How to Drink the Sazerac with Rhiannon Enlil

How to Drink the Sazerac with Rhiannon Enlil
Disclaimer: Some of these posts contain affiliate links. I may receive compensation if you click on these links and buy something, but, don’t worry, it won’t cost you a dime!

Although the city of New Orleans is home to many classic cocktails, there is only one that has the honor of being its official cocktail, and that is the Sazerac.

Sponsored by Louisiana Tourism, our episode today is all about the Sazerac cocktail and how it found its way to being THE official cocktail of New Orleans. What better time to be joined by Rhiannon Enlil, an Experience Team Lead at the Sazerac House in the city of New Orleans, than in the middle of Sazerac Cocktail Week. Yes, a whole week dedicated to this famous combination of Sazerac Rye Whiskey, sugar, Peychaud’s bitters, herbsaint, and a lemon twist

Have you ever been to Louisiana? I love it for its Creole and Cajun culture, Mardi Gras, and the beautiful city of New Orleans, but the Pelican State offers so much more, including the amazing live music scene covering everything from Jazz to Swamp pop and Zydeco, a fascinating history combining diverse cultures, over 400 festivals a year and adventures including kayaking on the bayous and lakes, hiking in the many National and State Parks throughout the state or the newly launched Louisiana Civil Rights Trail.  

If you didn’t know already, it’s the home of the cocktail, not only the Sazerac, and gumbo, jambalaya, Tabasco hot sauce, King Cake, and beignets!  Louisiana offers a food and drink experience that is second to none.  Meet craft distillers, brewers, and mixologists who are working with local traditions and making a name for themselves on the Louisiana Culinary Trails or Louisiana Libations Trail.Let the endless beauty of Louisiana feed your soul and inspire you. You can check out more by visiting, www.louisianatravel.com

On today’s episode, you will discover:

  • Why the Sazerac became the official cocktail of New Orleans
  • What is the Sazerac method of making any cocktail
  • Why the Sazerac was previously made with cognac
  • How to make the Sazerac!

Here is the recipe!

Sazerac Cocktail - Louisiana

Sazerac

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz Sazerac Rye Whiskey
  • 1 Sugar cube
  • 3 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
  • .25 oz Herbsaint
  • Lemon twist

Instructions

  1. Take two old-fashioned rocks glasses
  2. In the first one, add ice to chill and set aside
  3. In the second one, muddle a sugar cube with the three dashes of Peychaud's bitters
  4. Add the Sazerac Rye Whiskey, then add ice and stir
  5. Take the first glass, empty the ice and coat the glass with Herbsaint, then discard any excess
  6. Strain the contents from the second glass into your Herbsaint rinsed glass
  7. Garnish with a lemon twist

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Made this cocktail?

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Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Rhiannon. Just remember that I own the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of Lush Life podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as my right of publicity. So if you want to use any of this, please email me!

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Susan: I am so thrilled to have you on the show. And I’m so excited that the timing worked out, that we are talking Sazerac during Sazerac Cocktail Week in New Orleans. So why don’t we start off with you telling me a little bit about yourself and then we’ll get right into the Sazerac.

Rhiannon: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for having me on the show. I love talking about the Sazerac cocktail and, of course, Sazerac Cocktail Week. My name is Rhiannon Enlil and I am an Experience Team Lead here at the Sazerac House in downtown New Orleans. I was a bartender for my entire adult life. I moved to the city of New Orleans on my 18th birthday.

Though I was not born here, I like to say that I got here as soon as I could, quite literally on the day. I started bartending right away and I worked in a bunch of different, great establishments all throughout the city, everything from neighborhood bars to nightclubs, music venues, and then eventually found myself in cocktail bars.

I fell completely in love with craft cocktails and the history and the lore behind drinking and cocktail history, especially in the city of New Orleans. Probably around five, six years ago, I decided to go get a history degree where I wrote my undergrad thesis on drinking trends in New Orleans. I kind of landed a dream job by working at the Sazerac House.

Susan: That must’ve been the longest thesis ever, because there certainly is a lot of history,  drinking history in New Orleans. Definitely.

