Whisky Magazine Issue 48
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Hailed by its fans as the first cocktail, the sazerac courted controversy because of one ingredient -absinthe. Ian Wisniewski looks at its history
The story begins with Antoine Amedie Peychaud, a Creole immigrant who arrived in New Orleans from San Domingo (Haiti) in 1795, with a secret family recipe for making bitters. When his son of the same name opened an apothecary at 123 Royal Street in the French Quarter in 1838, this bitters recipe became the basis for a ‘medicinal tonic,' combined with French brandy and sweetened with sugar.
Preparing the tonic involved a measuring cup, which resembled a double-ended egg cup, known as a coquetier. As this was pronounced ‘ko-k-tay,' it could have provided the word ‘cocktail' (though various other contenders also claim to be the origin of this special word).
Meanwhile, a growing number of regulars were ordering a certain ‘sazerac cocktail,' combining Peychaud bitters with Sazerac cognac, at The Sazerac Coffee House which was down the road at number 16.
When ownership of The Sazerac Coffee House passed to Thomas Handy in 1869, he hired Antoine Amedie Peychaud to continue making Peychaud bitters. Meanwhile, Handy got to work marketing the bitters as a brand, and in 1871 he opened a business importing Sazerac cognac from France.
However, the recipe for the sazerac cocktail experienced a fundamental change in the 1860s, when American rye whiskey began to replace French brandy. This was an entirely practical response to the difficulty of sourcing French brandy during the American Civil War.
The recipe evolved again when absinthe was first added towards the end of the 19t...