Can you devote a week to the Sazerac, a liquid national treasure from New Orleans? Of course (and you can drink them year round). Running from June 20 through June 26 this year, Sazerac Cocktail Week is the brainchild of the Sazerac House. Think of the Sazerac House as an approachable, interactive, and really interesting museum about all things Sazerac. How interesting is it? My mother-in-law enjoyed her experience there, and she doesn't drink.
So how am I celebrating Sazerac Cocktail Week (besides the obvious)? By speaking with Matt Ray, the Sazerac House cocktail expert and experience team leader. Displaying his Southern upbringing and his experience as a former teacher, Matt graciously spoke with me and Ms. Cocktail Den about Sazerac topics ranging from historical to technical to personal. Keep reading because I'll ask you the same question I asked Matt at the beginning of the interview.
First, the historical. The past affects the present, and it's no different with the Sazerac. Emphasizing why the Sazerac is important in the American cocktail pantheon (my phrasing), Matt pointed out the Sazerac is an "old, old cocktail," as newspapers mentioned it as far back as the 1830s. As the Sazerac evolved from its roots of using a cognac base to using a rye base, it became what Matt characterized as the "most lovely expression of an elevated Old Fashioned." Similarly, the profile of a Sazerac drinker evolved over time, in my opinion for the better. Matt hilariously noted Sazerac drinkers used to be "old grumpy white men," then "younger grumpy bartenders." Now people of all ages, races, genders, and occupations are likely to kick back with a Sazerac.
Second, the technical. A Sazerac doesn't require many ingredients, but it "takes a small level of precision to make it." The key word is small. If I can do it, you can do it. Matt astutely compared making Sazeracs to baking cookies - few ingredients, tasty when done right, and many ways to screw them up. What are the most common mistakes according to Matt? Overdoing the absinthe or Herbsaint (a homegrown New Orleans spirit still used today and used when absinthe was illegal), and over-stirring. Surviving the former, Matt described it as "punishment for being drunk at 1:00 a.m. in the French Quarter." For the latter, Matt recommended a quick, soft stir so as not to water down the drink.
Third, the personal. Here's the compound question: where did you have your first Sazerac, and when did you have it? For me and Ms. Cocktail Den, it was the bar at the Dauphine Orleans Hotel in 1999. That began our ongoing love affair with the cocktail. For Matt, it most likely was at Loa, the first craft cocktail bar at which he worked, in an undetermined year (no judgment, as I'm well aware drinking in New Orleans can be antithetical to perfect recall).
In addition to appreciating and spreading the word about the Sazerac, there is another important aspect to the week. Sazerac Cocktail Week benefits Feed the Second Line, a non-profit organization focused on supporting the people who are the culture creators of New Orleans. Some bars and restaurants around the country are running promotions during Sazerac Cocktail Week. If you can't make it to one, this curated playlist provides a great musical background as you sip your Sazerac.
All of this talk about Sazeracs is making me thirsty. Care to have one with me?