Hallucinogens, a cocktail inventing pharmacist, and the bug that ate France’s wine industry… all play a role in America’s first branded cocktail – The Sazerac. To celebrate Mardi Gras Tasting Pour is gearing up to make an Oregon based Sazerac using as many Oregon based ingredients as we can find. Laissez les bon temps rouler (Let the Good Times Roll) and support local business! Readers outside of Oregon, you can use the recipe to substitute your local producers too!
We discovered the Sazerac on a trip to New Orleans a few years ago and we’ve been mixing them up at home ever since. Click to read about the full story of the famous Sazerac Bar.
Get the cocktail lowdown on the segment Jade did with KGW Portland Today and keep reading for more details and an Oregon Sazerac recipe.
- 1.5 ozs. McMenamins High Council Brandy or Ransom Spirits Rye, Wheat, Barley Whiskey
- ⅓ ounce simple syrup
- 3-4 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters
- ¼ teaspoon Hood River Distillers Lucid Absinthe Superieure
- Lemon peel
- Fill one rocks glass with ice and set aside to chill. In a second rocks glass mix 1.5 ounces of Rye Whiskey OR Brandy with 3-4 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters and ⅓ ounce of simple syrup. Fill the glass with ice, stir and stir until mixed and well chilled. Dump the ice from the first glass and add Absinthe, swirl to coat and dump any excess. Strain the contents of the second glass into the chilled, Absinteh coated glass and rim the glass with a lemon peel. Do not put the peel in the cocktail, drape it on the side of the glass.
What is Mardi Gras
French for “Fat Tuesday.” Mardi Gras marks the end of Carnivale celebrations which can stretch over several weeks (this year in New Orleans it begins Jan 6th). But Fat Tuesday marks the last day of indulgence before Ash Wednesday leading to the season of Lent and Easter.
What is a Sazerac
What some call the first American Cocktail, the Sazerac was the first branded American Cocktail in 1850. It is shrouded with some mystery and voodoo from the anise flavored Absinthe that was once banned in France for reputing to cause hallucinations and mental illness. And it completely changed course due to a very bad pesky bug. Let’s break down the ingredients we used and tell the story along the way…
First the Bitter Truth
The creation of the Sazerac dates back to 1838 and is credited to Antoine Amedie Peychaud. He owned an apothecary in New Orleans and made up his own bitters which he mixed with French Brandy to serve his friends. Peychaud’s Bitters have an anise, cherry flavor and are a Sazerac staple. While there are some fantastic bitters made in Oregon by Bitter Housewife and Portland Bitters Project, Peychaud’s is the defining ingredient in a Sazerac so we kept it in our Oregon Sazerac. Don’t worry, you’ll see Tasting Pour use Oregon bitters, hopefully soon.
What are bitters? Bitters are a high proof based spirit – like vodka – infused with botanicals. They aren’t necessarily bitter but can add spice, floral, sweet, fruity, and bitter flavors to a cocktail.
Grapes Die, We Drink Rye
Sazeracs were originally made with Cognac, a French Brandy. Then a ding dong bug from the US ruined everything. Phylloxera made its way to Europe and began chomping on the roots of susceptible grape vines. This lead to the mass destruction of vineyards in Europe, especially France in the late 1800s. Since Cognac is made from grapes, rye whiskey replaced Cognac in the Sazerac. There is even a Sazerac brand Rye Whiskey. Luckily, it was discovered that some American rootstocks are resistant to phylloxera and these were grafted onto European vines. Today we have a choice of the traditional brandy based Sazerac or one based with rye whiskey.
We tried both using Ransom Spirits Oregon Rye Barley Wheat Whiskey from Sheridan and McMenamins High Council Brandy from Hillsboro.
Ransom Spirits Rye Barley Wheat whiskey is made with grains grown in Oregon and all of the production takes place locally. Pot distilled and aged 24 months in old French barrels this Rye version of the Sazerac has a little more bite and spice and is Jade’s favorite. We are fans of the whole Ransome Spirits line up and they also have great wine. Give them a try at their tasting room the next time you are in McMinnville. See more about what Jade had to say about them in this article in Northwest Travel and Life Magazine – 4 Wine Hotspots.
Made from Northwest sourced Semillon, Chardonnay, and Viogner, McMenamins High Council Brandy is distilled at Cornelius Pass Roadhouse Distillery in Hillsboro using a century old charantais alembic Cognac pot. It is then aged in French oak for four years. This brandy version of the Sazerac is smooth, fruity and dangerous and was Rod’s favorite.
Visions of Absinthe
Absinthe is an anise and wormwood flavored distilled spirit, made from aniseed, fennel and wormwood. It was very popular in France, especially among artistic types like Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec, partly because it was said to boost creativity. Alternative facts that absinthe abuse caused hallucinations and was associated with mental illness caused France to ban absinthe production in 1915. We know today that absinthe is just as safe as any other high proof distilled spirit and it has been legal to make and sell in the US for years.
Absinthe is made by infusing a high proof spirit with herbs and botanicals and then distilling in an alembic pot still. It is then warmed and infused again with herbs and spirits to strengthen flavor and color.
The Wormwood Society is a great source for more absinthe info.
We used Lucid Absinthe Superieure. It is made in Saumur in France’s Loire Valley in traditional absinthe pot stills. Bottled and distributed by Hood River Distillers it claims to be the first absinthe legally available in the US following the ban.
Do you have local producers you can use to make a Sazerac? Tell us in the comments.