Good drinks tell a story, and this is the story of those drinks. Here, we'll be serving up a remedial cocktail lesson for bartending beginners to help you get the most out of your glass, with recipes, interviews, and histories coming right up.
As the Martini is to James Bond, so the Sazerac is to his American counterpart, Felix Leiter.
In 1973's Live and Let Die, the British secret agent is on assignment in the Big Easy with Leiter, his CIA pal, at a bar called Fillet of Soul. First, Leiter orders "bourbon, no ice," then changes his mind — two Sazeracs. “Where’s your sense of adventure?” Leiter asks Bond. “This is New Orleans. Relax!”
I've still got absinthe lingering on the brain this week, and the Sazerac is perhaps the most famous absinthe cocktail. For American non-wine drinkers, the New Orleanian beverage is also an excellent way to celebrate our French connection on the eve of Bastille Day, France's Fourth of July, coming right up next week.
Preparation commonly calls for two chilled old-fashioned glasses. The first glass is to be swirled with a wash of absinthe, or, during absinthe's prohibition, Herbsaint. The second to be filled with its other components: A sugar cube with a few drops of water, a few dashes Peychaud's bitters (and perhaps a dash of Angostura), stirred with ice and rye whiskey (though originally it was Cognac). It's all strained back into glass number one, served neat, with a lemon twist.
The Sazerac Company, who make Peychaud's bitters and a brand of their own whiskey, have mounted quite the marketing campaign to promote the drink, which now stands the official alcoholic concoction of New Orleans. Their agenda should be obvious, and so they tell the origin story like this:
In 1838, Antoine Amedie Peychaud, owner of a New Orleans apothecary, treated his friends to brandy toddies of his own recipe, including his "Peychaud's Bitters," made from a secret family recipe. The toddies were made using a double-ended egg cup as a measuring cup or jigger, then known as a "coquetier" (pronounced "ko-k-tay"), from which the word "cocktail" was derived. Thus, the world's first cocktail was born!
By 1850, the Sazerac Cocktail, made with Sazerac French brandy and Peychaud's Bitters, was immensely popular, and became the first "branded" cocktail. In 1873, the recipe for the Sazerac Cocktail was altered to replace the French brandy with American Rye whiskey, and a dash of absinthe was added.
But as the word cocktail certainly predates this instance, I and others would classify this more as A+ PR than actual history.
It's more likely that around 1850 a man named Sewell T. Taylor sold his New Orleans bar, The Merchants Exchange Coffee House, in order to become an importer of spirits. One spirit he was clearly fond of was a Cognac named Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils.
When Taylor made the switch to importing, a fellow by the name of Aaron Bird became the proprietor of Merchants Exchange, calling it instead Sazerac Coffee House. Bird, this competing legend has it, served a "Sazerac Cocktail" created with the Sazerac Cognac imported by Taylor.
The bitters may well have been Peychaud's, but perhaps not. The first appearance of the cocktail in writing was in William T. "Cocktail Bill" Boothby's 1908 The World's Drinks and How to Mix Them and called for Selner Bitters instead.
Last, the change from cognac to whiskey is an interesting one. Around 1870 during an epidemic that ravaged vineyards, causing a cognac crisis, which is serious business you guys. Whiskey, as you'll taste, substitutes well.
Read above for the instructions, but note that the ingredients ought to be:
1 sugar cube
2 1/2 ounces rye whiskey
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters, 1 dash Angostura bitters
Garnish with a lemon peel.