Rhiannon: It was really fun to be able to do that as a paper. I mean, it was a bachelor’s degree, so it didn’t have to be the size of a master’s thesis. But the fact that I could weave in the history of New Orleans as told through the famous cocktails was really a joy to research. Now I get to share all that information with my guests and the team that we run here at Sazerac House in the form of a three-story immersive cocktail experience.

Susan: Well, I’m sure your paper must’ve had a lot about the Sazerac, let’s jump right in. I guess the first thing is, why don’t you tell us how a Sazerac is made today?

Rhiannon: A Sazerac cocktail today is made by taking a tumbler or glass and filling it with ice to get it nice and chilled. In a second class, you’re going to take a sugar cube and muddle it with three dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters. You’re muddling it basically to help dissolve the sugar cube.

Then in that same glass, you add an ounce and a half of Sazerac Rye Whiskey, and then you add ice and you stir it until it’s chilled and diluted. Essentially from there, you take that glass that had ice in it to get it nice and frosty cold, you dump out the ice. Now you’ve got a chilled short tumbler. Strain your rye whiskey, Peychaud’s sugar mixture into that chilled tumbler after it’s been rinsed with Herbsaint. It’s kind of a coated Herbsaint chilled glass that you’re straining it into, and then you garnish with a twist of lemon. It’s a pretty simple drink. It’s got five ingredients, but the ritual of making it is part of that story, and it’s part of the tradition in New Orleans. It’s what we like to teach people here at Sazerac House.

Susan: I know, already in that description, there’s 10 billion things to unpack. So, let’s, oh gosh, I don’t even know where to start. I guess starting with the ingredients and then we’ll go onto this ritual of making it in two glasses with one ice and the Herbsaint. So that’s how we drink it today. Was there a historic way to drink it when it was first invented? And tell me a little bit about the history also when it was invented and all that stuff.

Rhiannon: Yeah, you got it. The Sazerac cocktail has an origin story that really spans hundreds of years. It starts with that word Sazerac first, because the word Sazerac comes from a name of a family in the Cognac region of France. For hundreds of years, this family was distilling eau-de-vie in France, which we would call brandy, now that we have those appellations of control, designated cognac. You might hear me say brandy and cognac interchangeably, because when you talk about drinking in the 1800’s in New Orleans, they probably would have called it brandy, but sometimes cognac.

So that Sazerac family made their own brand of cognac that starts getting shipped to the city of New Orleans. So, it’s a brand of cognac that we as New Orleanians, back in the 1800’s, although we had become part of the United States, we still held on to all of our French roots. We loved drinking cognac, and we really brought this particular brand in large quantities, large shipments.

One of our drinking establishments was a coffee house that changed its name to the Sazerac House in 1852. So that’s when we start to see that word, Sazerac not just being associated with this brand, but now it’s a place to go. You would go to the Sazerac House to get your fancy drinks, because we called all of our more elegant and refined drinking establishments, in the 1800’s, coffee houses.

The Sazerac House was a place that you would go and you would order all of the different fancy drinks of the time, including cocktails, But you see cocktails were a specific type of drink. We use the word cocktail now as a catch all phrase for everything.  If I say I’m having a margarita, I might say I have a cocktail. If I am sitting by the pool and I’m drinking a Pina Colada, I might say I have a cocktail. But in the 1800’s, if you ordered a cocktail, you were telling the bartender you wanted a specific concoction of spirit, sugar, water, and bitters. So, if somebody went into the Sazerac House and they said, “Hey, can I get a brandy cocktail or can I get a cognac cocktail?”

That bartender was more than likely going to reach for that Sazerac cognac, that’s so famous, sugar, water, and bitters. Now the bitters are a really important thread to the entire story because, about 1857, a guy named Antoine Amédée Peychaud was making his own version of bitters, his very proprietary blend of bitters, down the road. He takes out an advertisement saying that you could get his American aromatic bitter cordial at the Sazerac House. So now we’ve got that those two brands together.

Susan: What made Peychaud’s Bitters different from regular bitters?

