Although considered sacrilege by many and classically apparently a misdemeanour, I believe this drink is better served shaken rather than stirred. The missus agrees! However, bowing to peer pressure I have listed as stirred. Please try for yourself. Don't be concerned about chucking expensive absinthe down the drain - its flavour will be very evident in the finished drink. (The photo is shaken how it should be.)
The rounded, distinctive flavour of this classic New Orleans cocktail is reliant on one essential ingredient: Peychaud’s aromatic bitters created by one Antoine Amedee Peychaud. His story starts in 1795 when he arrives in New Orleans as a refugee in 1795 after his father was forced to flee the island of San Domingo, where his family owned a coffee plantation, after the slaves rebelled.
Antoine grew up to become a pharmacist and bought his own drug and apothecary store at 437 Rue Royale (then No. 123 Royal Street) in 1834. Here he created an ‘American Aromatic Bitter Cordial’ and marketed it as a medicinal tonic. Such potions were fashionable at the time and there were many similar products.
Antoine also served his bitters mixed with brandy and other liquors. (It has been falsely claimed that the word ‘cocktail’ originated with Antoine, from a measure known as a ‘coquetier’ he used to prepare drinks. But it is now undisputed that the term appeared in print in an upstate New York newspaper in 1806, when Antoine was still a child.)
Antoine Peychaud advertised his bitters in local newspapers and many New Orleans bars served drinks prepared with them. One such bar was the Sazerac Coffee House at 13 Exchange Alley, owned by John B. Schiller, also the local agent for a French cognac company ‘Sazerac-du-Forge et Fils’ of Limoges.
It was here, sometime between 1850 and 1859, that a bartender called Leon Lamothe is thought to have created the Sazerac, probably using Peychaud’s aromatic bitters, Sazerac cognac and sugar.
A decade or so later, one Thomas H Handy took over the coffee house and around the same time, Antoine Peychaud fell upon hard times and sold his pharmacy store, along with the formula and brand name of his bitters. A combination of the phylloxera aphid (which devastated French vineyards) and the American Civil War made cognac hard to obtain and Handy was forced to change the recipe of the bar’s now established house cocktail. He still used the all-important Peychaud’s bitters but substituted Maryland Club rye whiskey, retaining a dash of cognac and adding a splash of the newly fashionable absinthe.
The Sazerac was further adapted in 1912 when absinthe was banned in the US and Herbsaint from Louisiana was substituted. Today the name Sazerac is owned by the Sazerac Company, who licensed the name to the Sazerac Bar at New Orleans’ Fairmont Hotel.