The oldest cocktails, like the Old Fashioned, hearken back to a core beverage template known as the bittered sling. The sling is a primary liquor, sugar, and bitters. The Sazerac is another one of these classic cocktails that comes from the bittered sling and therefore it is OLD. But unlike many of the really old cocktails, this one has a solid background, including all of the major players and a home base.
Picture 1850 in New Orleans, Louisiana one Sewell Taylor sold his coffee house to Aaron Bird. Sewell goes into the cognac importing business selling his Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brand while Bird turns the coffee house into a bar and renames it the Sazerac House featuring Sewell’s product. To complete the trio of action heroes, Antoine Amedie Peychaud, a druggist down the street provides his own name brand bitters to the mix making the Sazerac cocktail.
Then the Red Coats came suddenly and took President Jackson hostage. Taylor, a former special forces from the War of 1812, gathered Peychaud, a dual machete wielding voodoo master, and Bird, a wise-cracking con artist who provided comedic relief by smashing bottles of cognac over British soldiers’ heads, together to first rescue Jackson from his captors and then lead the counterattack against the British in the Battle of New Orleans. What a crazy story!
OK, so the above paragraph isn’t exactly historically accurate, but it was fun to consider, and likely would make an amazing action movie called “Tales of the Cocktail”. I can see the automatic muskets now!
For those who know Sazeracs as whiskey drinks, you would have already detected an issue with the above true account. However, the story of how it went from cognac to whiskey, though not an action movie, is pretty interesting. Around 1858 an American aphid (our gift to Europe) called phylloxera infested the vineyards of France. Grape production in Europe was devastated and wine and brandy making took a dive. At the Sazerac House in New Orleans they had to quickly make the substitution of rye whiskey to keep going and so they did. And it has stuck since then.
For those still feeling nervous about how the French wine story turned out, American vines were introduced and grafted to the existing French crops thereby imparting immunity to the aphid attack. I’m no grape expert, but this makes it seem a bit like the Frenchness from the original fruit stock is gone or affected. I’ll ask @TheAlcoholProf when I get a chance, but if that is the case it seems kind of like a vicious nanner-nanner-nanner toward French culture. Just sayin.
The drink itself as commonly made is:
- 2 ounces Rye whiskey
- Three dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
- One sugar cube or 1 tsp simple syrup
- Splash of absinthe or Herbsaint (in the first version Bobby used Pernod to reflect absinthe’s rarity)
The second one he created used bloodorange-cherry bitters and real absinthe. The third one he made used walnut bitters (this was my favorite).
The sazerac was a lot of fun to explore. It has a rich history with much more of a story than previous cocktails, including an element of international devastation. Something I noticed as well is that this is the second cocktail invented by committee. The intent seems different than the Moscow Mule, but it’s interesting to me that in each case several people came together bringing something to the project and ultimately creating something that has stayed popular for over or nearly a century and in the case of the sazerac, became the official drink of New Orleans. I’ll be curious to see if any other popular drinks were created in this way.
- I said this was episode 14, but another one actually pre-empted this so it is #15
- Also, I said the term for joining two plants together was splicing (I remember at the time thinking that was wrong); the correct term is grafting
- I’d also like to add that we spontaneously had one of Fion’s regulars, Katherine, join us for this recording and actually provide some real crunchy bits to the info.