Rhiannon: Peychaud’s Bitters was his proprietary blend of different botanicals and they’re unique from a spicy aromatic bitters in that there’s a really strong component of dried citrus notes and anise in this particular blend. So, we don’t have the recipe for Peychaud’s Bitters. It’s a very, very secret recipe.

But when I was a working bartender, one of the things that I would always, always train my new hires on, or even guests at home, is that in order to really make a wide variety of classic cocktails, you need an aromatic bitters, something that’s got those big clove and all spice notes and you need an orange bitters.

There’s a lot of old recipes that call for orange bitters and you need Peychaud’s Bitters specifically. And that’s because it is that brand that exists in a lot of New Orleans classic cocktails. And obviously it’s the only bitters for the Sazerac cocktail. But those three bitters, if you’ve got something aromatic and orange and then Peychaud’s, you’re in good shape, you can make a ton of great drinks.

Susan: Were there a lot of other kinds of bitters around then?

Rhiannon: There sure were. In fact, most major cities throughout the United States would have had a regional, famous bitters and, sometimes they would travel back and forth, like brands would make their way to other major cities. Something to note about New Orleans in the 1850s is that it was one of the largest cities in the United States.

It was fifth behind places like New York and Philadelphia and Baltimore because of where we were positioned on the Mississippi river. Right? So, we had an interstate, but it wasn’t roads, it was rivers and we were a major, major port city. So, we probably would have had options. But what’s fun about this very first advertisement that Peychaud puts out in 1857, is he also kind of dogs on a little competitor. He writes a little paragraph essentially saying that it is far superior. Peychaud’s American aromatic bitter cordial. Far superior to Bucker’s bitters or other bitters. And so, it’s kind of fun to read that in the history that, essentially, he was trying to make sure he could stay ahead of the competition.

Susan: I love it.  Buy ours, don’t buy theirs. Yeah. Well, the Sazerac House liked it better.

Rhiannon: Exactly. I mean, that connection between that brand Sazerac cognac and Peychaud’s Bitters taking place inside of Sazerac House is where I start to place the history of the cocktail in that era of 1850s. But it does continue to evolve, right? So as bartenders are getting more experimental and they’re starting to play around with those formulas.

They’re getting maybe a little bit bored of spirit, sugar, water, bitters. You see bartenders, in throughout the late 1800’s, getting creative and adding maybe a dash of maraschino or maybe a dash of Curacao or other imported liqueurs to improve or fancify the cocktails. And we see that happening in New Orleans too.

We see bartenders adding a dash of absinthe to the drink. So now it’s those four ingredients with a dash of absinthe. And that may have been when we were drinking it with cognac or brandy. And it’s definitely when we transitioned that beverage to drinking it with rye whiskey,

Susan: Now was absinthe readily available as well in New Orleans at that time?

Rhiannon: Absinthe was wildly popular in New Orleans. I think really because of our French heritage. So, there’s another coffee house in the city called Absinthe House. So, there was the Sazerac House, and then there was Absinthe House and there was a bunch of other different coffee houses. Absinthe House is still standing to this very day.

And it was just a place where it was revered for going to get an absinthe drip or an absinthe frappé, depending on how you would like it being served. We loved absinthe and in fact, New Orleanians still are much more appreciative of that anise flavor then most Americans. And in Europe, almost every country has some kind of anise spirit or an anise liqueur and the United States, for some reason, just kind of drifted away from that particular flavor.

But New Orleanians still love it. We use Herbsaint for example, which is our absinthe substitute. That is the official rinse of the cocktail now as far as the Sazerac cocktail is concerned.

Susan: So, you said cognac but when you were telling me about the recipe it’s rye, so how did that shift happen?

Rhiannon: So, there’s a couple of things at play in the 1870s and the 1880s. And one is that we’ve got a proprietor who is running the Sazerac House. His name is Tom Handy, or Thomas H. Handy and he has connections to Maryland. He had come to New Orleans as a teenager from Maryland and remembering that kind of river system.

Right? He was able to start importing large quantities of rye whiskey down the river system and we believe probably from Maryland and from those connections. We have kind of multi decades of Americans immigrating to the New Louisiana territories. And so, we’ve got a lot more American patriotism starting to come into the city of New Orleans.

