A Brief History of the Sazerac, The Original Cocktail

Celebrate Mardi Gras With The Official Cocktail Of New Orleans (Not a Hurricane)

“The two Sazeracs had loosened her up a little and it looked as if we might become buddies.” —James L. Rubel, No Business for a Lady, (Gold Medal Books, 1950).

I love the Sazerac so intensely it’s nearly hard for me to talk about it. But while I’m working up to it, remember, talking and typing is thirsty work. Please head over to the bar and fetch me one of these elegant and amazing cocktails, which harmonizes resurgent rye with a slip of sweet, a bite of bitters and an altering and awesome addition of now-legal-again absinthe, and then lets itself be tantalized with a touch of lemon oil, sparkling across the top of the drink like stars across the Milky Way. Yes, get me a Sazarac, the official cocktail of New Orleans, to help keep my spirits elevated and my mind working at a pitch only properly described as powerfully pleasant, letting me reach the mountainous tops of speechmaking, a level needed to give appropriate reverie to this king of New Orleans libations.

Originally made—so the story goes—with the house Cognac, Sazerac de Forge et Fils, at the Sazerac Coffee House, said Cognac was combined with an elixir made by Saint Dominique transplant Antoine Amadie Peychaud, then, traveling through history until today, with rye. Yes, please, I could use a Sazerac if I’m going to talk about this true textbook convergence of ingredients, so find your way to the bar thinking of Horace, who, 2,000 years ago, wrote about the Sazerac—or so I like to imagine—“With thee, ’tis happiness to live/And life, without thee, can no pleasure give.” With those immortal lines ringing, and with the Sazerac you were so kind to procure for me in hand, I feel fortified enough to begin to sing its praises. Right after I finish it, naturally.



(Harvard Common Press)


1/4 ounce absinthe
ice cubes
2 ounces rye or bourbon
1/2 ounce simple syrup
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
lemon twist for garnish


1. Carefully pour the absinthe into an old-fashioned or rocks glass, swirl it around respectfully so it coats the glass’s inside walls, then fill the glass with ice cubes.

2. Fill a reliable cocktail shaker halfway with ice cubes. Add the rye (or bourbon, if it comes to that), the syrup and the bitters. Shake well.

3. Strain the shaken ingredients into the glass, then garnish with the lemon twist, and a few short words.

Note: If you have a chilled glass, you can skip the ice cubes in step 1. Also, if you’re worried about bruising that precious rye or bourbon during the shaking step, try stirring with a long spoon instead. Just be sure to get a good chill on.


—A.J. Rathbun


A.J. Rathbun is the author ofDark Spirits: 200 Classy Concoctions Starring Bourbon, Brandy, Scotch, Whiskey, Rum and More(Harvard Common Press, 2009) and other books. The above recipe is excerpted from Dark Spirits.