Monday, July 7, 2008

Save the Sazerac

Thanks to our wonderful Louisiana Legislature, the City of New Orleans now has its own official cocktail, the Sazerac. Many of my Cleveland friends will recall that two liquid refreshments kept me connected spiritually to New Orleans in my stay there. The mornings produced a heady cup of coffee with chicory (usually Cafe du Monde or CDM brand), which got me going throughout my busy day. However, when evening came, the choice beverage for me was a Sazerac, considered America's first cocktail and invented right here in New Orleans. The Sazerac has always been made with Peychaud's bitters, which are the second most popular bitters in this country. However, the most popular brand, Angostura, far outsells Peychaud's bitters and is used to make a plethora of popular cocktails like the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned. So, if one asks for bitters at most bars, they invariably get Angostura. Bitters are made with herbs suspended in an alcohol or glycerol solution. Like the name suggests, they have a bitter taste when sampled alone. However, they are used as starters for several alcohol concoctions and meld with spirits in such a way that they enhance the libation and provide it with a taste that stays well on he tongue. When pharmacist Antoine Amadie Peychaud, an immigrant from the West Indies, first came up with Peychaud's bitters, it was intended to be used as a digestif, or after-meal potable that would aid digestion. Peychaud began selling his proprietary bitters and created the original Sazerac cocktail using them with a special brandy imported from France. When liquor taxes became popular in the mid to late 19th Century, bitters were also passed as "medicine" and several popular watering holes, often colloquially referred to as "coffee houses," sprang up to dispense the potent potables. In New Orleans the most famous was the Sazerac Coffee House, constructed in 1852. It featured a 125-foot bar manned by as many as a dozen bartenders. The use of absinthe, then legal in the U.S. to coat the glasses of the concoctions gave the Sazerac its unique place in history and later, as American tastes dictated, whiskey was substituted for the original brandy. The famous Sazerac Room of the Roosevelt Hotel, later renamed the Fairmount, was world famous for dispensing their potent libations. It was reputed that Huey Long downed as many as six of these strong drinks before the long drive back to Baton Rouge. Today, the Sazerac is made with rye whiskey and Herbsaint (a substitute for the now banned absinthe) stands in for the licorice or anise flavored liquor used to coat the glasses. So, I am off to class and we will see if my version stands the test of the experts. will be the best "class" I've attended all year.

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