History of Sazerac | A Drink, a Brand, an Empire

June 30, 2022
History of Sazerac | A Drink, a Brand, an Empire

America's First Cocktail

In a small apothecary shop located at 437 Royal Street in New Orleans the Sazerac was born in the year 1838.  As it’s told, Antoine Peychaud who operated the apothecary shop served the drink to his customers in a coquetier, or an egg cup, and as time went by the word “coquetier” somehow morphed into “cocktail" and such is why Sazerac is known as America's first cocktail.  Of course, being a native English speaker, it's hard to picture that progression, but when you hear "coquetier" spoken in French, it's a stones throw to get from A to B - add in a little American mispronunciation and there ya have it.  Click below to hear how close it is!

Hear "Conquetier" Pronounced

When the Sazerac cocktail was first conceived, it drew it's name from Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils, a cognac, which later was substituted in the late 19th century with rye whiskey when the phylloxera epidemic in Europe devastated the vineyards in France.  Phylloxera is a microscopic insect native to North America that was introduced to Europe by English botanists who collected specimens of American grape vines and brought back, harboring the non-native pest which European grapes had no historic exposure or resistance to.  

Further on toward the end of the 1800’s a dash of absinthe started to be added by some bartenders and continued at least up until 1912 when absinthe was banned for causing hallucinations.  Today's Sazerac instead of absinthe, utilizes Herbsaint, an anise-flavored liquor that showed up on the scene in the 1930's.   Interestingly enough, the Sazerac is the Official Cocktail of New Orleans and every June a whole week is set aside in the Big Easy for celebrating America’s first cocktail, during Sazerac Week.

Sazerac Recipe

  • 1 cube of sugar
  • 1.5 ounces Sazerac Rye Whiskey
  • 0.25 ounces Herbsaint
  • 3 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
  • Lemon peel for garnish

To make your Sazerac cocktail, you'll need an old-fashioned glass to start.  In a separate glass, drop the sugar cube and add the bitters, crushing the sugar cube with a muddler afterwards.  Add the Sazerac Rye to the glass with the sugar/bitters mixture.  In the old fashioned glass for your drink, use the Herbsaint to coat the glass and then discard the remaining Herbsaint.  Add ice to your desired level and then pour in the mixture of rye/bitters/sugar into your cup, garnishing with a lemon peel.  

Sazerac Rye Whiskey

MSRP:  $30

As I wrote in a previous post, rye whiskey has a long history here in the United States.  In the early days of rye whiskey, saloons that were veiled as Coffee Houses could be found dotted up and down the streets of New Orleans. Below you can see an image of 437 Royal Street as it sits today, the purported birthplace of the Sazerac.  Today's Sazerac Rye Whiskey embodies much of what the spirit was back in the day, a versatile whiskey that's crisp, has a mellow spiciness and a touch of sweet that dances on your tongue.  Widely available and with a very reasonable price tag, the bottle is definitely worth a pickup and is a staple on the Bourboneur bar shelves!

Birthplace of Americas first cocktail, first ever cocktail, original cocktail, sazerac cocktail origi

Current View of 437 Royal Street, New Orleans

Sazerac 18 Year Rye Whiskey

MSRP: $99

Secondary Price:  $2,000

There's the $30 Sazerac Rye Whiskey and then there is the significantly more exclusive and much more difficult to come by big brother, the Sazerac 18 Year Rye which is one of two ryes in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (and the only BTAC bottle I currently don't have...*insert heavy sigh here*).  Interestingly, starting in 2016 the highly coveted brand languished a bit and has had a bumpy past few years as the brand worked to get its feet back under it.  What happened in 2015 you ask?....  

2015 End of an Era | The Steel Tank Batch

Many who are familiar with the Sazerac 18 brand, may not be familiar with the reasoning for it's fall from grace in 2015.  Turns out that 2015 was the last of the "steel tank batch."  Back in 2005, Sazerac 18 was highly awarded and Buffalo Trace at the time, didn't want the remaining stock to become over-oaked.  To combat this, they dumped all the barrels of 18+-year-old Sazerac into a giant steel tank (totaling nearly 13,500 gallons) which halted the maturation process which would have continued if left in the oak barrels.  From 2006 through 2015 the juice which was released was the same as the 2005 batch that had been held static, as if time stood still.....slowly but surely, year by year, the juice was drawn down until there was no more.  In some ways Buffalo Trace has been recreating the brand since, so if you get a chance to lay hands on a pre-2016 Saz 18, take it.  You won't be disappointed!

Who Owns Sazerac Company

The Sazerac Company is headquartered in Metairie within the metro area of New Orleans and has its principal office in Louisville, Kentucky.  It's a privately held American alcoholic beverage company owned by billionaire William Goldring and his family.  

Sazerac Company Brands

Underneath the umbrella of Sazerac Company Inc. lie a number of familiar brands which are broken down in the table below.

Sazerac Brands List

Sazerac Company Brands, Sazarac Canadian Whiskey, Sazerac Products, Sazerac Spirits, Sazerac bourbon, Sazerac whiskey brands

An Overview of Sazerac Company Brands

The Sazerac family of brands has grown significantly through acquisitions since the late 1980's bolstered by significant free cash flow generated through the popularity of all things brownwater over the last few decades.  For a detailed review of acquisitions, joint ventures and divestitures, see here.

Learn Something New Today?

There's more where that came from. Join us on Instagram @thebourboneur, Facebook @bourboneur, and TikTok for garage bar resources, giveaways, laughs, and more. Find more intriguing articles on our blog.  Cheers!

Bourboneur Glencairn Glass


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