The Sazerac

The New Orleans cocktail of choice

The Sazerac, purportedly America’s first cocktail, is the emblematic drink of New Orleans. As originally made in the 1850s, it was a blend of Sazerac brandy and sugar, along with bitters invented in the late 1700s by Antoine Amedie Peychaud, a West Indian apothecary. By the 1870s a bartender at the Sazerac Coffee House is said to have added the touch of pouring it into a glass first swirled with a few drops of absinthe. In time rye whiskey, more popular and cheaper, was substituted for the brandy, and Herbsaint, a local anisette first sold in 1933 as an absinthe substitute (absinthe was banned in 1912) came to be used for the swirling.

The trinity of Sazerac ingredients survived Hurricane Katrina: Herbsaint liqueur, Peychaud’s Bitters, and Sazerac 18 Year Old Rye Whiskey. All are owned by the Sazerac Company, headquartered in New Orleans in a building that itself survived the storm. The bitters and the whiskey are made in limited quantities in Frankfort, Kentucky, by the Buffalo Trace Distillery; for more information, see www.buffalotrace.com.

The Sazerac Bar, at the Fairmont Hotel, which uses the name by permission, is still under restoration, but the bar that famously makes the Sazerac a speciality is back in business. The Rib Room, at the Omni Royal Orleans, was long the domain of Martin Sawyer, the genial and expert eighty-four-year-old bartender, who explained his decades of bartending and his own Sazerac technique in Marsaw (2005), a short, jazzy film made by the gifted young filmmaker Joe York. (The transcript of a long, delightful interview with Sawyer is available at www.southernfoodways.com.) Sawyer took refuge after the storm with his family and will no longer be behind the bar full-time, but the Rib Room still proudly uses his ecumenical Sazerac recipe: brandy, rye, Herbsaint, Peychaud’s Bitters, Angostura bitters, and sugar syrup—always stirred, not shaken.

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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.

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