The History of The Sazerac

Published On November 5, 2012 | By Brian Samuels | History of Mixology, Whiskey

Will you think I’m strange if I told you I picked out this drink based on the name alone?  I mean, you have to agree that “Sazerac” is kind of striking.  It just begs the question: what is that?

Which is exactly what I asked while glancing through a book recently and I came across a reference to this drink.  So, for our first installment of “The History of Cocktails” series, I’ll be digging briefly into the story behind the Sazerac:

What the heck is a Sazerac?

A Sazerac is an aromatic libation consisting of Cognac or, more commonly, rye whiskey and Peychaud’s Bitters.  The drink is served in a chilled Old-Fashioned glass that has been swirled with absinthe, resulting in a lingering anise note in the scent and flavor.

Where was it first created?

New Orleans

What’s the story behind the Sazerac?

The story begins around 1850, when Aaron Bird took over the New Orleans bar, The Merchants Exchange Coffee House, from its original owner, Sewell Taylor. Taylor had left the bar to work as a liquor importer, which included a Cognac called Sazerac de Forge et Fils.  After Bird took over the establishment, he changed its name to The Sazerac House and began serving a cocktail featuring the Sazerac Cognac, as well as bitters produced by local druggist, Antoine Amedie Peychaud.  In fact, years prior to this, Peychaud was known to have made brandy toddies using his bitters, which he would serve to people at his pharmacy.

The use of Sazerac de Forge et Fils ended in the late 19th Century when a phylloxera epidemic resulted in a brandy shortage. As a replacement for Cognac, bartenders began using rye whiskey.

Twenty years after Taylor purchased the bar, Thomas Handy took over The Sazerac House.  In 1873, he bought the rights to Peychaud’s bitters.  Soon after, his company began packaged and sell bottles of pre-mixed Sazerac cocktails. Before his death in 1898, he shared the recipe, which eventually ended up in print… whiskey, not Cognac, was listed as its main ingredient.

Firmly rooted in New Orleans history, there is no doubt the Sazerac is the local libation of choice.  In fact, a Louisiana senator attempted (and failed) to pass a bill that would designate it the state’s official cocktail. After being defeated, the bill was revised and, in 2008, the Louisiana State Senate voted 25-8 to make it the official cocktail of New Orleans.


Brian Samuels is Managing Editor at The Boys Club and blogger at A Thought for Food.

“The Cocktail – How the Sazerac came to be”. The Sazerac Company

“Sazerac: An Official Cocktail for New Orleans?”.
“Sazerac: America’s First Cocktail”. New Orleans Online
“Tales of a Cocktail: Sampling Sazeracs in New Orleans”. The New York Times