Sazerac: Enduring Simplicity

Very few cocktails are bestowed with the honor of being a city’s official drink, and in 2008 the Louisiana Legislature proclaimed Sazerac as New Orleans’. It has been a long, sauntering journey to the top for the concoction which can trace its legacy back to Aaron Bird’s bar in the French Quarter, The Sazerac Coffee House. During the last days of the 19th century, Bird began mixing cognac with bitters sourced from a local Creole apothecary – the now famous Antoine Amédée Peychaud.

Fate and chance conspired. The bar changed hands several times while the phylloxera epidemic ravaged Europe’s vineyards, drying up the supply of brandy. The new proprietor, Thomas Handy, wasn’t the one to be stopped by something as mundane as an agricultural plague. Foregoing cognac in favor of rye, he created a modest variation which used a little absinthe along with the regular bitter – recording the recipe shortly before his death.

That recipe has endured much – the Civil War, the absinthe ban, and finally, the Prohibition. Its simplicity has been the key to its survival. Sometime during the 1930s, barkeeps started replacing the dash of green fairy with another locally produced anise flavored liqueur, the Herbsaint. Although the cocktail was written off as an obscure curiosity from days gone by, this same quality would eventually go on to rekindle its popularity in modern times. In celebration of its reemergence, let’s whip up a quick one.

Mix Your Own Sazerac

1 cube of sugar

1 large measure of Rittenhouse Straight Rye

3 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters

Splash of Herbsaint or green absinthe

Lemon peel for garnish

Fill up an old-fashioned whiskey glass with ice and leave it to chill. Place the cube of sugar in a shaker, wet it with a little bitter, add the rye and stir till the sugar completely melts. Leave the mixture to chill for about 2 minutes while you take the whiskey glass, discard the ice, and use a little absinthe to coat the inside. Pour in the stirred contents of the shaker, rub the rim with a lemon and top lightly with some lemon zest. Garnish with a lemon peel and serve.

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