Tag Archives: pernod

The 2013 Sazerac Crawl

You really can’t go long when reading about New Orleans before you come across the Sazerac. It has a long history and has evolved through the generations to become the drink it is today. It’s very hard to get one outside of New Orleans  and get a good one.

The trick is in the ingredients. The purported tradition is to use Sazerac Rye Whiskey and Peychaud Bitters, both New Orleans inventions and products. This no doubt being due to the the promotion departments of these local products. Like any local specialty, people are passionate about a good sazerac. Who has the best? What is the correct way to make it? What are the perfect ingredients? Lots of opinions and none are fully right or wrong. When reading the online foodie boards (Chow, Yelp,  etc.) there seems to be a regular question about who has the best in New Orleans, and as always with these sites the answers reflect the responder’s experience and taste (or lack thereof). But sometimes you can find thoughtful, well-researched responses that influence your decisions.

We decided to settle this question for ourselves with a Sazerac Crawl. We picked 6 places from these “best of” lists that were close enough together to walk a route between them. They represented a mixture of the traditional and the new, the places that are famous for doing it one way for decades and the new bars who are riding the wave of the current haute cocktail culture. Some of them served food, a necessity to keep us able to work through the night with clear heads. We’ll also add a bonus Sazerac from dinner the night before, making a total of 7 to review.

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Here’s a link to the map route in Google Maps.

There was a fairly wide variation in ingredients and techniques across the bars we visited. The type of Rye Whiskey, the use of Cognac in addition to, or instead of the Rye, whether the class was seasoned with Pernod, Herbsaint or Absinthe, and whether Peychaud bitters or other bitters were used. Here is our rundown of each one we sampled. We’re rating the drink, the experience and the service.

1. SoBou – New, high end cocktail Bar in the W Hotel, French Quarter.
Their drink was called Taylor Bird Sazerac. SoBou uses a combination of Sazerac Rye and Cognoc,  seasoned the glass with an Herbsaint spray, and finished the drink with their own blackberry and walnut bitters, crowned by a twist of lemon peel. The cocktail was very smooth, and the ingredients were all very present.

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The mixologists, Andrew and Abigail (who writes and excellent blog called RyeGirl) are knowledgeable and engaging on a variety of topics but their passions about cocktails are clearly evident. We chatted with other patrons, a couple from Alabama who were sampling a variety of cocktails, so it was excellent to see these bartenders in action.

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No good crawl starts on any empty stomach so we ordered some cracked, spiced olives and a blue crab mousse with a mix of blackberry and caviar, with long spiced crackers. All was delicious.

Sazerac: 5    Service: 5   Experience: 5

2. Old Absinthe House, Bourbon Street
Upon entry it was evident that this establishment had sacrificed its history (opened in the 1700s) for the party-hearty Bourbon street tourist dollar. The walls were covered in stapled-on business cards and NFL helmets were hanging from the ceiling.

The Sazeracs were made with a Pernod swirl, Sazerac Rye and Peychaud bitters. Half-way through, the bartender decided to re-tie her ponytail and get right back to making them. The glasses were wet when we got them. Were they rinsed clean? The cocktail was thin tasting. The whiskey was barely there — watered down maybe? The other ingredients were prevalent, but the drink was pale and disappointing.  We left  un-finished drinks on the bar.

Sazerac: 1    Service: 1   Experience: 2

3. Arnaud’s French 75
We were accosted by Cigar smoke as we entered the bar. I recalled reading that this was a cigar bar, but it wasn’t bad at all once inside. It actually set an ambient tone that was helped by the dark walnut panelling and the bow-tied and business-like bartenders.

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Arnaud’s Sazerac was the real deal: Old Overholt Rye (a popular substitute), a Pernod swirl and Peychaud bitters, made in the classic style. It had a nice citrus nose from the lemon peel rubbed on the glass rim, and the bitters came through. This was a very, very good Sazerac.

