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Crown Cruise Vacations | October 21, 2020

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New Sazerac House celebrates New Orleans’ official cocktail

New Sazerac House celebrates New Orleans’ official cocktail
Jackie Sheckler Finch

By Jackie Sheckler Finch

Legend says that a doctor from Haiti named Antoine Amedie Peychaud concocted a tasty remedy for stomach ailments at his New Orleans apothecary in the 1800s.

The mixture contained a healthy dose of French brandy along with Peychaud’s family recipe for bitters. Sold as a medicinal product, the stiff drink had ingredients measured by Peychaud in a double-ended egg cup known as a “coquetier.”

That, the story goes, is how the word “cocktail” originated. And the popular Sazerac is considered the first branded cocktail.

Might be a bit farfetched. But, remember, this intoxicating tale is told in the Big Easy where the Louisiana legislature named the Sazerac the official cocktail of the city of New Orleans. The historic city also has a new attraction honoring its drink of choice – the Sazerac House.

Opened Oct. 2, 2019, the Sazerac House pays homage to NOLA’s longstanding cocktail culture. “The Sazerac House is where visitors can not only learn about history but taste it,” says Matt Ray, cocktail expert and Sazerac House experience team leader.

“Over the decades, the ingredients in a Sazerac cocktail have changed a bit,” Matt says. “American rye whisky is now used instead of brandy. Herbsaint is often used instead of absinthe (Banned in 1912 but legalized in 2007). It still tastes great and you can find Sazeracs in many bars and restaurants around town.”

A combo museum and company headquarters, the five-story Sazerac House is an interactive space with exhibits across three floors to learn about the drink’s history, the distilling methods for Sazerac Rye and the handcrafting techniques in Peychaud’s Bitters.

Located on the highly-trafficked corner of Canal and Magazine streets just a five-minute walk from Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, Sazerac House is only a few hundred yards from the original 1850 Sazerac Coffee House – the site where the Sazerac cocktail was first introduced and the company was born.

                                           Historic buildings given new life

The two adjoining historic buildings that are now home to the Sazerac House sat vacant and abandoned for 30 years and were in terrible disrepair. One of the building’s roof had been leaking since Hurricane Katrina when the roof had lifted up, then collapsed.

But the Sazerac House now glistens and gleams as befitting its namesake. Sazerac has long been regarded as one of America’s oldest family-owned, privately-held distillers. I was surprised to learn that Sazerac is perhaps best known for its ownership of the historic Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky, which it purchased in 1992 when the distillery was only a shell of what it is today.

However, Sazerac’s heart has always been in New Orleans and the new attraction celebrates that love affair. Upon entering the Sazerac House, visitors are greeted by a three-story tower with illuminated liquor bottles. Railings on the central staircase have a patterned “S” to signify the Sazerac logo and there are outlines of anise blossoms representing a key ingredient in bitters.

On the ground floor, facing Canal Street, there is a 500-gallon micro-distillery for Sazerac Rye Whiskey, marking the first time that whiskey has been legally distilled in the New Orleans Central Business District. The window view is a popular spot for folks standing outside to see the distillery.

Sazerac House exhibits include:

Café Culture – Captures Sazerac House in 1902 when it was the place to be for the who’s who to cut deals, handle business and discuss politics. To activate stories, we placed drink coasters on a large video tabletop. Then the coasters with a drink recipe printed on the back were a souvenir for us to take home.

Magic Mirrors – Using hidden motion sensors, seemingly regular mirrors magically reveal a series of animated films. Through each of the three mirrors, visitors see historic advertisements, photographs and iconic Sazerac products, including Herbsaint, Sazerac de Forge & Fils Cognac and Sazerac Rye Whiskey.

Power of the Dash – Visitors discover that bitters are a versatile product with the power to elevate cocktails and food recipes. We were invited to open small drawers and sniff the various dried herbs, barks, botanicals and roots used in bitters. We were told how bitters are made and can see simple pairings for each of the featured Sazerac products. We also viewed the production and bottling of the famous Peychaud’s Bitters.

Mr. Boston – Inspired by the Mr. Boston Bartender Guide, this interactive exhibit offers a curated and extensive menu of cocktails and a playful mode to find just the right one. Spin the virtual wheel to locate the perfect drink based on favorite flavors and spirits. Visitors also can browse recipes and learn how drinking has changed since the first Mr. Boston guide was published in the 1930s.

Sophisticated Spirits – Sit down, choose a drink and enjoy a virtual cocktail mixed by a virtual New Orleans bartender. Four bartenders who represent the city’s diverse cocktail culture share their craft, cocktail history and personal stories. Learn about important tools, ingredients, spirits and lore. Learn when to use an atomizer, why certain cocktails are served on the rocks and others are served “up” and strained from a shaker before pouring.

Drink samples are served throughout the tour for guests age 21 and up. Admission is free but a reservation must be made. A well-stocked retail shop offers apparel, bar tools, gift sets and even the spirits represented at the Sazerac House.

                                                           The Sazerac

                                                (Served at the Sazerac House)

1 sugar cube

1.5 ounces Sazerac Rye Whiskey

.25 ounces Herbsaint

3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

Lemon peel

Pack an Old-Fashioned glass with ice. In a second Old-Fashioned glass, place a sugar cube and add three dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters to it. Crush the sugar cube.

Add 1.5 ounces Sazerac Rye Whiskey to the glass with the bitters and sugar. Add ice and stir.

Empty ice from the first glass and coat the glass with .25 ounces Herbsaint. Discard the remaining Herbsaint.

Strain the whiskey/bitters/sugar mixture from the glass into the Herbsaint-coated glass and garnish with a lemon peel.

    Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch: The Sazerac is the official cocktail of New Orleans.

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