"Hurricanes are for tourists.
Sazeracs are for natives."

From Chuck Taggart:

This is the quintessential New Orleans cocktail.

There are those who say this is the first cocktail, period.

Here's how you make one.
1 teaspoon of simple syrup
(or 1 sugar cube or 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar)
3 - 4 dashes Peychaud's bitters
2 ounces rye whiskey (most New Orleans bars use Old Overholt)
1/4 teaspoon Herbsaint, a New Orleans brand of anise liqueur (You may use Pernod, or some other pastis or absinthe substitute)
Strip of lemon peel


At November 19, 2004 at 4:28 PM, Blogger vige said...

This is the quintessential New Orleans cocktail. There are those who say this is the first cocktail, period. There's a lot of dispute over this, but it's certainly the first to appear in New Orleans, which has been acknowledged by many as the home of the cocktail.

It is said that this drink was invented by Antoine Amadie Peychaud, a Creole apothecary who moved to New Orleans from the West Indies and set up shop in the French Quarter in the early 1800s. He dispensed a proprietary mix of aromatic bitters from an old family recipe, to relieve the ails of his clients (Peychaud's Bitters are still made in New Orleans and sold today, and are an essential component of any truly complete bar), and around the 1830s he became famous for a toddy he made for his friends. It consisted of French brandy mixed with his secret blend of bitters, a splash of water and a bit of sugar. According to legend he served his drink in the large end of an egg cup that was called a coquetier in French, and some say that the Americanized pronunciation of this as "cocktail" gave this type of drink its name (unlikely as that may be).

Before long, the demand for this drink led to its being served in bars throughout the city (euphemistically called "coffee houses" in those days). One of these, a large bar on Exchange Alley owned by a gentleman named Sewell Taylor, was named the Sazerac Coffeehouse. In 1853, Mr. Taylor declared that the drink would be made in his bar only with particular brand of Cognac called Sazerac-du-Forge et fils for which Mr. Taylor was the sole importer and for which his bar was named. Apparently the bar was big enough to accommodate 12 bartenders, all mixing "Sazeracs" for their patrons, and people began to refer to the drink with the name of the coffeehouse where it was most popular. It is believed that during this period one of the bartenders at the Sazerac came up with the idea of adding a few drops of absinthe to coat the glass, and with this flavor enhancement, a true classic was born. Around 1870, a gentleman by the name of Thomas Handy took over as proprietor of the Sazerac House, and the primary ingredient was changed from cognac to rye whiskey (due to popular American tastes as well as to the difficulty of obtaining cognac at the time).

Eventually the now-banned absinthe has been replaced by the locally-produced pastis called Herbsaint (although if you can't find it you may substitute Pernod or any good pastis, or even good absinthe if you live in an area where it's available -- avoid Hill's from the Czech Republic). The drink has been enjoyed this way for over 130 years, and over 150 if you include the original version made with Cognac. The bar moved to the Roosevelt Hotel in 1949, where the Sazerac Bar and Restaurant still stands. The Roosevelt is now the Fairmont, and the hotel pays an annual fee to the Sazerac Company for the use of the name. The company, which produces, imports and distributes many different liquors, was founded in 1870 by the gentleman who bought the Sazerac Coffeehouse and the Peychaud family's secret recipe for the bitters.

This is an absolutely exquisite cocktail. As you sip it, you come across layer after layer of flavor -- the warmth and glowing burn of the rye, effused with the flavors of spice and honey, the bite of the bitters balanced with the sweetness of the sugar, with the subtle yet complex flavor of the anise underneath and the perfume of the lemon oil from the twist feel like a symphony inside your mouth. This is also a drink that warms up well, revealing even more flavors. Sip it very slowly. Savor it. Take your time with it.

