The Sazerac Cocktail
In New Orleans, around 1850, a guy named Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar. Taylor had decided to go into the imported liquor business. He began to import a brand of cognac named Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils. At the same time, a gentleman by the name of Aaron Bird took over Taylor’s old establishment and changed its name to the Sazerac House. He began serving the “Sazerac Cocktail,” made with Taylor’s Sazerac cognac and, legend has it, the bitters being made down the street by a local druggist, Antoine Amedie Peychaud. The Sazerac House changed hands several times in the 1870’s and eventually Thomas Handy took over as proprietor. Around this time the primary ingredient changed from cognac to rye whiskey due to the phylloxera epidemic in Europe that devastated France’s wine grape crops. At some point before his death in 1889, Handy recorded the recipe for the cocktail, and the drink made its first printed appearance in William T. “Cocktail Bill” Boothby’s 1908 edition of “The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them.”
The drink is a simple variation on a plain whiskey or cognac “Cock-Tail” (alcohol, sugar, water and bitters) and could have been ordered in any late 19th century American bar as a Whiskey Cocktail with a dash of absinthe. It was this type of variation to the cocktail that caused patrons not interested in the new complexities of cocktails to request their drinks done the “old-fashioned” way. By the early 20th Century, vermouth was fairly prevalent, and simple cocktails like the Sazerac had become a somewhat rare curiosity. This cocktail is a very old one; in fact it may be the oldest American cocktail on record. Enjoy this cocktail however you like, the important thing is that you enjoy it.
- 3 oz. rye whiskey
- ¾ oz simple syrup
- Peychaud bitters to taste
- absinthe or absinthe substitute
- lemon twist for garnish
- Chill an old-fashioned glass by filling it with ice and letting it sit while preparing the rest of the drink.
- In a separate mixing glass, muddle the simple syrup and Peychaud bitters together.
- Add the rye whiskey and ice to the bitters mixture and stir.
- Discard the ice in the chilled glass and rinse it with absinthe (or substitute) by pouring a small amount into the glass, swirling it around and discarding the liquid.
- Strain the whiskey mixture from the mixing glass into the old-fashioned glass.
- Garnish with a lemon twist.