History of a Cocktail: The Sazerac

Friday, September 24, 2010

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons by Infrogmation
Ok so this pre-dates most of what I like posting about, but who cares, this cocktail is delish, classic, and therefore timeless. I don't usually stray from my vodka drinks, but I'm pretty much open to anything. From the looks of it this cocktail's history is not only long, but also mysterious and secretive (insert moody, melodramatic music here). The cocktail emerged some time in the 1830's and has been hailed as the first cocktail to be invented in the United States (although there is evidence that this is untrue). The basic ingredients are rye whiskey, bitters, a sugar cube or simple syrup and absinthe. It's usually garnished with a lemon peel and served in an old fashioned glass. I think the art form of the drink is in the preparation (and the brand of liquors you use as well). I'm sure every bartender has their own method, but basically you take two old fashioned glasses, one is filled with ice. In the empty one you muddle the sugar component and the bitters, then you add the whiskey. Next you empty the ice from the first glass and pour in some absinthe to coat the inside of the now cold glass. The excess absinthe is discarded. Finally you pour the original mixture of whiskey, bitters and sugar into the coated, cold glass, and garnish with some lemon.  I'm no professional, so I opted for trying out the drink from someone who knew what they were doing.  I tried it at a very cozy, almost cave-like bar called The Falls in Downtown L.A.  It was much too dark for me to take a picture of the drink with my outdated iPhone, so thank you Flickr Creative Commons for the pic.  Honestly it was just as much fun drinking this cocktail as it was watching the bartender make it.  When he had to drain the glass of absinthe he actually tossed the glass up in the air.  The taste was not my usual cup of tea, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I can only describe it as rich, woodsy and definitely manly.  I would almost call it seductive, if you can call a drink that, and I guess I just did.  It's not a drink for the feint of heart and certainly not a drink you would knock back all night, unless you sipped them very slowly.  I would say that if you've never tried one, you should at least do so once. According to some the drink was originally made with cognac instead of whiskey. Also, although the ingredients of the cocktail are well known, the original method or recipe is what remains ambiguous. The name itself is derived from either the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans (opened in 1859) or a cognac brand called Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils. Additionally here are some gems that all relate to the Sazerac Cocktail:

  • In the movie, State of the Union (Liberty Films, 1948), starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy the character of Judge Alexander's wife favors the Sazerac cocktail and Katherine Hepburn's character gets tipsy drinking them.
  • The Sazerac is the official cocktail of Lousiana.
  • The Sazerac is featured in The Savoy Cocktail Book, which was first published in 1930 and continues to be in print to this day. The book contains many classic recipes and was penned by legendary barman Henry Craddock (he invented the White Lady and popularized the Dry Martini). The book takes it's name from The Savoy Hotel in London.
  • The Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans has a gunshot hole in one of its doors towards the back of the bar that legend says was meant for Huey P. Long, the Democratic politician from Louisiana who was popular for his ideas, but was also accused of fascism (The video contained on this page of the Roosevelt's website gives further insight into the famous Sazerac Bar).
  • Much controversy has been stirred simply because the Sazerac is made with absinthe (which is probably the most controversial spirit out there). However the absinthe is only used to coat the glass that you drink a Sazerac from. Absinthe's reputation has long been smeared simply because at one point it was said to have dangerous, addictive and psychological effects on those who drank it. The presence of the chemical thujone was largely to blame (a very small quantity), but it has been proven that the spirit is not any more harmful than any other spirit. In 2007 it made its way back to the United States after having been banned since the early 1900's.

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