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We talked with a nearby couple who visit the city every month and took dinner recommendations, which we definitely needed by this time.

Sazerac: 5    Service: 3   Experience: 4

It was half-time in our crawl and we definitely need to take a break and eat something. GW Fins had been recommended at our previous stop. They posted a great fish-oriented menu, so in we went.

As we sat down, hot sweet biscuits were brought by our table and were served to us directly off the baking sheet. They were crumbly and delicious. We started with grilled shrimp with a smoky onion relish.

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Maureen had a grilled scallops and mushroom risotto. I had grilled grouper with a red pepper and sweet potato hash. It was rich and succulent. Both our serving sizes were perfect. By American standards, they were skimpy, but the fish was fresh and the dishes were complete.

With full bellies were were ready to get back to the crawl:

4. The Sazerac Bar, Roosevelt Hotel
This is purported to be THE place for Sazeracs. Hell, they named the whole bar after the drink. What you find out, of course, is that it’s a licensed name and the claim to tradition is somewhat suspect. But that’s fine. It was a elegant bar in a fine hotel with history all of its own. The biggest thing it had going against it was a bar load of hollering frat boys and shrieking 20-something girls making the place very loud. Ugh.

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This was the first bar to offer a choice of Sazeracs, one based on cognac and one using Sazerac rye. I tend to see a Sazerac as a whiskey drink, the other ingredients there to soften the rye and to add to the experience. I found their rye-based sazerac to have an good partnership between the whiskey and the other ingredients. It had the most whiskey burn of all the Sazeracs we tried.

The Cognac-based drink is a thing unto itself. It doesn’t compare and doesn’t stand up to the whiskey version. I am happy to chalk this up to personal preference, and it shows the wiggle room there is in choosing ingredients for this classic cocktail.

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The spoiler for the evening was that the bill for the two drinks came to $29. The Cognac version was $17. In other locations, the price averaged, $7-10 per drink. The bar was clearly milking any association they had to the history of the cocktail, but the price was unwarranted.

Sazerac: 4 (Rye) 2 (Cognac)    Service: 3   Experience: 2

5. Mr. B’s Bistro
This drink was shaken into glasses, so its ingredients had a different impact on one other. The other ingredients were the star here. You could taste the Pernod, Peychaud bitters and lemon distinctly. The whiskey was barely present, however the drink was pleasant and unique among the ones we tried.

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We were sitting at the bar and all of the food being delivered to our neighbours looked spectacular. In our pre-crawl research we noted that Mr. B’s BBQ Shrimp were a must-have. Who were we to argue. We ordered a serving each not quite knowing what to expect. The bar staff were moving a mile a minute and while harried, they were friendly and helpful.

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This dish’s relationship to BBQ as we know it is in name only. Sautéed head-on shrimp were finished with a sauce that was rich with butter, black pepper and Worchestershire. It came with a small load of good French bread because there would be much sopping to do. We were both quite surprised at how good this dish is. It may just be the best thing I have put in my mouth, and that’s not just the sazeracs talking. We’re going back for these before we leave, AND we’ll be recreating them at home to be sure.

Sazerac: 4    Service: 4   Experience: 5

6. The Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone
Our final stop on tonight’s crawl brings us to the famous bar in the Monteleone Hotel. The Carousel is a beautifully appointed space, but very loud this evening. We find a small table, the only available, at the very outskirts of the bar, near the dining area. This does nothing for ambiance or the experience. Sazeracs seem best enjoyed belly up to a bar with fellow patrons to strike up conversations with.

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The sazerac at the Carousel is dominated by the whiskey. It is less strong than the cocktail at Roosevelt but more so than at Mr. B’s. We sip our drinks for a bit and quietly leave. It’s fair to say that by this time in the evening, remaining objective becomes difficult. Having 6 of any drink will create an uphill battle for whoever is 6th in line, but we did attempt earnestness in our appraisal.

