Monday, February 11, 2013

The Sazerac

The Sazerac at 320 Main

Can a cocktail capture the essence of an entire city and its culture?

When people think of New Orleans, probably the first thing they think of is the Hurricane -­ a mixture of passion fruit and rum served out of a curvy glass that is probably festooned with beads that have been earned in ways that aren’t appropriate to discuss here. Certainly the Hurricane may capture the devil-may-­care attitude of a French Quarter bursting with tourists looking for a good time, but some would argue that a better capsule of the Big Easy would be the Sazerac.

The history of the Sazerac is clouded in the haze of history, buried amongst a host of tall tales and big personalities. It is the amalgamation of ingredients plucked from people like Antoine Peychaud - a Creole pharmacist whose aromatic bitters were sold for various stomach maladies and are still a staple of any serious cocktail bar today -­ and Sewell Taylor, who was the sole importer of a brand of cognac known as Sazerac-­de-­Forge et Fils (they weren’t great at naming things simply back then).

Prior to moving into the importation business, Taylor had sold his “coffee house” ­ a euphemism for “bar” that was popular at the time ­- which came to be owned by a man named Aaron Bird. It was most likely Bird who began to mix a concoction of Sazerac cognac, sugar, and a local bitters made by Peychaud, and sold it as the Sazerac Cocktail.

The Sazerac continued to evolve as New Orleans continued to grow as a mixture of French, Creole, and American culture. After a few decades of changing hands, The Sazerac House, as it had come to be known, came under the stewardship of Thomas Handy. By this time the cocktail had evolved to include a dash of absinthe, often as a rinse added to the glass in which the drink was served. Handy’s time roughly coincided with an epidemic that devastated the French wine industry, and thus rendered cognac nearly impossible to come by. Being a man who didn’t want to give up on the house cocktail, Handy is often credited with replacing the cognac with American-­made rye whiskey. When absinthe was banned in the United States, the still­-legal Herbsaint pastis ­ - produced right in New Orleans,­ was used in its place.

Perseverance through changing culture, laws, and refusing to be washed away by hurricanes? How could the Sazerac NOT be the embodiment of New Orleans?

At 320 Main, we try to honor the tradition of the drink and make a Sazerac that will have you ordering gumbo and wearing linen suits.

2 oz Bulleit Rye Whiskey
2 tsp Rich Simple Syrup
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters 

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Chill a double old fashioned glass and set aside. Mix ingredients in a mixing glass and stir with ice until cold. Rinse the old fashioned glass with absinthe, strain cocktail into glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

At the end, your drink is spicy, sweet, and rich -­ everything you’d expect from New Orleans.

For more information and history on the Sazerac, check out Chuck Taggart’s article over at Gumbo Pages, or pick up a copy of David Wondrich’s masterful Imbibe!

Matt “RumDood” Robold is a bartender at 320 Main and, in his spare time runs, where he writes about rum, rum cocktails, and rum history.