History Mystery: Sazerac Cocktail
By Tiffany Ranney | November 2017
Legend holds that Antonine Amédée Peychaud, a druggist from New Orleans, served his tenures in a Coquetier (co'k-tee-yay. similar to "cocktail") a double-ended egg cup resembling our modern jigger. Peychaud used Sazerac De Forge et Fils brand of cognac, an Absinthe rinse, sugar, and his house-made bitters. Peychaud called his concoction the Sazerac Cocktail because of the spirit he used and the vessel he served it in. Therefore the Sazerac Cocktail created by Peychaud, is known as the oldest cocktail in America. Legend has it that Peychaud coined the word cocktail, which created the structural medicinal tincture called a cocktail, and the cocktail we know today as the Sazerac.
Dates and facts are conflicting, but according to Peychaud's death certificate, he died on June 30th, 1883, at 80 years old, placing his birth year at approximately 1803. Immigration records show an A. A. Peychaud arriving to New Orleans from Haiti in the early 1800s. The New Orleans business directory for 1861 show a "Peychaud, Antoine A. 'Druggist' residing at 90 Royal Street, Latin Quarter."
"Two petit version of 'L'huile de Venus' Ditto, one of 'perfect amour' Ditto, 'cock-tail' (vulgarly called ginger)" - March 20th, 1778 The Morning Post and Gazetteer
"Drank a glass of cocktail -- excellent for the head; ... Drank another glass of cocktail." - April 28th, 1803 The Farmer's Cabinet
"Cock tail, then, is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters -- it is vulgarly called bitters fling" - May 6th, 1806 The Balance and Columbian Repository
However, Peychaud was too young to coin the word cocktail. Even in 1806, Peychaud would have been approximately three-years-old: not old enough to have created the cocktail. There are many other tales regarding the name Cocktail, from sailors in foreign lands to the daughters of kings. Most cannot be proven or unproven, but two stand out to me. H. L. Mencken writes in The American Language (1921):
That it is derived from Coquetel, the name of a mixed drink know in the vicinity of Bordeaux for centuries, and introduced to Americans by officers during the Revolution... [or] That it is a shortened form of cock-tailing, the name of a mixture of tailings from various liqueurs, thrown together in a common receptacle and sold at a lower price.
Pre-Prohibition, libations were for medicinal purposes. Medicinal tinctures were made by doctors, pharmacists, chemists, and druggists, and sold to coffee houses and merchant exchange houses as well. Alcohols were also sold at coffee houses and merchant exchange houses. Sometimes the doctors, pharmacists, chemists, and druggists would keep alcohol in their shops to mix cocktails for their patients. Sometimes the coffee houses and merchant exchange houses would mix the tinctures and alcohol together and sell bottled cocktails to their customers (cough syrups come to my mind).
July 1832, F. P. Ducongé announced in an advertisement in the New Orleans Bee that Anthony Peychaud was to partner with him (quite possibly Antonine Amédée Peychaud?). Peychaud, who was registered as a Druggist, was the owner of a shop on Royal Street in New Orleans in 1861. The timeline appears to fit. However, there are no publications for the ‘Sazerac Cocktail’ or any similar recipes until the late 1800s.
When the cocktail was made with brandy it was called a Brandy Cocktail. Same for Gin Cocktails, Bourbon Cocktails, Scotch Cocktails, etc., each alcohol believed to have its own medicinal purpose. The Sazerac cocktail is said to have risen in popularity dating back to the 1830s. At that time, the Sazerac De Forge et Fils Cognac was very popular and imported to the United States in large scale. Could it be that a libation made with the specific alcohol of Sazerac De Forge et Fils would be called a Sazerac Cocktail? An additional hypothesis is from the name of the coffee houses. Around the time the Sazerac Cocktail rose in popularity, many coffee houses were named the Sazerac House. This was one of, if not the most popular coffee house named at that time, and existed all over the United States. Was the Sazerac Cocktail a house cocktail or a type of cocktail?
On February 1, 1843, the Times-Picayune published the following note: “The Sunday Mercury says that if you are at a hotel, and wish to call for a beverage compounded of brandy, sugar, absynthe, bitters, and ice, called by the vulgar a cocktail, ask for une queue de chanticleer—it will be an evidence at once of your knowledge of French and of Chesterfield.” Interestingly, The Sunday Mercury was a newspaper in New York.
In 1895, there was an article about the Sazerac House in New Orleans in the Times-Democrat, stating, “Vincent Miret is to be congratulated upon his reputation as the best mixer of whisky cocktails in the City of New Orleans.” Later that same year, an application was made by Miret for a patent on bottling the recipe for their “Sazarac [house] Cocktail”, a recipe that resembles the Improved Whiskey Cocktail published in 1876 by Jerry Thomas.
In 1908, William T. Boothby released The World's Drinks and How to Mix Them. Here is a recipe for the Sazerac:
Sazerac Cocktail. A La Armand Regnier, New Orleans, LA. Into a mixing-glass full of cracked ice place about a small barspoon of gum syrup, three drops of Selner bitters and a jigger of Sazerac brandy; stir well, strain into a stem cocktail-glass which has been rinsed out with a dash of absinthe, squeeze a piece of lemon peel over the top and serve with ice and water on the side.
In 1849, New York was producing a cocktail very similar to a modern day Sazerac Cocktail. According to the first publications of the Sazerac Cocktail, in the New Orleans Area, the recipe is that of the Improved Whiskey Cocktail by Jerry Thomas. The first publications of the Sazerac Cocktails were not made with Peychaud’s bitters. With the evidence that is known, one might conclude that Peychaud is not the creator of the Sazerac Cocktail, although no evidence is found to rule out the theory.
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