Trust a decadent party city to be the home of a cocktail that fuses the bad, the banned and the legendary.
The city is New Orleans, the cocktail the Sazerac. It was inevitable that this louche place would give birth to an abundance of mixed drinks. It is home to two major drinking cultures, French and American, and it was where whiskey ended up after sailing downriver from Bourbon county. The French brought brandy and absinthe, but it was only when a Creole chemist called AA Peychaud added his bitters that things really kicked off.
Absinthe's debauched history is well documented, while good Bourbon is an essential part of any decent bar - but Peychaud's Bitters? American barmen have found it hard to come by, but now you can get it courtesy of H Rose (0181-887 0055).
When Peychaud fled San Domingo in 1793 and set up as an apothecary in New Orleans, he brought his own bitters recipe and administered it to the sick (and not so sick) mixed with brandy.
Like all bitters, the recipe is a closely guarded secret. While Angostura has an intense, herbal aroma, Peychaud's Bitters has a lighter, sweeter taste with hints of maraschino cherry and bark.
Peychaud's brandy and bitters was soon copied by the Sazerac coffee house (New Orleans' first cocktail bar) in the 1850s, but as drinkers' preference swung behind cheap whiskey, rye was used instead. When absinthe arrived in the 1870s, the elements of the Sazerac cocktail were complete.
For a good Sazerac, use a rye-accented bourbon - Four Roses or Wild Turkey - or, for a softer option, Maker's Mark. And use absinthe from Andorra - it's vastly better than the Czech stuff.
However, Peychaud's Bitters' sweet/savoury kick is really at its best in the world's greatest Champagne cocktail, invented in Louisville's Seelbach Hotel. n
by Dave Broom