And that actually created an interesting separation of neighborhoods like the French Quarter, where a lot of the French and Creole and Spanish residents lived, were separated from a line on Canal Street from the American sector, that’s where we see a lot more of the commercial development, tall buildings, banks, things like that.

And so, we see this cultural shift happening in the 1870s and 1880s, but one of the most important influences is the effect of a tiny, a tiny little bug called phylloxera.

Susan: Yeah, that damn bug.

Rhiannon: I know, and it comes up in every story of drinks’ history, because that bug really messed things up.

Susan: It was good for the bourbon, rye makers, but not so good for anyone who liked a grape or dealt with grapes.

Rhiannon: Right. So, I’m sure you have very knowledgeable listeners on your podcast, but just a short background on what phylloxera is. Essentially, it was a pest that negatively affected the vineyards throughout Europe, but specifically also in France. And if you don’t have grapes growing out of these vineyards, you can’t turn them into wine, you can’t turn them into cognac or brandy. So suddenly that particular product is in high demand and no supply. So, we start to see that Sazerac cognac stops being shipped into New Orleans around the 1880s. That family ends up pivoting.

They’ve got other industries that they are using to continue their family legacy, but in New Orleans, we’ve got a coffee house, the Sazerac House, which is now a revered place to drink. And we have this concoction of Sazerac cognac, sugar, water, and Peychaud’s bitters, but no more Sazerac cognac.

Susan: Well, I have a question. Was it called the Sazerac then? Would people come in and say, give me a Sazerac and expect the cognac?

Rhiannon: That is a great question. And one of the challenges of drinks history is that you can often disprove something and it’s very hard to find the proof of something. So, to that end the phrase itself, Sazerac cognac doesn’t seem to pop up until the 1890s in reference to bartenders from the Sazerac House being great whiskey cocktail makers.

However, the combination of cognac, sugar, bitters, and absinthe has existed and we found that evidence in print from the 1840s, but it didn’t say it was being called the Sazerac cocktail. We have to use a little bit of logic knowing that the brand of cognac was the influence of the name of the bar.

And if somebody’s asking for the house cocktail, they might then just be saying, can I have the Sazerac cocktail? If I could go back in time, I would just walk around and write everything down and make sure it was all documented.

So, between the effect of no more Sazerac cognac coming into the city and phylloxera. And the fact that we have Tom Handy bringing in Maryland rye and he’s running the Sazerac House, we believe that the transition from cognac to rye really took place in that era, in that 1870s, 1880s era.

Susan: Fab, Fab. So why don’t we go to how it’s made with the two glasses? Was that something historical or is that a modern-day thing?

Rhiannon: How it’s made with two glasses is what I refer to as the traditional method of making the Sazerac cocktail. In fact, it is so specific to this drink that contemporary bartenders nowadays will even refer to it as a style. Like if you have an inventive drink that you decide you’re going to make alla Sazerac or in a Sazerac method.

Everybody knows what that means. It’s going to be a chilled cold, short tumbler, and it’s going to have a rinse and it’s probably going to be strained with no ice. So, it’s a chilled drink, but instead of served up in a cold coupe, it’s served down in a chilled tumbler, and that’s a very, very specific way of making the drink.

And how we know that that is the way it’s made. I mean, we kind of pass the tradition down orally and as bartenders have trained bartenders over the generations. But I did find a really cool reference to this technique in a 1933 cocktail book. Do I have a moment to read to you from it?

Susan: Oh, absolutely. A hundred percent.  What is the book?

Rhiannon:  It’s called “What’ll You’ll Have.” And the last name of the author is Proskauer, but what’s cool is the book came out in November of ‘33, but prohibition wasn’t repealed until December of ‘33. So, he was really getting ahead of the game.

This is a really great recipe, and it says it’s the Sazerac cocktail (the drink that made New Orleans famous). And there’s a notation that says from the recipe of the late Tom Handy ex-manager of the world, renowned Sazerac Bar, New Orleans, Louisiana. Frappé in an old-fashioned flat bar glass, then take a mixing glass and muddle half a cube of sugar with a little water.

