America’s Oldest Cocktail: The Sazerac

America’s Oldest Cocktail: The Sazerac

Photo by Jesse Newland


I love a good, strong cocktail. There is a certain mystique that is associated with mixed drinks that you just can’t get from wine or beer. Mixing a drink makes you part chef, part historian and part alchemist. Like jazz and free public libraries, the cocktail is a home-grown invention that makes me proud to be an American. In honor of the Voodoo Carnival that took place this week in Cincinnati, Charlie and I decided to make a classic New Orleans cocktail for this week’s show. While the Hurricane is the most famous New Orleans cocktail, I was surprised to learn that the Sazerac, possibly the first cocktail ever invented, was created in New Orleans.

Sometime in the 1850’s a merchant in New Orleans began to import a cognac called Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils. Around the same time a local bar began selling the “Sazerac Cocktail.” It was made with the sazerac cognac, bitters provided by a local druggist by the name of Peychaud, and a dash of absinthe. Before this time a “Cock-tail” was a drink made with any combination of whiskey, sugar, water and bitters. The invention of the Sazerac was one of the first times a variation on this drink was given a specific name and a set recipe to follow, which is why it can lay claim to being the first cocktail. Over time domestic rye whiskey replaced the cognac, which is still used today. Absinthe was outlawed for a period of time as well so today any anise flavored liquor is considered acceptable. Today it remains the official cocktail of New Orleans and an important part of New Orleans culture. Mix yourself one up at home and then listen as Charlie and I make one on Episode Eight of The Charlie Tonic Hour.

The Sazerac

2 ounces Rye Whiskey

Splash of Absinthe or Herbsaint

One Suger Cube

3-4 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters

Fill one old fashioned glass with ice and let chill. In a second glass muddle the sugar cube and the bitters in the bottom of the glass, add the whiskey and stir to combine. Empty the first glass of the ice and add the absinthe. Coat the glass with absinthe and pour out the excess. Pour the rye mixture into this glass and garnish with a lemon.

Thanks to Jesse Newland for the use of his image in this article.

2 Responsesto “America’s Oldest Cocktail: The Sazerac”

  1. Calamity Dawn says:

    Must try this!!!!! Thanks for teaching me something I hadn’t learned yet.

  2. Ginny says:

    We ended up recording the drinks segment at Rookwood with a bartender who knows how to make them. It was delicious and I learned a few things that I didn’t know before.


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