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What Is a Sazerac?

A jigger is used to measure alcohol to make a Sazerac.
New Orleans was the birthplace of the sazerac.
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  • Written By: Lisa O'Meara
  • Edited By: Kathryn Hulick
  • Last Modified Date: 17 August 2014
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A Sazerac is a cocktail first popularized in New Orleans, Louisiana in the 1800s that continues its popularity in modern times. Its name is derived from Sazerac-de-forge et fils, the French cognac that was one of its original key ingredients. The drink is such a part of New Orleans culture that State Senator Edwin Murray introduced a Senate bill in March of 2008 to designate it as the official drink of Louisiana. After some political wrangling, the bill's scope was limited and the Sazerac became the official drink of New Orleans on 23 June 2008.

Just after the turn of the 19th century, similar cocktails were popular in New Orleans. In the 1830s, an apothecary named Antoine Amedee Peychaud concocted the version that would become known as the Sazerac. He made the drink by mixing his own blend of bitters with the French cognac, sugar and water. Peychaud prescribed the cocktail as medicine to clients at his drugstore. Eventually, the drink became so popular that by mid-century an entrepreneur named Aaron Bird had coined the drink the Sazerac and named a bar after it. The Sazerac Coffee House boasted a 125 foot (38 m) long bar behind which a row of bartenders served cocktails to the patrons.

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Due to changing American tastes and a disease epidemic in Europe that made it difficult to obtain cognac, the cocktail started being made with rye whiskey rather than cognac around 1870. Absinthe, an anise flavored liquor, was added at that time to the standard ingredients of Peychaud's bitters and sugar. When the US government outlawed absinthe in 1912 because it was thought to be addictive, it was replaced with Herbsaint. This still remains a popular substitution.

A person generally makes this cocktail by filling one lowball glass with ice or placing it in a refrigerator or freezer for about 30 minutes. While that glass is chilling, another glass is used to muddle one cube of sugar with three dashes of Peychaud's blend of bitters. Then, 1.5 ounces (42 g) of rye whiskey is added and everything is mixed together. Once the first glass is chilled, the ice is discarded and absinthe is swirled in it to completely coat the inside of the glass. After discarding any excess absinthe, the rye mixture is added to the prepared glass. A lemon slice makes a nice garnish for the drink.

Although it has changed ownership and moved, the Sazerac Coffee House still exists in New Orleans. It was moved to the Roosevelt Hotel in 1949 and renamed the Sazerac Bar and Restaurant. The owners of the hotel pay a licensing fee each year for the use of the name to the Sazerac Company, which has become a major liquor company and also holds the rights to the recipe for Peychaud's bitters.

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