SG + SHG Gift


So the Saints finally won a Super Bowl, and while many of you surely pounded Hurricanes to celebrate, here in the Eastern Seaboard, the weather conditions don’t quite call out for something so tropical.  In other words, there’s a blizzard happening right outside my door.  Of course when it comes to celebrating the storied American city, there’s a more appropriate and more distinctly New Orleans drink to be had than a Hurricane, and that is the Sazerac. In fact, I’ve heard it said that in New Orleans, tourists drink Hurricanes and locals drink Sazeracs.  So in honor of the Saints, that’s what we’re drinking tonight!

While the Sazerac is not the first cocktail ever created--despite the popular belief-- its history and pedigree indubitably trace back to the origins of the American cocktail. And despite not technically being the first (folks had long been mixing sugar, spirit, water, and if available, some herbal elixir from the medicine cabinet), no other drink has so quintessentially represented this uniquely American invention which we call the cocktail.

Some time around the early to mid-19th century in New Orleans, a man by the name of Sewell Taylor sold his bar, which was so aptly named Merchants Exchange Coffee House, to a man by the name of Aaron Bird, who up until then was working there as a clerk.  He changed the name of the joint to Sazerac House after a popular brand of Cognac called Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils, and began hawking (sorry, I had to do it) a drink made from said Cognac, sugar, and a brand of bitters made by a local Apothecary owner, a French Creole man named Antoine Peychaud--the recipe for the Sazerac is attributed by many to Mr. Peychaud as well.  This drink became the bar’s specialty, and they were known to have as many as twelve bartenders on hand at any given time whipping up Sazeracs.

Eventually the place was sold to a man by the name of Thomas Handy, who changed the original recipe by replacing the Cognac with Pennsylvania Rye whiskey, and adding a “rinse” of Absinthe to the glass before pouring in the rest of the drink.  Although this wasn’t the original version of a Sazerac, you can’t really call it a modern iteration, since this version itself is over 140 years old.  And while purists may differ, many cocktail enthusiasts consider the version made with Rye superior, though I recommend you try both and decide for yourself.

Oh, and why did Mr. Handy change the base spirit from Cognac to Rye? Well according to cocktail historian Ted Haigh (aka Dr. Cocktail), around the 1870s (which happen to be around the time that Mr. Handy acquired the Sazerac House) a bug was causing havoc in the vineyards of Europe, and one such casualty was France’s Cognac industry, which noticed a sharp decline in production.  As Cognac became increasingly expensive and difficult to acquire in the states, Rye whiskey filled in, and as history has shown, it didn’t miss a beat.


2  1/2 oz Rye whiskey
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters (remember him?)
1 small dash Angostura bitters
1 sugar cube
lemon twist
couple of drops of water

Tools: spoon to stir and muddle with
Glass: two Old Fashioned or Sazerac glasses

Grab one of the glasses and drop in the sugar cube along with a couple drops of water. Break up the sugar cube and muddle to dissolve it. Pour in the Rye and the bitters along with some cracked ice and stir until well chilled, at least 20 seconds or so.  In the other glass, pour in about a teaspoon or so of Absinthe, then rotate the glass to coat the interior of the glass, and pour out the remainder.  Strain the stirred cocktail from the other glass into the one rinsed with Absinthe, twist the lemon peel over the drink, and enjoy!

Normally you’d do the mixing in a standard mixing glass, but for the Sazerac there’s a particular ritual to doing it this way—and it’s nothing more than ritual—so that’s the way we’ll do it here.

As far as the whiskey, let’s be clear that it asks for Rye—not Bourbon, Rye. Yes Bourbon is more readily available, but it produces a drink that’s far too sweet for this application.  You want the flavor of Rye in there.  As for which Rye, you can use a great yet economical one like Old Overholt, something with a bit more spice and just a few bucks more like Rittenhouse, or go all out (if you can find it) and get the Sazerac 18yr Rye Whiskey, which weighs in at around a hundred dollars a bottle, and in my opinion is one of the best whiskeys period (yes, even the Scotch folks are afraid of this one).  I use the Sazerac 18yr because I’m a pimp.  No, really, it’s that good, and smooth, and good.

Some people like to use simple syrup, but not me.  For one, there’s the ritual of muddling the sugar cube, which for some unknown reason I enjoy.  But second, and as a matter of function, I like the lack of uniform sweetness in drinks like the Sazerac and the Old Fashioned, and since the sugar cube never completely dissolves, it accomplishes that purpose for me.

To make the original version, simply swap in Cognac for Rye, and withhold the Absinthe and the Angostura.  Many like using a blend of both, and I encourage you to experiment with that as well.

Here’s to New Orleans!

*Got a cocktail question? Hit me on twitter @paystyle, email me at payman(at)lifesacocktail(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below.
Column: Happy Hour


  • Great post! I was just told today by a Macallan rep that the Sazerac was the “first cocktail of all time”. I was also told this by the Zuni Cafe bartender too, when I was last there.

    So if not the Sazerac, what was it? Just curious. Cause this drink seems to get all the credit.

    Looking forward to making this with some Rye! Maybe I’ll upgrade from Jim Beam— although I can’t quite afford the 18yr Sazarac. You PIMP!

    Going to NOLA next week, en route to snowy NYC. Can’t wait to have the Sazerac!

    kayoko on

  • You’re the best explainer of things.

    kayoko on

  • Well it all depends on how you look at it. To me the issue really has to do with branding. On one hand the Sazerac, as I explained, was based on a template for boozing that was fairly standard at the time: soften the often-harsh spirit by mixing it with some water, sugar, and maybe bitters if you got it in your medicine cabinet, and even a lemon peel if you wanted to get fancy—except in the case of the Sazerac some absinthe was added.

    That drink I just recalled (sans absinthe) has a name, and it’s called the Old Fashioned. However people just called it a ‘cocktail,’ with no actual formal nomenclature seemingly attached. What appears to have happened is at some eventual point in history, people started to call it an Old Fashioned, because it was just that, an old fashioned cocktail, and so that name stuck.

    However the formal naming of the Old Fashioned appears to have happened after the creation and naming of the Sazerac, even though as I mentioned the drink itself (w/o formal name) likely predates the Sazerac. Therefore many reference the Sazerac as the first cocktail, when the more accurate statement would be that it’s the first one to be distinctly and formally named and marketed.

    Paystyle on

  • Mr. McCarthy, thanks so much for those useful bits and pieces, and thanks for reading! I really have to frequent Chanticleer Society much more often, and my profile desperately needs updating.

    Paystyle on

  • Filling in a few blanks, history wise, in so far as I know:

    Antoine began dispensing in 1838, at 123 Royal st.

    It was a hired gun by the name Of Leon Lamothe who added the absinthe rinse in about 1855.

    My recipe: 2 0z Rye
    4 dashes Peychaud’s
    1 dash angostura
    1/2 tbsp simple syrup
    absinthe and lemon peel

    Ian McCarthy on

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published