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IBA official cocktail
A Sazerac at the Sazerac Bar, The Roosevelt New Orleans Hotel
Primary alcohol by volume
ServedStraight up; without ice
Standard garnishLemon peel
Standard drinkware
Old Fashioned Glass.svg
Old Fashioned glass
IBA specified
PreparationRinse a chilled old-fashioned glass with the absinthe, add crushed ice, and set it aside. Stir the remaining ingredients over ice and set it aside. Discard the ice and any excess absinthe from the prepared glass, and strain the drink into the glass. Add the lemon peel for garnish.[1]
TimingAfter dinner
NotesNote: The original recipe changed in the latter part of the 19th century. Rye whiskey was substituted when cognac became difficult to obtain.[2]
dagger Sazerac recipe at International Bartenders Association

The Sazerac is a local New Orleans variation of a cognac or whiskey cocktail, named for the Sazerac de Forge et Fils brand of cognac brandy that served as its original main ingredient.[1] The drink is most traditionally a combination of cognac or rye whiskey, absinthe, Peychaud's Bitters, and sugar, although bourbon whiskey or Herbsaint are sometimes substituted. Some claim it is the oldest known American cocktail,[3] with origins in pre-Civil War New Orleans, although drink historian David Wondrich is among those who dispute this,[4] and American instances of published usage of the word cocktail to describe a mixture of spirits, bitters, and sugar can be traced to the dawn of the 19th century.[5]


The defining feature of the Sazerac is its method of preparation, which commonly involves two chilled old-fashioned glasses. The first glass is swirled with a wash of absinthe for its flavor and strong scent.[6] The second glass is used to combine the remaining ingredients, which are stirred with ice, then strained into the first glass.[7] Various anisettes such as pastis, Pernod, or Herbsaint are common substitutes when absinthe is unavailable. In New Orleans, Herbsaint is most commonly used due to the absence of absinthe in the U.S. market from 1912 until 2007.[8]


Around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his New Orleans bar, The Merchants Exchange Coffee House, to become an importer of spirits, and he began to import a brand of cognac named Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils. Meanwhile, Aaron Bird assumed proprietorship of the Merchants Exchange and changed its name to Sazerac Coffee House.

Legend has it that Bird began serving the "Sazerac Cocktail", made with Sazerac cognac imported by Taylor, and allegedly with bitters being made by the local apothecary, Antoine Amedie Peychaud. The Sazerac Coffee House subsequently changed hands several times, until around 1870 Thomas Handy became its proprietor. It is around this time that the primary ingredient changed from cognac to rye whiskey, due to the phylloxera epidemic in Europe that devastated the vineyards of France.[2]

At some point before his death in 1889, Handy recorded the recipe for the cocktail, which made its first printed appearance in William T. "Cocktail Bill" Boothby's The World's Drinks and How to Mix Them (1908),[9] although his recipe calls for Selner Bitters, not Peychaud's.[10] After absinthe was banned in the US in 1912, it was replaced by various anise-flavored liqueurs, most notably the locally produced Herbsaint, which first appeared in 1934.[8]

By the early 20th century, simple cocktails like the Sazerac had become rare, which eventually rekindled their popularity.[11]

The creation of the Sazerac has also been credited to Antoine Amédée Peychaud, a Creole apothecary who emigrated to New Orleans from the West Indies and set up shop in the French Quarter in the early 19th Century. He was known to dispense a proprietary mix of aromatic bitters from an old family recipe.

According to popular myth, he served his drink in the large end of an egg cup that was called a coquetier in French, and the Americanized mispronunciation resulted in the name cocktail.[12] This belief was debunked when people discovered that the term "cocktail" as a type of drink first appeared in print at least as far back as 1803—and was defined in print in 1806 as, "a mixture of spirits of any kind, water, sugar and bitters, vulgarly called a bittered sling.".[13]

Official cocktail of New Orleans[edit]

In March 2008, Louisiana state senator Edwin R. Murray (D-New Orleans) filed Senate Bill 6 designating the Sazerac as Louisiana's official state cocktail. The bill was defeated on April 8, 2008. After further debate, on June 23, 2008, the Louisiana Legislature agreed to proclaim the Sazerac as New Orleans' official cocktail.[14]

