You’ve never had a Sazerac Cocktail (in the same way that you have probably never had a Pappy Van Winkle Cocktail). Unless you have about $17,000 to buy some Cognac Sazerac, all that is left of the Sazerac Cocktail is prologue and epilogue. You might have had something even older than the Sazerac Cocktail.
On Wednesday morning, the first day of February, 1843, a cocktail was described in the New Orleans newspaper, The Daily Picayune — quoted or paraphrased from another publication, the Sunday Mercury (perhaps from their edition of Sunday, January the twenty-ninth).
Note that the mention of (surely dry) sugar is evidence that this cocktail was made the old-fashioned way — as would be expected at that date. Thirty or forty years later, many American bar-tenders might call the drink an Improved Brandy Cocktail if made the modern way using sugar syrup and stirring though ice before straining (requiring more pure water and ice than was affordable before the industrial revolution).
But, based on what seems to have been the local lingo used in ordering the drink, I call it the Queue de Chanticleer Cocktail. Queue de Chanticleer [“coo de shanticlaire”] means ‘tail of the dominant rooster’ or just ‘cocktail.’
One striking thing about this drink is that if it were to be made with Cognac Sazerac as the brandy it would be virtually indistinguishable from the much more famously-named Sazerac Cocktail as it was when it can be found to have entered history (meaning that which stands written) around 1900. Here is the earliest known printed recipe for the Sazerac Cocktail:
Notice that when the Sazerac (and Zazarack) Cocktail began to show up in print, it was by no means always made with Peychaud’s bitters. That assumption might have been even later. That’s alright, I make the same assumption.
Cognac Sazerac was a preferred trademark of Cognac brandy that became unavailable in the first half of the twentieth century. It should not be confused with being any product from the modern, opportunistically named, Sazerac Company.
As early as Cognac Sazerac can be shown to have been available in New Orleans, it can be assumed to have been used in the Queue de Chanticleer Cocktail at least occasionally – which, as stated earlier, would make it indistinguishable from the later Sazerac Cocktail.
As can be seen from the advertisement above, Sazerac brandy was already available in New Orleans when the Queue de Chanticleer Cocktail was first described there.
The name Sazerac Cocktail is documented from 1901 onward. That means that the drink was renamed for the trademarked liquor in it some time between ~1843 and 1901. I believe that the name came late, closer to 1901. Otherwise, the omission of the drink in so many sources that should have known it becomes difficult to explain. That is especially true of Lafcadio Hearns’ 1885 book, La Cuisine Creole, in which recipes for the favorite drinks local to New Orleans are given by the author who lived there for years – but without so much as a mention of anything called ‘Sazerac’ (nor anything called ‘Ramos,’ for that matter).
But, what of that other drink that is similar, but based on whiskey instead of brandy?
And to further clarify:
Imagine it — confusion where there is alcohol!
So, there you have it. The brandy-based Queue de Chanticler Cocktail became the Sazerac Cocktail when made with Cognac Sazerac as the brandy, and then the Sazerac Cocktail became the Zazarack Cocktail (or Zazerac Cocktail) when based on whiskey. The only one of these that can not be had today is the actual Sazerac Cocktail — because Cognac Sazerac exists no more. I know that a Sazerac rye whiskey has existed for a little while — but that is shameful, or historically ignorant, labeling. I happen to prefer the Zazarack Cocktail over the others, anyway – but that is a subjective matter.
Here are the drinks as they are in my own book: