The Sazarac has been hailed by some as the oldest cocktail in the world. That, of course, is complete bollocks. The oldest cocktail ever made will never be known, but you can be damn sure it was a very close kissing cousin to the Old Fashioned.
What we do know is that the Sazarac is quite old and that it has three key ingredients. We also know that back in 1850 or so, a trio of key individuals were living and working in New Orleans, Louisiana. These three dudes were:
- Sewell T Taylor, who sold his bar and started importing cognac under the brand Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils. A bottle of 1811 Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils will cost you £12,000.
- Aaron Bird, who bought the Merchant’s Exchange and changed its name to the Sazerac Coffee House.
- Antoine Amedie Peychaud, a local pharmacist who had his own brand of medicinal bitters.
Bird started mixing Taylor’s cognac with Peychaud’s bitters, lacing it with absinthe, and naming it after his bar. This is generally recorded as the original Sazarac cocktail, but David Wondrich of Imbibe introduces the common idea that the mix popped up all over the place and was taken as their own by the Sazarac Coffee House.
Once established as the darling cocktail of New Orleans, the Sazarac suffered two major setbacks. First of all, the French vineyards were ravaged by phylloxera from about 1858 onwards. This devastated the wine crop for decades, and naturally affected the supply of cognac. The second problem came in 1912 with the US ban on absinthe. Absinthe had been a problem for decades as it was often used to take laudanum, which is an opiate pretty much as nasty as heroin. Some scientists had done experiments to show that the wormwood in absinthe sent people mad, and they were blaming that for the ills of the age. The Nosey Chef thinks that the wormwood was a red herring and that guilt by association to class-A drugs was the downfall of absinthe. Regardless, absinthe was ‘Unobtanium’ for 100 years.
The people of New Orleans, always known for their culinary inventiveness (they came up with grits, FFS), swapped the cognac out for rye whiskey, and the absinthe for a local aniseed brew known as Herbsaint. This was the Sazarac that was drunk for years hence, and was probably the one that was ordered in the film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express.
Today, with cognac in good supply and absinthe back on the menu, we can make an original Sazarac with the recipe supplied by the IBA. It is a odd little drink, but if you happen to stumble across some absinthe, buy it and make the Sazarac your next classic cocktail.
- 50ml cognac
- 10ml absinthe
- 1 sugar cube
- 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Rinse a chilled Old Fashioned glass with the absinthe, add crushed ice and set it aside.
Stir the remaining ingredients over ice in a second Old Fashioned glass, and set aside. Discard the ice and any excess absinthe from the prepared glass. Strain the drink from the second glass into the first.
Add a lemon peel garnish.