So, sidebar – frappé means to pack full of ice and stir it and make sure that is packed full of ice, so it’s really cold. So frappé an old-fashioned flat bar glass, then take a mixing glass and muddle half a cube of sugar with a little water. Add ice, one good drink of good whiskey, two dashes of bitters and a piece of twisted lemon peel. Stir well until cold. Then throw the ice out of the bar glass, dash several drops of absinthe into the same and rinse well. Now strain the cocktail into the frozen glass and serve with ice water on the side.

Susan: Oh, my gosh, I love it. I love that already then it was the official drink of New Orleans unofficially. No, now it’s official, official, but that reminds me, we skipped over one of the ingredients, which is the absinthe to the Herbsaint, how did that transform?

Rhiannon: So, as I had mentioned, absinthe was really, really loved in New Orleans and the bartenders were getting creative and adding absinthe to drinks, not just the Sazerac, but little dashes here and there. That was a way of putting a New Orleans spin on a classic recipe or renowned recipe, even.

So, when that agricultural disaster, phylloxera, they start to get a grip on it in Europe and they replant the vineyards and they start getting grapes back to make into wine and cognac, a big challenge of the drinking culture in Europe was how to get folks to stop drinking absinthe and return to wine or cognac because they had made that transition over a couple of decades.

You get more bang for your buck with absinthe. It’s super delicious. It’s very strong. It was also becoming widely popular with bohemians and artists.

Susan: It’s funny. I was just about to ask that. I was going to say, New Orleans is quite artsy and a different kind of American city. It’s always had its own personality. So, I was wondering if absinthe was the drink of choice?

Rhiannon: I think for sure that bohemian quality and that cafe culture, poets, and artists definitely affects the beverage trends of the French quarter, for sure. And the influence of how people were enjoying drinking absinthe in Paris, that cross cultural of sharing, not just art, but also drinking trends.

But because the absinthe was so popular with bohemians and artists, it was starting to get a bad rap and there was a long campaign of bad publicity backed by not real science and unfortunately, a couple of tragedies that made salacious news. So that essentially absinthe became a demonized spirit and it was banned in Europe and various countries. It ended up being banned in the United States in 1912. So suddenly it was no longer allowed to be brought in or consumed. And it stayed that way for almost a hundred years. The absinthe was banned all throughout the 1900s and into the early 2000s.

But we still like that flavor. We still like that anise flavor. Right? So, as it’s banned in 1912, that’s eight whole years before Prohibition in the United States. And so, it was almost like the warning shots or some might say the canary in the coal mine. So, when we go through Prohibition, some might refer to it as noble experiment, I like to refer to it as the great mistake. Prohibition was not successful. And it was repealed in 1933.

That’s when a New Orleanian, a gentleman by the name of J. M. Legendre, J. Marion Legendre. He had acquired a taste for absinthe. He had a recipe for absinthe with one of his friends, a partner.

They had been able to try it. Maybe illicitly while they were in France during World War I. He has this recipe and in 1933, he releases his own absinthe called Legendre Absinthe, out of his attic and his uptown New Orleans home. And it was very popular for a handful of months before the government stepped in and said, Nope, you still cannot call it absinthe.

Absinthe is still banned. It had nothing to do with Prohibition. It’s like, yes, congrats. You can make alcohol now, but you cannot make absinthe. So, he changes the name to Herbsaint. And there’s many, many wonderful posters that campaign to let our New Orleans know, to let New Orleanian drinkers know that if you’re going to need absinthe in a recipe, or if you’re interested in drinking absinthe that you’re supposed to reach for Herbsaint instead.

So, it was very successful in helping New Orleanians understand that if you can’t get your hands on an illegal bottle of absinthe, you can definitely get your hands on a wonderful locally made product called Herbsaint. And so, we’ve been drinking that in the Sazerac cocktail now since the thirties

Susan: Now my question is, did he change the recipe at all?

