Today, we’re making a cocktail with its heart in old Louisiana. Like an Old Fashioned but with a French twist, it’s the drink of New Orleans. It is, of course, the Sazerac!

New Orleans, with its blend of French, Spanish, British, African, and Native American cultures, is a rich place for drinks. It’s the home of the Hurricane, and the city’s old town gives its name to the Vieux Carré. But against such stiff competition, it’s the Sazerac that is the definitive New Orleans cocktail. So much so that in 2008 the Louisiana Legislature proclaimed it as the city’s official cocktail. 

Who invented the Sazerac?

It was probably invented in 1838 by Antoine Peychaud, a Louisiana apothecary and inventor of the eponymous bitters. The Sazerac was named after a now defunct brand of Cognac: Sazerac de Forge et Fils. The Sazerac was originally made just with brandy but when the vineyards of Europe were destroyed by phylloxera (the vine-eating louse that came originally from America) in the late nineteenth century, bourbon or rye whiskeys were used instead. 

Now it gets a bit confusing because there is now a highly-regarded make of rye whiskey named after the famous cocktail. The Sazerac Company also owns Buffalo Trace bourbon, Southern Comfort and Peychaud’s bitters so they have the Cajun cocktail game sewn up. 

To further confuse matters, the Sazerac company launched its own brand of Cognac in 2020 called Seignette VS. And to make things even more complicated, it has now revived the Sazerac de Forge Cognac brand. So the Sazerac brand will be returning to its French roots. 

New Orleans

It’s like a French Old Fashioned

The Sazerac cocktail is part of the Old Fashioned family. A mixture of alcohol, usually brandy or whiskey, sweetened with sugar, seasoned with bitters and chilled, these would have originally just been known as ‘cocktails’. That’s before the great vermouth revolution when all kinds of new-fashioned drinks like the Martini and Manhattan usurped the name cocktail.

Eric Felten, in his great How’s Your Drink, writes: “It may not be the World’s Strongest Drink, but the Sazerac with its spicy-sweet contradictions, is a cocktail according to the original specifications. Taste one, and you’ll realise why the concept caught on.” According to him, the best Sazerac in the world is made at the Library Lounge of the Ritz Carlton in New Orleans.

Aniseed haters avoid

The Sazerac’s uniqueness lies in the addition of aniseed in the form of absinthe to the simple Old Fashioned recipe, and that it is stirred down and strained rather than served on the rocks. Beware, it’s not a drink for those who don’t like aniseed. So all you aniseed haters out there, avoid. Instead of absinthe, you could use pastis or Herbsaint, a New Orleans aniseed liqueur which it won’t surprise you to learn is also owned by Sazerac. Almost nobody will know the difference. But whatever you do, you must use Peychaud’s bitters or it isn’t a Sazerac. 

Finally, do you use Cognac as in the original recipe or rye as they do at the Library Lounge? Well, I’m going for both, using Seignette VS Cognac and the magnificent Oxford Rye cos it’s what I have in the house. And it’s magnificent. You could keep it on brand by using Sazerac Straight Rye, and save yourself some money.

Whichever you use, the spice of the rye does something magical with the fruit from a vibrant young Cognac. Add a dash of aniseed and some Peychaud’s bitters, and suddenly you’re in the French quarter of New Orleans with the sound of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band floating on the breeze. 

Homemade New Orleans Sazerac Cocktail with Bitters and Rye

How to make a Sazerac

30ml Seignette VS Cognac
30ml Oxford Rye Whiskey Batch 4 or Sazerac Straight Rye
Teaspoon of sugar
Tablespoon of absinthe or Ricard Pastis
Dash of Peychaud’s bitters
Dash of Angostura bitters

Coat a tumbler with the absinthe and shake it out. Then in a shaker stir together the brandy, whiskey, bitters and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Add ice and stir vigorously for about 30 seconds. Strain into the absinthe coated glass and serve with a twist of lemon.