Where Was The Sazerac Cocktail Invented?

Walk into any bar in New Orleans and ask for a Sazerac, and you'll likely be served an absinthe-rinsed glass of rye whiskey, Peychaud's Bitters, sugar or simple syrup, and a lemon-peel twist. While some bars may have their own variations on the drink, like adding a splash of herbaceous bitters or opting for a split of bourbon and rye, this is the quintessential Sazerac cocktail as folks know it today. The drink's origins are somewhat mysterious, but popular legend claims the cocktail was created in the mid-19th century in New Orleans.

The Sazerac's creation is often credited to Antoine Peychaud, a Creole pharmacist who immigrated to New Orleans from Haiti. It's perhaps fitting that a pharmacist invented such a famous cocktail, as alcohol has been used medicinally throughout history. Peychaud is said to have concocted the drink using his own homemade bitters, which is why his namesake is the variety still used in Sazeracs today. But the cocktail was actually quite different back then.

It's widely believed that the original spirit used in the drink was a cognac called Sazerac de Forge et Fils instead of rye whiskey, hence the cocktail's name. What's more, absinthe was not present in the original recipe. Nevertheless, the drink was a hit and soon made its way from pharmacies to house parties and bars, like New Orleans' Sazerac Coffee House, which some cite as the birthplace of the first fully formed Sazerac cocktail recipe.

The Sazerac stands the test of time

Due to the phylloxera epidemic that decimated European vineyards in the 19th century, sourcing cognac eventually became difficult. This is likely why the Sazerac dropped its namesake and instead began calling for American-made rye whiskey. At the same time, the wormwood-infused spirit absinthe, also known as "the green fairy," became incredibly popular. It was beloved for its high proof and anise flavor, and it soon became a part of the Sazerac cocktail recipe.

Some folks think this is because absinthe was said to produce hallucinations; however, this has been disproven. The spirit was simply used for its unique licorice flavor, and when absinthe was banned in the U.S. in 1912, folks weren't about to lose that wonderful flavor. J. Marion Legendre invented a new anise-flavored spirit called Legendre Herbsaint. It was designed to be an absinthe substitute, and some bars still use it in their Sazeracs, even though absinthe is no longer banned.

Although its components have changed over the last century or so, the Sazerac remains a classic cocktail to this day. The original Sazerac Coffee House is no longer around, but the spirit's namesake company did open a new Sazerac House in 2019, which operates as part museum, part cocktail bar.