Its origins are murky, but the most common accounts name one Antoine Amedee Peychaud, a young Creole from a distinguished French family, as the originator of the drink.
Peychaud, along with wealthy plantation owners, fled his home in the French controlled portion of the island of Hispaniola during the slave uprisings of 1793.
Peychaud, trained as an apothecary, settled in New Orleans and set up shop in the French Quarter. Along with his education, he had salvaged an old secret family recipe for the compounding of a liquid tonic called bitters.
The bitters were good for whatever ailed you. And they added zest to the cognac brandy he served friends and others who wandered into his pharmacy.
Fame of the concoction spread. Soon the ubiquitous New Orleans coffee houses, as liquor dispensing establishments were then called, were offering their French brandy spiked with a dash of the marvelous bitters compounded by M. Peychaud.
He had a unique way of serving his brandy libation. He poured portions into a double egg cup. The French speaking population called such a device a coquetier (pronounced kah-kuh-tyay). The speculation is that the pronunciation of the French word eventually corrupted into the present day cocktail.
New Orleans based Museum of the American Cocktail displays the first known written reference to the drink on its website, www.museumoftheamericancocktail.org. On the front page of May 6, 1806 issue of The Balance and Columbian Repository, a Hudson, N.Y., newspaper. In response to a reader's request, an editor defined a cocktail as "a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters."
The editor then goes on to say that it is "supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said also, to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because, a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else."
Stanley Clisby Arthur, author of Famous New Orleans Drinks and how to mix 'em, mentions a writer who refers to the older term cocktail, meaning a horse whose tail, being docked, sticks up like the tail of a cock. He adds: 'Since drinkers of cocktails believe them to be exhilarating, a once popular song Horsy, keep your tail up, may perhaps hint at a possible connection between the two senses of cocktail.
The Classic Sazerac Cocktail
1 lump sugar
3 drops Peychaud's bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 jigger rye whiskey
1 dash absinthe substitute
1 slice lemon peel
Start with two heavy-bottomed, 3 ½ ounce bar glasses. Fill one with cracked ice and allow it to chill. In the other, place a lump of sugar with just enough water to moisten it.
The saturated loaf of sugar is then crushed with a barspoon. Add a few drops of Peychaud's bitters, a dash of Angostura, and a jigger of rye whiskey.
Add add several lumps of ice to the glass containing sugar, bitters, and rye and stir. Never use a shaker!
Empty the ice from the first glass, dash in several drops of absinthe, twirl the glass and shake out the absinthe ... enough will cling to the glass to add the needed flavor.
Strain the whiskey mixture into this glass, twist a piece of lemon peel over it for the needed zest of that small drop of oil thus extracted from the peel, but do not commit the sacrilege of dropping the peel into the drink.
About the Author
Ellen M. Zucker owns a site where you can find advice on party and event planning from Party Pros. It includes tips, interviews, and advice on putting your event together from professionals who make parties and special events happen.