In America, in the early 19th century, the “cocktail” was born. At first, it was simple and unadorned. Four basic ingredients: liquor (any kind), sugar, water, bitters. And out of this unassuming recipe arose a drink that has become not only a classic cocktail for over 150 years, but a drink that is synonymous with New Orleans itself: the "Sazerac" (and my Retro Cocktail for November). Its unusual name originated from the first ingredient in the drink, a French cognac called Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils. By the second half of the 19th century, this particular cognac was enjoyed so much, that a popular New Orleans bar, The Merchants Exchange, changed its name to The Sazerac House, after the cognac and this new cocktail that had became all the rage. French cognac, plus a sugar cube and water. Add to this, these unique medicinal bitters that
were made just down the street by a local apothecary named Antoine Peychaud. Splash around some absinthe (the continued French influence), and throw in a lemon peel for good measure.
For a while, all was well, until the devastating blight of the 1870s and 80s that decimated France’s vineyards, including those grapes made into cognac and shipped to America. A substitute was required, STAT! And since Rye whiskey was plentiful and within arm’s length, it replaced cognac as the key ingredient in New Orleans’s signature cocktail, still known today as the "Sazerac", as the brand name of the original French cognac lives on.
2½ parts Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye Whisky
splash of Pastis de Marseille
2 dashes of Peychaud's bitters
1 dash of Angostura Aromatic bitters
1 sugar cube
Preparing a Sazerac is all about the ritual. In a tumbler or Old-Fashioned glass, muddle the sugar cube with a few drops of water. Add several ice cubes, the Rye Whisky, the two kinds of bitters, and stir well. Strain this into a second Old-Fashioned glass, chilled and coated on the inside and rim with the splash of Pastis de Marseille. Garnish with a lemon peel.
Catoctin Creek Rye... Mmmm...