A Brief History: Sazerac

31c54e96c5570bd7609d3645e52603f6In the fall of 1824 a young man named Antoine Amedee Peychaud arrived into New Orleans, along with the masses of Saint-Domingue refugees, in search of a new future and in 1838 he set up his own shop called Pharmacie Peychaud where he became well known for dispensing a patented aniseed and gentian rich herbal remedy named Peychaud’s Bitters. During the 1840’s, Antoine Peychaud prescribed and dispensed his patented herbal bitters as a rudimentary toddy mixed with water, sugar and French brandy to relieve the ails of all his clients irrespective of malady.

While Peychaud was selling reasonable qualities of his bitters to consumers and publicans alike, the use of his bitters in the now popular brandy-cocktail, was only requested by name in a few of the cities establishments. That all changed in 1840 when Sewell Taylor established the Merchants Exchange Coffee House at 15-17 Royal Street who was one of the largest coffee house’s in New Orleans. Taylor was the sole importer for a number of products, one such product was a French brandy made in Limoges, France called Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils.

Around 1850, Taylor handed the day-to-day operation of the coffee house over to Aaron Bird and opened a liquor store. Unlike other establishments, the Merchants Exchange only used Sazerac brandy and Peychaud’s bitters in their cocktail. To further promote the popularity of their serve, in 1852 Bird ingeniously renamed his venue the Sazerac Coffee House – and a legend was born.

The Sazerac recipe was still only partially complete, at this point it is still a ‘toddy’ prepared with Cognac, water, sugar, and bitters, still missing the addition of an infamous anise liqueur, which didn’t occur until the 1870s, when the Cognac was replaced with American rye whiskey. Absinthe didn’t become popular in New Orleans until the 1870s. And coincidently, it was around this time that bartenders were replacing the traditional Cognac with American rye whiskey, because in the second half of the 19th century almost the entire world’s grape vines was devastated by a tiny little bug called Phylloxera. With a grape industry completely reset in the shadow supply of wine and wine based products dropped or stopped completely throughout European colonies. Clever bartenders in the French Quarter’s started using  rye whiskey and a dash of the popular Absinthe. Word spread, and off it went.

The modern concept of the Sazerac finally came to fruition in the 1870s and in 2008 became the official cocktail of the city of New Orleans.

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