by David Klemt

Drink Donnybrook: The Sazerac

by David Klemt

A Sazerac cocktail on a counter inside a rustic apothecary shop

That’s quite a full Sazerac, but I’m more interested in what this particular AI platform thinks that powder next to the cocktail is…

We celebrate the Sazerac, nearly 200 years old and known to many as America’s first cocktail, on Sazerac Cocktail Day, which falls on a Sunday this year.

Refreshingly, we know who should credit for its creation. Further, we can trace it back to a year, and even a location.

In that regard, this won’t be like other Drink Donnybrook articles. The only bold, debate-inducing claims I can really make relate to the base spirit, year of creation, and that my first-ever Sazerac was awful. Oddly, this less-than-stellar Sazerac was made for me at an incredibly popular bar in New Orleans.

Well, sometimes bartenders have off days. I’ve been back to that bar, and had a great time with a great Sazerac. It’s absinthe under the bridge.

Speaking of absinthe, that anise-flavored spirit is a core element of this classic cocktail. Much like some people say “No Negroni without Campari,” there’s no Sazerac without an absinthe rinse.

Now, onto the base of this legendary drink. While bartenders have been making it with rye whiskey for decades, the original recipe calls for Cognac. More specifically, it was made with Sazerac de Forge & Fils. Voilathe drink bears the name of the brandy used at its creation. (Hey, speaking of brandy, check out my Donnybrook article about the Brandy Alexander.)

Cold water, an ice cube, and Peychaud’s bitters round out the ingredients list for a Sazerac. And it’s that last item that reveals the drink’s creator.

The Official Cocktail of New Orleans

Roughly a decade into the 1800s, Antoine Peychaud arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana. Reliable records are a bit difficult to come by, so we don’t know his precise arrival date.

However, historians seem confident that Peychaud did open an apothecary in New Orleans in 1832. (According to one source I came across, Pharmacie Peychaud was opened in 1841.) The next time you’re in NOLA, you can visit the location of said apothecary: 437 Royal Street. Originally, the address was 123 Royal Street. Today, it’s the home of James H. Cohen Antique Weapons & Rare Coins. It’s a fun spot to pop into, by the way.

As you’re likely well aware, apothecaries were precursors to pharmacists and chemists. They served their communities from ye olde apothecary shoppes, and their medicine often consisted of alcohol.

Peychaud crafted his namesake bitters and used them to create an elixir that treated his customers’ illnesses. That medicinal elixir would become the Sazerac. Again, this potion was made with Sazerac de Forge & Fils Cognac, absinthe, and Peychaud’s bitters.

Intriguingly (to me), the Sazerac Housea must-see attraction in NOLAclaims the Sazerac became famous in the 1850s at the Sazerac Coffee House. So, it could’ve taken the Sazerac 20 years to evolve from medicine to cocktail.

On the topic of cocktails, some people attribute Peychaud with inventing the word “cocktail.” Many historians have labeled this claim as false.

Over time, it became difficult to source the cocktail’s eponymous brandy, so the recipe changed to rye whiskey. Some bartenders craft their Sazeracs with other spirits, and will even split their bases. For example, you should try a Sazerac made with a split base of Cognac and rye.

Original Sazerac

Behold, the original Sazerac cocktail recipe.

  • 2 oz. Sazerac de Forge & Fils Cognac
  • 3 to 4 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
  • 0.5 teaspoon Cold water
  • 1 Sugar cube
  • Absinthe, to rinse
  • Lemon peel, to garnish

You’ll want to have chilled rocks glasses on hand for this cocktail. To start, rinse the glass with absinthe. In a mixing glass, muddle the bitters, water, and sugar cube. Add ice and the Cognac to the mixing glass, and stir until well chilled. Strain, garnish, and serve.

As stated earlier, most modern-day recipes call for rye whiskey rather than Cognac. Experiment with basesincluding splitsto craft your signature Sazerac.

In 2008, lawmakers in Louisiana passed legislation that made the Sazerac the Official Cocktail of New Orleans. Sazerac Cocktail Day is on June 23, which falls on a Sunday in 2024. Cheers!

Image: Shutterstock. Disclaimer: This image was generated by an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system.

Beverage Cocktail Program Coaching Consulting Bars Restaurants Hotels