History of the Sazerac Cocktail

An intoxicating combination of absinthe, whiskey and bitters, with a teaspoon of sugar for good measure, the Sazerac is not a cocktail that should be gulped down quickly. The high alcohol content demands that you sip it slowly, savouring every last drop - drink too fast and you might not make it to your second!

The Pharmaceutical Beginnings of the Sazerac

The key ingredient of the Sazerac is Peychard's Bitter - any other bitter is okay, but it won't make for a true Sazerac. The reason for this is that the cocktail was made to accommodate the newly created bitters drink. Both the mixer and the cocktail were invented by Antoine Amédée Peychaud, the owner of a pharmacy in New Orleans back in the 1830's.

The original drink was made with Sazerac de Forge et Fils cognac and Peychard used to serve his blend warmed up to his waiting customers when dispensing prescriptions. He marketed it as an ailment to all ills and served it in a small egg cup so that it could be swallowed like a shot. Customers loved it and it was clear that there would be a market for such a new and exciting drink. A local coffee house got wind of the tasty beverage and bought the rights to the bitters so that they could claim to be the sole establishment that sold the Sazerac cocktail. It was here that the cognac was changed to rye whiskey, after the restriction of French alcohol in the 1890s, and the drink became the cocktail that we know today.


Troubled Times

In 1912, the Sazerac cocktail was threatened with obscurity as absinthe was banned in the US and most of Europe. The ban was due to the presence of thujone, a chemical considered unsafe by government officials. It was thought to cause seizures and hallucinations and it became illegal to buy, sell or consume.

The Sazerac was still popular, despite absinthe being substituted for anise-flavoured liqueurs, but it didn't have the same kick as the original drink. Thankfully, in the USA in 2007, the ban was lifted, as experts decided there was not enough thujone in absinthe to be causing any adverse effect. Other countries also softened the ban, although in the UK it is still not sold in bars and clubs.


Official Cocktail of Louisiana

The public were delighted at the lift of the ban, so much so that in 2008 it was named the official cocktail of Louisiana. Thought to be the first branded cocktail, it has become an essential tourist drink when visiting New Orleans.

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Bartender's top tip

Engage with patrons genuinely. While mastering mixology is key, the best bartenders remember that building rapport and creating a welcoming atmosphere are just as vital to repeat business.

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