If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile now, you’ll know that I’m a history buff and a whiskey gal. So the Sazerac Cocktail was preeeetty much destined to be my boozy soul mate.
Jonathan and I discovered this cocktail while cooking through Tom FitzMorris’s New Orleans cookbook Hungry Town. When we read that on June 23, 2008 the Louisiana Legislature agreed to proclaim the Sazerac as New Orleans’ official cocktail, we just knew we had to give it a try. Out of all the yummy cocktails in The Big Easy, if this one made the top of the list, it pretty much required a taste.
The History of the Sazerac Cocktail
This cocktail has a pretty awesome history. Mostly because, well, it is the granddaddy of all cocktails. Like, literally. It is known as the FIRST cocktail in America. In fact, it’s the drink that pretty much gave us the word cocktail.
The drink itself is a simple variation on a plain whiskey cocktail – alcohol, sugar and water. But the defining feature of the Sazerac, is the addition of Peychaud’s Bitters.
Now, back in the day, bitters were used as a cure-all. They were botanical extracts that consisted of aromatic herbs, bark, roots, and /or fruit and sold in medicinal bottles to cure anything and everything. The whole “snake oil salesman” peddling a bottle of potion that cures everything from shyness to baldness to herpes is derived from the era of apothecaries heavily relying on bitters.
The problem is – as the name implies – bitters were bitter! So to better help the medicine go down, it was usually added to alcohol. Like whiskey. This is kind of how the Sazerac came to be.
In 1838, Antoine Amedie Peychaud, a Creole apothecary who moved to New Orleans from the West Indies, set up shop in the French Quarter in the early part of the 19th Century. He dispensed a proprietary mix of aromatic bitters from an old family recipe, served in a brandy cocktail to help it go down. So yummy were these medicinal bitters served up in booze, that Peychaud had to install barstools along the counter for the many sick men who would stop in every night for a dose of medicine.
According to legend, Peychaud served his drinks in double-ended egg cups that he used as measuring cups. These jiggers are known as coquetiers in French, from which the American word “cocktail” was derived. Thus, the world’s first cocktail was born! The word “sazerac” comes from the name of the company that made the brandy used in the cocktail – Sazerac French Brandy.
From the beginning, the Sazerac Cocktail was made up of: brandy, bitters, water, sugar and a splash of absinthe. By 1850, the Sazerac Cocktail was immensely popular, and became the first “branded” cocktail. But over the years, the drink slowly evolved into the current recipe that we know today.
In 1873, the recipe was altered to replace the French brandy with American rye whiskey, due to the phylloxera epidemic in Europe that devastated France’s wine grape crops.
In 1889, the recipe for the Sazerac Cocktail made its first printed appearance in William T. “Cocktail Bill” Boothby’s 1908 book, “The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them”, naming simple syrup as the “sugar water” element. (I really, really, REALLY want to get my hands on one of these!)
And finally, after absinthe was banned in the US in 1912, it was replaced by various anise-flavored spirits, especially Pernod and Herbsaint from New Orleans.
So are you just itching to make this cocktail?! Well lucky for you, this cocktail cures itchiness. And thirst!
- 1 generous shot of rye whiskey
- 1 tbs simple syrup
- 4 to 5 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters
- Splash of Pernod
- 1 long lemon twist
- Splash the Pernod into a chilled old-fashioned glass. Twist the glass around to evenly coat the insides.
- Combine the other ingredients in a cocktail shaker, filled with ice. Shake to blend well.
- Strain the liquid into the liquor coated glass. Add lemon peel and serve!