To make it to the A-list of the world’s Top Cocktails, one has to contend with protagonists such as the Manhattan, the Negroni and the Margarita, the Long Island Iced Tea and the Sazerac. No doubt these all have a place in the Hallowed Halls of Cocktail History, but when the votes come in, the Old Fashioned waves the flag as the world’s original and thus oldest cocktail.
Evan Rail on VinePair says of the Old Fashioned, “To drink one is to taste the original, primordial cocktail, one that’s largely still made according to the oldest known cocktail recipe, dating from the first decade of the 19th century.
The title as the world’s oldest cocktail is often claimed by the Sazerac, which, according to legend, was invented in 1838 by Antoine Peychaud, a Creole apothecary from New Orleans, Louisiana.
However, despite these claims, the Sazerac is not the original cocktail.
The earliest known definition of a cocktail is a mixture of spirit, sugar, water and bitters. And the Old Fashioned adheres to this definition – simple. The word ‘cocktail’ was first defined in print in 1806 as a mix of spirit, water, sugar and bitters — basically an Old Fashioned.
To make a simple Old Fashioned, you need:
- 2 tsp sugar syrup or 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 1-2 dashes Angostura bitters
- splash of water
- 60ml whiskey or bourbon
- Combine the sugar, bitters and water in a tumbler, and if using granulated sugar, mix until the sugar has completely dissolved.
- Fill the glass with ice and stir in the whiskey.
- Add a splash of soda water if you like and mix.
- Garnish with the orange and cherry.
So, what is a Sazerac?
This classic whiskey cocktail is akin to an Old Fashioned, but with a few distinct differences: it’s made with Peychaud’s bitters instead of Angostura, and it contains a splash of either absinthe, Pernod or Herbsaint (an anise-flavored liqueur).
Originally, the Sazerac was made with French cognac, bitters, sugar and absinthe, and served in an egg cup. (Known as a coquetier, the egg cup has been claimed as the source of the word cocktail)
From where, Sazerac?
Peychaud named his drink after the French cognac, Sazerac-de-Forge et fils, which was a popular spirit among the Creole community during the 19th century. In turn, Peychaud’s favourite cognac’s name comes from the Sazerac House, a famous drinking establishment founded in 1850 in New Orleans.
Over time the recipe has gone through a few adaptations.
During the phylloxera epidemic which destroyed most of Europe’s vineyards, bartenders began substituting rye whisky for the cognac. The crown goes to Leon Lamothe, claimed to have added a splash of absinthe to the Sazerac in 1873, thereby changing the cocktail for ever. When absinthe became illegal, it was replaced with the French anise-flavored liqueur, Pernod, but today either is used by mixologists to make the timeless Sazerac.
How to make a Sazerac
- Chill a tumbler in the freezer. Prepare the Sazerac as follows:
- In a shaker, combine sugar and bitters. Mix until the sugar is dissolved – add a few drops of water if necessary.
- Add whiskey and stir until mixed well.
- Pour about 30ml Absinthe or Pernod into the chilled glass and rotate glass until the inside is coated. Discard the excess.
- Pour the mixture from the shaker into the chilled tumbled.
- Twist a piece of lemon peel over the edge of the glass.
So, in a nutshell, here is simple comparison:
|The Sazerac: |
Peychaud’s (orange) bitters
A piece of lemon zest as garnish
|The Old Fashioned: |
A piece of lemon or orange zest as garnish
Either way, you will be tasting a bit of history.