Similar cocktails[edit]

A cocktail named the Zazarack was included in the 1910 version of Jack's Manual, an early bartender's reference written by Jacob "Jack" Grohusko, the head bartender at Baracca’s restaurant in New York.[15] It is essentially the same cocktail as the Sazerac, but called for bourbon (and not rye) instead of cognac.[16]

Later versions of the drink were spelled Zazarac and added rum, and are thought by some to be a variant of the Sazerac,[17] although it might have originated completely independent of the more famous drink.[18]

Cultural impact[edit]

A Sazerac cocktail features prominently in an episode of the HBO TV series Treme, when chef Janette Desautel (played by Kim Dickens) tosses one in the face of restaurant critic and food writer Alan Richman (appearing as himself). Richman had angered many New Orleanians in 2006 with an article in the magazine GQ, in which he criticized New Orleans' food culture post-Hurricane Katrina. Despite reservations, he agreed to participate in the scene and called Sazerac "a good choice of weaponry, because it symbolizes the city".[19]

In the 1973 James Bond film, Live and Let Die, two Sazerac cocktails are ordered by Bond's CIA-agent friend Felix Leiter.[20]


Sazerac is also a brand of rye whiskey produced by the Sazerac Company.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The Cocktail - How the Sazerac came to be". The Sazerac Company. Retrieved 2012-07-06.
  2. ^ a b Arthur, Stanley (1997). Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix 'Em. Pelican. ISBN 978-0-88289-132-3.
  3. ^ Majumdar, Simon (2009). Eat My Globe: One Year to Go Everywhere and Eat Everything. Simon and Schuster. p. 192. ISBN 1-4165-7602-9.
  4. ^ "David Wondrich dispels Sazerac myths". Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  5. ^ Felten, Eric (2007). How's Your Drink? Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well. Surrey Books. pp. 9–10. ISBN 1-57284-089-7.
  6. ^ Wondrich, David (2007). Imbibe!. Perigee. pp. 199–202. ISBN 978-0-399-53287-0.
  7. ^ Axelrod, Alan (2003). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Mixing Drinks (2 ed.). Penguin. p. 130. ISBN 0-02-864468-9. Retrieved 2012-07-06.
  8. ^ a b Simon, Kate (2010). Absinthe Cocktails: 50 Ways to Mix with the Green Fairy. Chronicle Books. p. 33. ISBN 1-4521-0030-6. Retrieved 2012-07-06.
  9. ^ "The Wondrich Take". Esquire. Retrieved 2012-07-06.
  10. ^ Price, Todd A. (July 31, 2010). "Bitter Truth brings its Creole Bitters to the U.S." The Times-Picayune. Retrieved 2012-07-06.
  11. ^ Wondrich, David (2007). Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar. Perigee. pp. 199–202. ISBN 978-0-399-53287-0.
  12. ^ Difford, Simon (2007). Diffordsguide Cocktails #7 (7 ed.). Diffordsguide. p. 315. ISBN 0-9556276-0-5. Retrieved 2012-07-06.
  13. ^ Felten, Eric (2007). How's Your Drink? Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well. Surrey Books. pp. 9–10. ISBN 1-57284-089-7.
  14. ^ "New Orleans Declares Sazerac Its Cocktail of Choice". All Things Considered. National Public Radio. June 26, 2008. Retrieved December 6, 2010.
  15. ^ Grohusko, Jacob "Jack" (1910). Jack's Manual (second ed.). New York: McClunn & Co. p. 84.
  16. ^ "Sazerac and Zazarack Cocktails". Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  17. ^ "The Vintage Drink. Zazarac Cocktail Drink Recipe". The Vintage Drink. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  18. ^ Haigh, Ted (February 27, 2014). Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. Quarry Books. pp. 219–20. ISBN 1616734752. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
  19. ^ Richman, Alan (May 16, 2011). "Alan Richman Returns To New Orleans". GQ. Retrieved May 16, 2011.
  20. ^ Darlington, Joseph (February 2013), "The cocktails of James Bond: the Sazerac", Business Jet Traveler, retrieved 2019-05-07