It seems like a century ago, but, yes, I spent some time in New Orleans last month. It was our first time in the city and, quite frankly, I fell in love. That we would eat and drink well was a given, what surprised me was my deep affection for the city itself - or, more precisely, for the area know as The French Quarter.
Winding my way along the Quarter's sun-baked streets, seeking the shelter of its lush green balconies, I felt at home. Something about the gentile decay, the almost-but-not-quite-falling-apart-ness of the city, spoke to me. Seduced by each new and more beautiful vista, I felt the city wrapping its warmth around me like the arms of a would be lover, pulling me in for a kiss. Strange reference perhaps, but there's a subtle underlying decadence to almost everything in the French Quarter, so the metaphor seems to fit ... and I fell willingly into those arms.
And, in truth, the seduction didn't take long. It began an hour after I arrived, with my first sip of a Sazerac at The Sazerac Bar in The Roosevelt Hotel.
The Sazerac enjoys a long and much fabled history. So fabled, in fact, that it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. Fortunately, for our purposes, to do so is unnecessary. I happen to like the more popular story best, so I'll recount it briefly for you here. In this version, the Sazerac was invented by Antoine Amadie Peychaud, a New Orleans based apothecary, in 1838. Mr. Peychaud mixed a quantity of cognac with his health tonic - the substance we now know as Peychaud's bitters - and a bit of water and sugar. By 1870 or so, the drink had gained in popularity and, due to the tastes of the times, the cognac was replaced with Rye.
Somewhere along the way, a splash of absinthe was added to rinse the glass and when absinthe became illegal, it was replaced by Herbsaint, a pastis made in New Orleans. Phew! Still with me? Good. There's certainly more to this story and if you Google, you can read all your heart desires. At the end of the day, there's only one thing you need to know: this drink is enchanting.
The Sazerac Cocktail:
- 1 sugar cube
- 1 1/2 ounces of rye whiskey
- 1/4 ounce Herbsaint
- 3 dashes of Peychaud's Bitters
- strip of lemon peel
Pack an old fashioned glass with ice and reserve. In a second glass, combine the cube of sugar and 3 dashes of Peychaud's Bitter. Crush the sugar cube to dissolve, using a muddling tool or a bartender's spoon. Add the rye and a few cubes of ice and stir, briefly, to chill. Reserve.
Pour out the ice from the old fashioned glass and add the Herbsaint, turn the glass to coat, then empty the rest of the Herbsaint from the glass. Strain the reserved rye and bitters mixture into the coated glass, garnish with a strip or twist of lemon. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!
A brief note on the recipe: I've used The Roosevelt's formula here, but if you do decide to Google, you'll find others. Some add a drop of Angostura bitters; some council the use of simple syrup, rather than the sugar cube; and some urge absinthe rather than Herbsaint for sake of tradition. As always, do as you see fit. If it seems easier for you, go ahead and use the simple syrup. In that case, I'd use about a teaspoon.
Like New Orleans itself, there's much to be discovered here. Each sip reveals a new twist, a new layer of flavor ... and the experience only intensifies as the drink warms. Sip slowly, savor it a bit, and you'll notice the layers. The herbal, faintly licorice flavor of the Herbsaint is present, yet doesn't overwhelm. The sweetness of the rye is tempered by the aromatic bitters, and end result is something magical. Its as enchanting as a stroll through the Quarter and as seductive as the city itself. I hope you'll try it.