Heart of Louisiana: The Sazerac remedy

Heart of Louisiana: Sazerac

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - There are some people who claim that the cocktail was invented in New Orleans. That’s subject to debate, but the Sazerac cocktail is a New Orleans original. And the Sazerac also has its own museum.

The Sazerac cocktail is a mixture of bitters, some anice flavoring and rye whiskey served up in a chilled glass with a twist of lemon peel. The drink has its roots in an 1840s French Quarter pharmacy where Antoine Peychaud concocted the drink’s signature bitters.

“They would take everything that they had available that was considered the most helpful and medicinal things that doctors and pharmacists had at their disposal at that time,” Matt Ray of the Sazerac House said. “And they would mix it all together and steep it like a tea in alcohol, and that alcohol would extract all the flavors and they would sell it in the front of the store and they would claim it cured everything from headaches to death.”

So, it may not have cured you, but at least you felt a little better.

“At least you felt you had a little pep in your step,” Ray said.

History of this drink is on display in the Sazerac House, a three-story museum that walks you through high-tech displays a whiskey distillery, a few tastings.

And photographs from prohibition to politicians and women making their appearance in bars. New Orleans has long been associated with drinking, but the rumor is that the original cocktails actually were poured here. This is where it all began.

“Yeah, that’s one of my favorites. I think we call them legends and myths. The Sazerac cocktail that we made earlier is one of the oldest cocktails in America. The roots of this cocktail go back to the 1840s, but it probably most likely it was not the original cocktail,” Ray said.

Another ingredient, Herbsaint, is an Absinthe substitute created in New Orleans at a time when the potent drink was banned. And it would stay illegal to 2007. So, he changed the name from Legendre Absinthe, to Legendre Herbsaint.

David Bock is the head distiller at the Sazerac House, which is now making its own barrels of rye whiskey.

We send those vapors all the way to the top, where they condense back into a liquid and then fall down through some piping over your head to the four tanks behind you,” Bock pointed out.

Each of these tanks fills one barrel of rye whiskey, which is then aged for six years in a charred oak barrel.

“And you can actually see this line right here. This is how deep the alcohol or the Sazerac rye has seeped into the wood,” Bock said.

It will be a few more years before the whiskey from this New Orleans distillery is fully aged and bottled. It’s now a part of a company history that goes back nearly 400 years to France, but its namesake cocktail remains a true New Orleans original.

Visits and tours of the Sazerac House Museum in New Orleans are free.

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