The Spirits of New Orleans

You Could Look It Up
By Tim McNally

The Official List for Louisiana:

  • State Motto: Two. Bayou State and Sportsman’s Paradise State
  • Flower: Magnolia
  • State Tree: Bald Cypress State
  • Song: Give Me Louisiana (You really didn’t think it’s You Are My Sunshine or When the Saints Go Marching In, did you?)
  • State Bird: Eastern Brown Pelican
  • Cocktail for Largest Metropolitan Area: Sazerac

As if further proof was needed that “We are different from just about everyone else,” in 2008, amidst a number of economic and managerial crises, the Legislature of the State of Louisiana passed a bill through both houses, signed by the Governor, affirming by law the Sazerac is the Official Cocktail of New Orleans. An earlier effort to have the Sazerac declared the Official Cocktail of the State of Louisiana was defeated.

You can call the initial bill’s defeat an act of good sense or just plain nuts to begin with, so a compromise bill was passed noting the designation of an official cocktail for this state’s largest city. Ya’ gotta love it!

It does not immediately spring to mind of another state or city boasting an official cocktail.

But that minor piece of information is neither here nor there. We are what we are, and we will pass through this life on our terms. Damn the Torpedoes and Full Speed Ahead! Don’t Fire Until You See the Whites of Their Eyes! Praise the Lord and Pass the Bitters!

Yet, the Sazerac that finds its way into your “rocks-glass” today is not the original recipe. Not a single ingredient is the same, unless you are a dedicated Peychaud’s Bitters user.

Back in the mid-1800s, Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar, the Merchants Exchange Coffee House located on Exchange Alley in the French Quarter, to a friend, Aaron Bird. Taylor went into the wine importing business and Bird was more than happy to feature one of the wines Taylor was bringing to New Orleans, a cognac named Sazerac Forge et Fils.

Bird did not stop with that grand act of friendship, he even created a drink that featured the cognac alongside a new bitters product produced by a neighboring pharmacist, Antoine Amedee Peychaud. Bitters were quite popular as a “medicinal” additive.

Yes, you always heard that “a little bit of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Well, in New Orleans that sugar was bitters, which contain a concoction of spices and whatever, and have a bit of an alcoholic content. Remember, it’s us, here, and we have been consistent through the years.

Back to good-neighbor Bird, he was not only content with creating a drink using Taylor’s imported cognac, which proved extremely popular, he even renamed the Merchants Exchange Coffee House as the Sazerac House. Shorter, and right to the point.