twist lemon peel over drink to express oils, and discard peel. Serve.
*Mr. Morgenthaler suggests you use Buffalo Trace’s Sazerac 6-Year rye.