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Jul 6, 200912:00 AM
The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde

Errol Laborde: Why this week is the perfect time to have a Sazerac

Errol Laborde

Fortune could not have planned it any better. The Sazerac bar at the Roosevelt hotel is now reopened, coincidentally, just in time for the 150th anniversary of the drink after which it is named. Also, Tales of the Cocktail, which begins July 8, has one more historic occasion in the world of cocktails to celebrate.
        
To understand what happened in 1859, you have to first understand what was happening prior to that - New Orleans was going bonkers over imbibing. Folks here were talking about a concoction that a Royal Street pharmacist, A. A. Peychaud, had created. To a shot of brandy Peychaud had begun adding his family formula for bitters, a tonic compound that was offered as a cure for various maladies. The bitters, when added to the brandy, gave a kick to the drink.
           
In a city happy over brandy with bitters, next came John B. Schiller, a local agent for a French Cognac importer who had an idea. The brand he imported was manufactured by the firm of Sazerac-de-Forge et fils of Limoge, France. In 1859 Schiller opened a place on Exchange Alley in the French Quarter calling it the "Sazerac Coffeehouse." He was the exclusive purveyor of the Sazerac brand cognac (remember, cognac is a form of brandy), which he also served with bitters to create the world's first Sazerac cocktail.
           
Schiller had a hit on his hands, not that it took much to convince cocktail crazy New Orleans to try another drink. But as the city became more American and less French, tastes shifted. In 1870, Schiller's bookkeeper, Thomas Handy, bought the business and changed its name to the "Sazerac House." That's not all he changed. He kept the bitters but replaced the cognac with rye whiskey. As Stanley Clisby Arthur in his book, Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix 'Em explained, the change was to "please the tastes of Americans who preferred 'redlikker'to any palefaced brandy." As the Sazerac was reinvented, no longer was its namesake hooch part of the recipe. Around that same time, Leon Lamothe, a bartender at Pina's Restaurant on Burgundy Street began adding a splash of absinthe (a licorice-tasting liquor) to the drink. It became a standard ingredient.
           
Like boudin and bread pudding, the exact formula for preparing a Sazerac would differ from place to place, but Arthur's book codified an acceptable standardized list of ingredients:

                    1 lump sugar
                    2 drops Peychaud's bitters
                    1 dash Angostura bitters
                    1 jigger of rye whiskey
                    1 dash absinthe substitute
                    1 slice lemon peel

 Most of the better bars and restaurants in town serve the drink that is best known as the house specialty at the Roosevelt's Sazerac bar.
           
Peychaud's bitters are now marketed commercially. The Sazerac name is also used by a Kentucky company that makes its version of a rye whiskey.
            
A Sazerac is my favorite mixed drink just because it is so authentically New Orleans, and so authentically a cocktail. Like the city, the drink is a mixture of French and American influences. Even some of the ingredients - sugar and lemon - can come from Louisiana soil. And who knows, A.A. Peychaud could have been right, those bitters might just help cure most anything that ails us.
 
 
Let us know what you think. Any comments about this article? Write to errol@renpubllc.com. For the subject line use SAZERAC. All responses are subject to being published, as edited, in this newsletter. Please include your name and location.

 
Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival- Comus to Zulu by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via E- mail at gdkrewe@aol.com or (504- 895-2266)

 

WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7PM, REPEATED AT 11:30 PM.WYES-TV, CH. 12.  
 
 NOW ON WIST RADIO, 690 AM, THE ERROL LABORDE SHOW, 6PM FRIDAYS; 7AM and 2PM SATURDAYS; 8AM and 5 PM
SUNDAYS. THE PROGRAM IS ALSO STREAMED ON THE WIST WEB SITE.

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The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde

about

Errol LabordeErrol Laborde holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of New Orleans and is the editor-in-chief of Renaissance Publishing. In that capacity he serves as editor/associate publisher of New Orleans Magazine and editor/publisher of Louisiana Life magazine.

Errol is also a producer and a regular panelist on Informed Sources, a weekly news discussion program broadcast on public television station WYES-TV, Channel 12. Errol is a three-time winner of the Alex Waller Award, the highest award given in print journalism by the Press Club of New Orleans. He also received the National and City Regional Magazine Association Award for Best Column for his New Orleans Magazine column, beating out 76 city magazines across the country. In 2013, Errol received the award for the "Best News Affiliated Blog," awarded by the Press Club of New Orleans.

Errol’s most recent books are Krewe: The Early Carnival from Comus to Zulu and Marched the Day God: A History of the Rex Organization. In his free time he enjoys playing tennis and traveling with his wife, Peggy, to anywhere they can get away to, but some of his favorite spots are the Caribbean and historic locations around Louisiana. You can reach Errol at (504) 830-7235 or errol@myneworleans.com.

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