Rhiannon: So, we are pretty certain that the recipe at no point, even when he was calling it  Legendre Absinthe. We are pretty sure it never had wormwood in it that he was using another ingredient called mugwort and it’s slightly lower proof than a regular bottle of absinthe. Those tend to be very, very high proof.

Our Herbsaint is a 100 proof. So, it’s a little bit easier on the palette and it’s slightly sweetened. So, you really, when you’re drinking absinthe, a traditional preparation might involve a sugar cube, dripping water over a sugar cube, just to add a little sweetness to cut the bitterness of the botanicals.

Susan:  Obviously it was born in New Orleans. It is a cocktail of New Orleans. Was it always thought of as that?  Is there any documentation before 1933?

Rhiannon: Well, yeah, I mean, in the 1890s, when a couple of the bartenders from the Sazerac House are making drinks for fraternity clubs and things like that. Or maybe traveling and making drinks, they’re listed in newspapers as bringing New Orleans drinks to these  clubs, right. And referring to them as being great whiskey cocktail makers and introducing things like the New Orleans fizz, Ramos Gin Fizz, another very famous New Orleans cocktail.

So, this combination of whiskey, sugar, Peychaud’s bitters, an absinthe, now Herbsaint, essentially is the representation of a New Orleans cocktail or the whiskey cocktail. So, calling it, the Sazerac cocktail is because it’s came from the Sazerac cognac and the Sazerac House. And even though it’s made with whiskey and for almost a hundred years, it was made with just a rye whiskey, right? A rye whiskey, you could get your hands on. It’s part of the reason why the Sazerac Company in 2006 launched Sazerac Rye Whiskey, because we wanted to say, “Hey, let’s return that name, Sazerac, to a brand that we’re using in this cocktail.”

Susan: Now, you brought up that the bartenders were making New Orleans cocktails, but the Sazerac itself is the official cocktail of New Orleans. There was a lot of competition. How did that happen? How did it win the prize?

Rhiannon: Yeah, that’s a wonderful question. And I actually, I love answering it because there’s so many famous New Orleans cocktails. I mean, from the Ramos Gin Fizz to the Hurricane, to a drink called the Vieux Carré, which is one of my favorites. There’s a lot of really important New Orleans cocktails that have left a mark on the current cocktail community.

So why was the Sazerac designated the official cocktail of the city? And that was a  grassroots campaign from some great bonvivants and drinkers and obviously with the support of the Sazerac Company. Because of that length of history and if you look at each single product, not only from it being those French origins of the Sazerac cognac to the very important contribution of Peychaud’s Bitters to that homage to our continued love of our French and European roots with the absinthe rinse, but also a New Orleanian entrepreneurial spirit with J. Marion Legendre bringing in Herbsaint, and, of course, the ingenuity of Thomas Handy to bring in rye whiskey, it’s like you’re adding all of these cultural components of New Orleans over the course of 150 odd years and you’re just putting each one of those in the glass.

In fact, even if you look at the lemon twist, the lemon twist is an unsung ingredient culturally as well, because it was with the Italian and Sicilian immigrants to New Orleans in the 1800’s that we see lemons get introduced to the French market and the produce stalls around the city.

So, it’s like you’re really tying in a lot of different cultural influences that make up New Orleans and you’re putting it in one simple classic cocktail that can be made anywhere. It doesn’t have some kind of obscure ingredient. Every single one of these products can be found anywhere you want to have the official cocktail of the city of New Orleans.

Susan: I know, I can’t believe I forgot the lemon twist. That’s such an integral part of it too. So, I’m so glad you brought it up. Had that ever changed? Do you know when that part of it was introduced?

Rhiannon: We don’t. I mean, I like that the recipe I read refers to the twist of lemon and really, we start to see lemon twist garnishes happening in our old cocktail guides around the 1870s, 1880s. Particularly when we see such an influx of Italian immigration to New Orleans.

Susan: So how long has it been the official cocktail of New Orleans?

Rhiannon: So, it has been the official cocktail of the city since 2008. We had originally campaigned for it to be the state cocktail, but we made it the city cocktail, which is really exciting. And it even says in the legislation that it must be made with Peychaud’s Bitters and in that’s truly, like I was saying earlier, it’s the thread that ties it all together. So that Peychaud’s Bitters has never really broken away from the recipe itself.

