The Sazerac: The Original American Cocktail

After working in the service industry for several years, I’ve had to explain what a Sazerac is to countless customers. I doubt my explanation is very good because frankly, I don’t think they taste very appealing. But before you shun me, let me explain.

It’s like when people say they love martinis, I just don’t buy it. Can we just be honest? Martinis taste like you dumped rubbing alcohol in ice then pour salt or sugar over it. Yeah, you’re going to look like Don Draper but seriously, how do you drink more than one? I suppose it’s an acquired taste. And I guess the same goes for the Sazerac.

Regardless of what I think concerning Sazeracs, they are the “signature cocktail of New Orleans.” When restaurant customers would ask me why the Sazerac was picked as the signature cocktail, I never had a good answer. Well I’m rectifying that now, and when I took a closer I look I found out the why they were picked. They’re not just NOLA’s cocktail, they’re the American cocktail.


[Photo Credit]

Les Sazerac Accoutrement
What You’ll Need:

  • sugar
  • Peychaud’s Bitters
  • Rye Whiskey
  • Absinthe or Herbsaint
  • Lemon Peel

What You’ll Do:

  1. Take an old-fashioned glass and fill with ice
  2. Take a second old fashion glass and put sugar cube (or 1 pack of sugar) into the glass.
  3. In the sugar glass, add 3 dashes of Bitters.
  4. Add 1 1/2 ounces of Rye Whiskey to the glass with bitters and sugar.
  5. Take the chilling glass and dump out the ice.
  6. Take 1/4 ounce of Herbsaint and swirl around the glass making sure to coat majority of the glass.
  7. Dump out any excess Herbsaint.
  8. Add the Bitters, sugar and whiskey mixture into the Herbsaint coated glass.
  9. Take a lemon peel, twist, then rub the skin side along the rim of the glass.
  10. Drop lemon twist into cocktail.
  11. Do not put a straw in this cocktail.


[Ladies enjoying Sazeracs in the Roosevelt Hotel 1949]

Ladies enjoying Sazeracs in the Roosevelt Hotel 1949

So now that you know how a Sazerac is made, go ahead and try one. It smells like licorice and tastes like medicine but you’re going to look classy as hell drinking one. As a professional good-time haver, I like to think I have a pretty open mind when it comes to the taste of most alcoholic beverages. But if a Sazerac tastes like this, why would anyone pick it to be the signature cocktail of New Orleans? Shouldn’t it be something more accessible and pleasing to everyone? Why aren’t hurricanes, daiquiris, huge-ass beers, or hand grenades the cocktail of New Orleans? To explain this, I have to introduce you to someone.

There once was a man named Antoine Amedie Peychaud, a New Orleans apothecary, that was trying to figure out a way to help relieve sickness in his friends and patients. In 1838, he added his bitters to a combination of brandy and sugar and thus became the country’s first cocktail. The drink was named a Sazerac because of the brand of French brandy that was originally used and ultimately replaced with American rye whiskey. Mr. Peychaud opened the Sazerac Coffee House (code word for saloon) in Exchange Alley and by the 1850s, Peychaud had branded his specialty cocktail and had Americans everywhere enjoying them.

Original Advertisement for Peychaud's Bitters

Original Advertisement for Peychaud’s Bitters

The Sazerac Coffee House was relocated to the Roosevelt Hotel on Barrone Street in 1949 where it is now known affectionately as the Sazerac Bar. And for the local that wants to get drunk in some classy digs, the Sazerac Bar is where you go.

The Sazerac Today

The Sazerac Bar is now almost 73 years old and it is still as popular as the day it was opened. When you’re going to the Sazerac Bar, you’ll be surrounded by the original artwork and murals from the 1950’s and it feels as if you’ve stepped back in New Orleans history. In 2008, New Orleans legislature actually passed a bill that coined the Sazerac as “The New Orleans cocktail.” A Sazerac calls to mind the days when New Orleans was run by the shady-as-hell Huey P. Long and ladies wore their furs and pearls for a night on the town. For most 20 somethings in NOLA, the Sazerac is a cocktail a bit beyond the usual request for light beer and strong bourbon but it reminds us of what our parents drank before they left us with the babysitter and headed out for God only knows what kind of shenanigans.

It’s something so small and yet so very important to the culture of New Orleans. The very fact that American cocktails began in the Crescent City is just further proof that no matter where you go in this country, there is a little NOLA somewhere in there. You don’t even have to look that hard. It explains the drinking culture that is alive and well in this town. It explains why the sugar-filled, hangover inducing, lose your keys and friends drinks like hand grenades and hurricanes don’t even stand in comparison to the importance of the Sazerac in American cocktail history. So guys, put on your shiny shoes, ladies put on your diamonds and prepare to finally get your bartender’s respect when you order that Sazerac.

Photo Credit

Photo Credit

About Morgan

Morgan was born in Georgia, raised in Louisiana, a Southern gal through and through. A graduate of the University of New Orleans, she loves her Saints, her city and inserting thinly veiled sarcasm throughout all her writing.

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