There are recipes that call for Angostura bitters as well as Peychaud's bitters for this cocktail. All I have to say is ... it wasn't invented that way, M. Peychaud didn't make it that way, they didn't serve it that way at the original Sazerac Coffeehouse, even though Tom Handy's bartenders eventually began adding that as well, so I'd just as soon leave them out. I love the flavor of Peychaud's bitters, and the Sazerac is a showcase for that unique flavor. Angostura bitters are ubiquitous enough -- just about any drink you order that calls for bitters (and there aren't many left) use only Angostura. Give the little guy a chance. Although I love a Sazerac made with rye whiskey, you can make a truly wonderful drink by substituting a good Cognac for the rye, making the drink as it was in the old days. If you have real absinthe, use that to coat the glass, too. (I like to call this Cognac + absinthe version a "Royal Sazerac"). And speaking of rye ... get rye whiskey for this drink. Do not use Bourbon. Don't get me wrong, I love Bourbon. I think it's simply wrong for this drink. It has never been made this way traditionally, and until recently would never be made this way in New Orleans, and that's enough. I believe that if you've got something that's wonderful, that's real, and right, and true ... you leave it alone. As Stanley Clisby Arthur, author of Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix 'Em, in print since 1937, said in his classic tome, "While Bourbon may do for a julep it just won't do for a real Sazerac." This comes directly from a bartender who used to mix Sazeracs for Tom Handy, so it bears some authority. (Not everyone is as much of a traditionalist about this drink as I am. Of all places, Commander's Palace makes these with Bourbon. Now, I love Commander's. I've had some of the greatest dining experiences of my life there. I have enormous respect for Ella Brennan and Chef Jamie Shannon, but we have a difference of opinion here. Use rye. If it's completely impossible to find rye where you are -- substitute Bourbon if you must. But use rye if at all possible. And horror of horrors, Galatoire's serves theirs on the rocks. I have no idea what they're thinking of. If you order a Sazerac at Galatoire's, make sure you ask for it straight up.) The typical rye whiskey used for the Sazerac is Old Overholt, a 4-year-old rye that's got a crisp, complex flavor ... spicy with a touch of honey. It's an 86-proof whiskey, which is eminently sippable. However, if you like a drink with a bit more of a kick to it, Wild Turkey makes an excellent 101-proof rye that'll still give you an elegant drink but will give you a little boot in the butt as well. I prefer less of a boot, though ... and my whiskey of choice for this drink is the magnificent Sazerac 18-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, one of America's great whiskeys produced by the Buffalo Trace Distillery, owned by the Sazerac Company. If you can find it, grab it -- it's a limited edition release, and as supplies dwindle the price is shooting up (as of January 2004 it had already gone up from $34.95 a bottle to $42.95 at Martin Wine Cellar). There's some new Sazerac Rye in the works, but it'll take another 18 years for this stuff; fortunately, I understand there's also a 6-Year-Old coming as well -- won't that be interesting!

My preferred method: (Notes -- For a long time I preferred to serve this drink in a cocktail glass rather than the traditional 3-1/2 ounce Old Fashioned glass, finding that it added a touch of elegance that this cocktail deserves. However, of late Wes and I have managed to slowly and painstakingly acquire a set of eight heavy-bottomed Old Fashioned glasses from the old Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, emblazoned with the hotel's name and the word "SAZERAC" in large letters. We've become very fond of these glasses, have realized that it really is more traditional to serve them this way, and I've subsequently changed my opinion on the glassware.

I also recommend the use of a prepared simple syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water) for this and most other cocktails involving sugar that don't involve muddling. I don't like adding granulated or lump sugar to a drink unless I'm muddling, because it never quite dissolves completely. In simple syrup the sugar is already dissolved, so there's no chance of serving a gritty drink to your guests. You may additionally substitute Pernod or any other pastis for the Herbsaint; however, I find that the flavor of Herbsaint is superior to that of Pernod, so it's worth your while to seek it out. (I don't care for Absente brand pastis.) Add the Herbsaint to the glass, then swirl it around to coat the entire sides and bottom of the glass. (I've also used the small-sized Misto atomizer that's sold for the purpose of anointing Martini glasses with vermouth.) Discard the excess, although if you enjoy the flavor of Herbsaint you may wish to leave a small amount of it in the bottom. Remember that the flavor of the Herbsaint should be there, but in the background -- it should not dominate. In a cocktail shaker (I use the glass portion of my Boston shaker), add four or five small ice cubes, then add the sugar syrup, whiskey and bitters. Stir gently for about 30 seconds (if you must shake this, merely tilt the shaker back and forth for 10 seconds; you don't want a frothy Sazerac) or until the drink is cold, then strain into the Herbsaint-coated glass. Twist lemon peel over the drink, and try to watch carefully to make sure a cascade of tiny lemon oil droplets actually strike the surface of the drink; this is one of my favorite parts of the preparation ritual. Rub the twist over the rim of the glass, then add as garnish. (No, I'm not a slavish adherent to S. C. Arthur's admonitions; I'll do this drink in a very acceptably traditional manner, with my own tastes taken into account.) To make a truly spectacular Sazerac (which I like to call a "Royal Sazerac"), substitute a fine Cognac for the rye, and use real absinthe if it's available. Just a reminder -- while I love Overholt Sazeracs, you can also make a great and equally royal Sazerac by using the limited edition Sazerac 18-Year-Old Straight Kentucky Rye Whiskey. It's marvelous, and currently about $43/bottle at Martin's Wine Cellar in New Orleans.

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