Hey New Orleans, What the Heck is a Sazerac?

We all have bloggers we like. We all have bloggers we admire. We all have bloggers we are a little tiny bit jealous of (in a healthy non-competitive sort of way)… So I say let’s raise a glass to them. Cheers. In this case, the glass I am raising contains a very purposefully chosen cocktail. It’s a Sazerac.

Now a Sazerac is a classic cocktail from New Orleans. It’s also a hint at the blogger to whom I am referring here. I am raising my glass to Gisele of Pain Perdu Blog. She’s a talented cook (much better than I’ll ever be…) and kick-ass Los Angeles caterer (Small Pleasure Catering). I am pleased to call her a friend. I am pleased that the blog world made us friends. I think you’ll be pleased to read her blog and become her friend. I hope you do. ‘Cuz this Sazerac is for her. Her New Orleans roots. And the stories she tells about both.

Now on to the Sazerac. While the origins of many cocktails are lost in a boozy fog, the source of the Sazerac is well-documented. In fact, it may be the very first drink to actually coin the word ‘cocktail’. Which seems to have been a mispronunciation of the French word for eggcup– cocquetier.

peychauds bittersWhich may seem odd until you know the history of this potent potable. You see one of the key ingredients in a Sazerac is Peychaud’s Bitters. These bitters were named after the owner of a New Orleans Pharmacie about 1830. This Mr. Peychaud began serving an elixir to customers with various digestive ailments, and he served it in an eggcup. This elixir became the precursor to the Sazerac.

But the Sazerac got its real start in New Orleans about 1859, it was named by John Schiller, proprietor of the Sazerac Coffee House (which was named after a French cognac known as Sazerac de Forge et Fils). Early versions and some purists today include cognac as the base spirit for this reason. But by 1870 the recipe had changed to include cheaper American rye whiskey as a principle ingredient.

Another original ingredient was Absinthe. But today’s versions are more likely to call for Herbsaint or Pernod because until 2007 Absinthe was banned in the United States.

I imagine these modern anise-flavored liqueurs offer a similar flavor, but I am sure they lack the punch of absinthe. Unlike the Sazerac’s other ingredients, the absinthe is used as a rinse– a small amount is poured into the glass, swirled around to coat the inside of the glass and then poured out (or down your throat, if have any sense at all).

Lastly, because I know I’ll catch me some guff if I don’t mention this, but Sazerac fussbudgets will insist that you must never drop the lemon twist into the drink. Draped over the rim of the glass is their preferred choice. But I say the subtle spritz of aromatic lemon adds just the right touch.

I am including both the Classic Sazerac here and the more Modern version often called a New Orleans Cocktail.

Classic Sazerac serves 1 CLICK here for a printable version

  • 1 t Absinthe, Pernod or Herbsaint
  • 2 oz Cognac or rye whiskey
  • 3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • Lemon twist as garnish

Add the Absinthe (Pernod or Herbsaint) to an old-fashioned glass. Swirl the liquid allowing some to cling to the sides. Discard the rest. Set the glass aside.

Add the Cognac (or rye whiskey) and the Peychaud’s bitters to a cocktail shaker half-filled with cracked ice. Cover and shake vigorously. Strain into the prepared glass. Garnish as you choose with a lemon twist.

Modern Sazerac (Also called a New Orleans Cocktail)

  • 1 sugar cube
  • 1 dash Peychaud’s bitters
  • 2 oz Rye whiskey
  • 1/4 oz Herbsaint
  • 1/2 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Lemon twist as garnish

Place the sugar cube in the bottom of an old-fashioned glass. Drop the bitter on top of the cube. Fill the glass with ice cubes. Pour in the rye whiskey, Herbsaint, and lemon juice. Stir well. Garnish as you choose with a lemon twist. Serve with a swizzle stick.


Greg Henry

Sippity Sup