It’s often said that the word "cocktail" originated in New Orleans. That it is derived from the French word coquetier, an egg cup that was used to serve spirited beverages in the Crescent City in the early 19th century. Whether New Orleans is the official home to the "cocktail" or not, a visit to NOLA (as the city’s affectionately called) proves, if anything, that they take their drinks seriously. And now, the city has been honored with its own official cocktail–the sazerac. Laissez les bons temps rouler!
The Louisiana legislature has just passed a bill, originally proposed by Senator Edwin Murray, naming the sazerac the official beverage of the city of New Orleans. And this weekend, during the city’s annual Tales of the Cocktail festival, it’s all things sazerac, from convivial toasts to absinthe and rye tastings to food/cocktail pairings.
Cousins Lally Brennan and Ti Adelaide Martin, proprietors of the legendary Commander’s Palace restaurant, have a personal affinity for the drink. While Ti might start an evening with a sazerac, Lally is more inclined to end her night with one. But this concoction of rye, Herbsaint (or absinthe), and Peychaud’s bitters packs a punch. As the ladies like to say, "Do have just one, as you won’t be nearly as attractive as you think you are after two."
Lally points out that Peychaud’s bitters are key. "Peychaud’s is New Orleans. If you don’t have Peychaud’s, you might as well not bother trying to make a sazerac." If you don’t live in New Orleans, that can be tough, since Peychaud’s is virtually impossible to find elsewhere. Thank goodness for internet commerce. Whether you live in Mississippi or beyond the Mason-Dixon line, you can have them shipped directly to you via the Buffalo Trace website.
Below is an excerpt from Ti and Lally’s recent book, In the Land of Cocktails, with a brief history of the drink, as well as their recipe:
We are Sazerac enthusiasts. Perhaps cocktails would have never caught on if the original one—the Sazerac—wasn’t such a perfect concoction.
The Sazerac is easy to make but hard to master. As with all cocktails, proportion and balance are important. We’ve had as many bad Sazeracs as good ones—even in our beloved New Orleans. It should be reddish orange in color. To our taste, Old Overholt rye whiskey or Sazerac are balanced and preferred, and in place of the original absinthe we like Herbsaint, which is not as intense as Pernod or Pastis. We use simple syrup in place of the traditional sugar cube, which most people don’t keep on hand anyway.
In the early 1800s, the Sazerac was originally made with Cognac and Peychaud’s Bitters, created by Antoine Peychaud. He named the drink for his favorite brand of Cognac from Limoges, France, the Sazerac-de-Forge-et-fils. In 1870, with Cognac harder to come by due to phylloxera in France, rye whiskey was substituted. Absinthe was banned in the United States in 1912, and hence Pernod or Herbsaint was substituted to coat the glass.
As young girls, we were mesmerized when Leroy, the Commander’s Palace bartender, held up a glass and twirled it to coat the inside with Herbsaint, the first step in making this classic cocktail.
Makes 1 cocktail
1 tablespoon Herbsaint
1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey, preferably Old Overholt or Sazerac rye
1/2 teaspoon simple syrup
4 to 5 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 lemon twist with the white pith removed, for garnish
Pour the Herbsaint into a rocks glass and swirl to coat the inside. Discard any excess Herbsaint. Fill the glass with ice to chill.
Combine the rye, simple syrup and Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters in a cocktail shaker with ice. Cover and shake vigorously.
Discard the ice from the glass and strain the shaker mixture into the glass. Rub the rim of the glass with the lemon twist, add to the drink and serve immediately.