And we’re very excited to have both Sazerac Rye Whiskey as the official rye whiskey for the Sazerac cocktail. But what’s also exciting is that we have partnered with a distillery in France and we are now making again Sazerac cognac. And that is really fun and new, because we bought this distillery in 2016.

And in 2019, when we opened Sazerac House was when we were able to introduce Sazerac de Forge & Fils Cognac back into the market. And it is a particular blend of grapes that we believe is as true to the pre-phylloxera style cognac as we could get.

So now, if you are able to get a bottle of Sazerac de Forge & Fils cognac you can make an 1800 style Sazerac cocktail.

Susan: Sazerac number one and Sazerac number two! That’s super fun. That would be great. Now let’s talk about the building and the museum and the Sazerac House itself. Did that always remain a coffee house throughout the years or something to do with cocktails or drinking throughout the years, since the 1800’s?

Rhiannon: So, the original location of the Sazerac House is actually a few hundred yards away from where I am right now. It was shut down during Prohibition. It went from being a coffee house or a drinking establishment to being a deli counter, making soft drinks. And then essentially from the repeal of Prohibition, it was the offices of the Sazerac Company. And so that building is no longer standing. Unfortunately, the original location of the Sazerac Houses is no more, but the building I’m standing in now is a great representation of that era because the building that I’m in is a lovingly restored, 1860s, an Italianate style, multi-story building on the corner of the French quarter.

So, we’re on the corner of Magazine and Canal streets, truly just a couple hundred yards from the original location of the Sazerac House in a building that was built around that same timeframe.

So, we took over this building and spent about three years renovating it and restoring it. And we were able to reincorporate a lot of the original architectural design elements in our design work. And we opened in October of 2019. So, the Sazerac House, as we have it now,  where I’m sitting, is a multi-story building that is both our head offices for the New Orleans based Sazerac Company, we have a gorgeous event space with an imported bar that’s From the turn of the century, imported from London, actually, and that’s in our event space.

We have three floors of a complimentary immersive spirited experience, which essentially is like a cocktail museum. So, you would come in as a guest, it’s completely complimentary to tour the space. And that’s three floors that walk you through everything from the history of the Sazerac cocktail to other important spirits in New Orleans history.

And we’ve incorporated all of that history with new technology that is really fun to interact with. So, we’ve got things like virtual bartenders. It’s this wonderful, huge exhibit where you use a touch screen to interact with bartenders who will present you with a virtual menu. So, you can watch them do a demonstration on how to make a drink.

We have all sorts of fun, little touchscreens to  walk you through ingredients and the process of distillation. And we actually have a distillery. We’re distilling rye whiskey here in this building. So that’s actually very exciting, and of course, a beautiful gift shop. And so, when you go on the website for SazeracHouse.com, you can look at events and they can be either virtual events, which we’ve been doing a lot since the pandemic, or when you’re here in New Orleans, you can come and do maybe a sit-down tasting event where you can learn how to make cocktails and taste through some of our products.

Susan: So, we’re in Sazerac Cocktail Week, just at the beginning, when did that start and how do you celebrate? I know you said some virtual tastings but is there anything else?

Rhiannon: Yeah. So, we have always celebrated a Sazerac Cocktail Day, which is that day that it was passed into the legislation in 2008. So, we decided, there’s five important ingredients in the Sazerac cocktail. Why don’t we just turn this into a whole weeklong celebration where we can really highlight the importance of all these different ingredients to not only the history of the city of New Orleans, but the composition of the Sazerac cocktail itself. And so, for Sazerac Cocktail Week, we’ve actually got a couple of additional components to the museum experience.

So, as you come in, like I said, you’ve got three floors to explore, but we added a couple of fun, little areas that will dive a little deeper into some of the other ingredients that don’t get as much attention like the sugar and the lemon, for example, and we learn a lot more about the different brands. Like we have an entire apothecary setup for this week that’s really going to highlight the different botanicals and the importance of the botanicals that go into bitters.

