Photo: Shutterstock / Brent Hofacker
If you really want to channel local savvy in New Orleans, forget about ordering a Hurricane or jambalaya or any one of these Mardi Gras favorites. Instead, ask for this (insanely) vintage cocktail: the Sazerac.
Geniuses are often misunderstood. And as much could be said of the sexy, sophisticated official cocktail of New Orleans, whose seduction lies in its mysterious past. A variant of the Old Fashioned (sharing the classic combo of liquor, bitters and sugar), it has a few key additions that put it distinctly in NOLA territory—and lend it a swag all its own.
A Wellness Elixir
Around the middle of the 19th century, Antoine Peychaud began selling a stomachache remedy—consisting of brandy and botanicals, among other things—in his newly opened apothecary in the French Quarter. The concoction’s popularity exploded. By 1873, the recipe replaced the French brandy (from which the cocktail was named) with American rye whiskey and added a whisper of absinthe, and thus the first iteration of the Sazerac was born.
But when absinthe, the jade and foggy, wormwood-laden liquor that all the hip turn-of-the-century people were drinking, was banned in the United States in 1912, “the Green Fairy” was replaced with an anise-flavored liquor called Herbsaint (named after the local term for wormwood, “Herb Sainte”). The present-day maker of Herbsaint and Peychaud’s Bitters, The Sazerac Co., points to the Sazerac Coffee House as the leading purveyor for popularizing the drink. And now, many of today’s preparations include both Herbsaint and absinthe (which was effectively made legal again nearly a century later, in 2007).
The Big Easy’s Drink of Choice
But the past isn’t the only thing that’s carried this drink on menus for nearly two centuries. The people of New Orleans know how to drink, and armed with absinthe, sugar bitter, lemon peel and rye whiskey or cognac, this robust tipple packs a punch on both the alcoholic content and taste fronts.
In 2008, the Louisiana Legislature ratified the libation to make it the official NOLA drink, and in 2016 it inspired a film, The New Orleans Sazerac: The True Story of a Strong, Southern Drink. Now, how many cocktails can say that?
So have your gumbo, your jambalaya and your andouille—you’ll need them all as a base—and saddle up to the bar for a pungent history lesson on the topsy-turvy tipple of The Big Easy.