And then definitely our virtual Sazerac cocktail explanation and demonstration, history deep dive on Wednesday the 23rd is similar to this conversation we’ve just had only, maybe with a little bit more a little more chronology and definitely a demonstration.

So, everyone who wants to make a Sazerac cocktail follow can follow along at home, watching all the steps.

Susan: Great. And so, are you open now to anyone who wants to come visit?

Rhiannon: Definitely. We are very, very happy to be open to the public. We have tours that start at 11. They are self-guided tours. So, you can take as much time as you’d like. We have wonderful staff members all throughout the floors to help answer questions. So, when you’re in New Orleans, just reserve a spot online, go to our website SazeracHouse.com and make a booking because we have a select number of folks that come up on each reserved spot. And then you just take your time going throughout the space and sampling along the way, if you’re old enough to drink. And if you’re not old enough to drink, it’s okay, we’ve got lemonade.

Susan: Which is so good in the south.

Rhiannon: Absolutely.

Susan: Well, I can’t wait to be there because I love New Orleans. And unfortunately, I was there before it opened and I can’t wait to return.  So, I always ask the same question to my guests as we end, which is if you could drink anything anywhere, where would you drink it? I have a feeling I know the cocktail that you’re going to tell me. But is there anywhere special either in New Orleans or all of the Louisiana that you just love to have your Sazerac?

Rhiannon: Yeah, I really do love not only making a Sazerac for myself at home, but when I go out to cocktail bars in the city, I really do enjoy sipping on a Sazerac. If the weather is nice. I’d love to be in a courtyard, particularly a courtyard in the French Quarter would be really lovely.

 So, there’s a couple of great places in New Orleans. If you come down here, you can check out Jewel of the South, which is a great courtyard bar and restaurant, as well as Peychaud’s. Peychaud’s is a new space. It’s actually, they are licensing the use of the name from us. We’re not running Peychaud’s Bar, but a really great organization is and they make fantastic cocktails and they have a beautiful courtyard.

So definitely lots of good places to drink Sazeracs nowadays in New Orleans, including some of the grand historic restaurants. So, I’m such a history nerd. I love going into some of these really old, important restaurants like Antoine’s or Arnaud’s and getting a Sazerac there as well.

Susan: Oh, I love those too. I have another question. If you are a home bartender, do you have any special advice?  You’ve given such detailed instructions on how to make it, is there some kind of twist that you think is okay if they want to just experiment?

They love the Sazerac. They love making it the way you’ve taught them, but if they wanted to do something else to just twist it up, what would you suggest?

Rhiannon: Yeah. So, a couple of good tricks, particularly if you want to make a few Sazeracs at home and that long ritual of frappéing a bar glass and making sure that you’ve got two glasses going at the same time. You can skip that step if you want to just pop some glasses in the freezer.

So, you just have a nice cold glass, you pull from the freezer. And then if you want to save on the Herbsaint, you can put it in a little atomizer, a mister bottle, so that you’re not pouring in Herbsaint swishing it around and then throwing it out. You can actually just use a little sprayer to get the coating on the inside of that frozen glass.

That’s a really good way to get that coating. I do think that that Sazerac style, like I mentioned earlier, that contemporary bartenders are referring to is really a very enjoyable way to play around with other spirits, but I wouldn’t call it a Sazerac. You would just basically be taking that technique of making a cocktail with sugar, bitters, and dilution, and then adding it to a chilled glass that’s been rinsed with an aromatic. It’s a really fun way to experiment with different styles of spirits like rums or tequilas, but it wouldn’t officially be a Sazerac. You would just be kind of copying the technique.

Susan: I think that’s it. I think I’m ready. I’m ready to dive in.  I thank you so much for sharing all that with me. It was great to have you here and I can’t wait to start celebrating for the next couple of days.

Rhiannon: Yeah. And thank you so much for having me on your show. For all of your listeners, please make a Sazerac for Sazerac Cocktail Week and check us out at SazeracHouse.com for more virtual events and definitely come see us in New Orleans.

Susan: Definitely there’ll be a link to everything so that they can find it. So, thanks so much.

Rhiannon: Thank you so much, Susan.

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