All in all, it’s been a terrific evening, not just for the Sazeracs, but for experiencing the establishments and the people you meet on the way.

Bonus Sazerac: K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen
We tried the Sazerac at K-Paul’s the night before our crawl. Having done so, I should warn against ordering the Sazerac there as a before-dinner drink. By definition you have an empty stomach, and their Sazerac is easily a double, maybe even a triple.

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It was a very good one, with evident whiskey, and bitters notes and smooth, yet with s slight whiskey burn, but there was way too much and it hampered the enjoyment of the meal, which was notably very good

Sazerac: 3.5   Service: 5  Experience: 4

To experience a Sazerac closer to home in Ottawa, we’ve found that Absinthe, Town and Union (albeit with a cognac variation) all make cocktails that hit the mark. To make it ourselves, we found it was next to impossible to source the Peychaud Bitters in Ottawa but finally were able to order some online from an American Bartending Supply company, and next time we make one, we’ll be applying some of the techniques we learned on this trip.

RT6 – To Portland ME

Woke up early this morning to the sun and sparkling waters of Lake Champlain. We headed down to the harbour to check it out before heading to The Spot for breakfast. This little local dive, open to the outside from within, serves a tasty breakfast in a surf shack that is someplace between California and Polynesia. Surf company stickers, thatched awnings, palm trees, surf boards, leis, tiki carvings and a tropical fish tank, lend a bright, light-hearted, casual vibe. Chairs are comfy and there is a large patio.

I order the Ole burrito with chorizo, eggs, cheddar, red onion, black beans. A small bottle of no-name, mild hot sauce, fresh guacamole and sour cream come on the side. Rob ordered a “make-your-own” omelette, given the array of great looking ingredients. He asked for chorizo, banana peppers, avocado and cheddar, with a side of cafe potatoes and rye toast.

Coffee and orange juice arrives first. The coffee is, well, horrible. Undrinkable really.  OJ is from a carton. The Spot really could upgrade their drinks. Our breakfasts arrive next. The Ole is a beauty to behold. Eggy filling is divided between two nicely charred flour tortillas. The chorizo is abundant and flavourful, and the eggs are well scrambled and delicious. A very good breakfast “taco”. I found the serving size is really a bit too large. One taco was sufficient.

Rob’s omelette was tangy with spice and the avocado and cheese tempered the heat with creamier coolness. A perfect combo. Accompanying small red potatoes  were cooked on the flat top and seasoned with a spice mix, and the rye toast was cut thick. A great breakfast all in all.

Happily sated, we hit I-89, Portland, Maine bound.

The green mountain state of Vermont is picturesque, dotted with small farms and homesteads in the valleys. The mountain roads are cut through walls of shiny black shale, veined with copper coloured rock. I-89 is not cluttered with box stores and billboards.

At some point we cross unknowingly into New Hampshire. There is no sign to welcome us and we are denied a photo of a huge  “Live Free Or Die”. We will have to be satisfied with the mega liquor store that is planted at all access points to the state. We get off the highway in Manchester…major miscalculation. We thought we could grab a quick bite, but the entire town was under construction. After fooling Stella, our GPS into taking a detour to avoid the mess she was trying to lead us back into – we are back on the road. Soon we have the option of getting off the interstate and on to Route 1, a pleasant meandering drive through coastal Maine.

We hit gold right away. Rob spies a seafood shack roadside. 3 Buoys Seafood Shanty and Grille. So glad we waited out New Hampshire. We exit the car and stretch. 3 Buoys, a perfect dive shack, done up in nouveau fishing boat chic delivers exactly what we are looking for.

A homemade seaside business serving up fresh seafood. With the Olympics on the flatie, or should I say, the all-American games and some other teams of little or no interest, we order Blue Moons, clam strips and lobster rolls.

The clam strips are lightly seasoned and well fried. Not greasy. I pass on the tartar sauce. I was raised to eat them with ketchup like a good maritime Canadian.

The lobster rolls come with home made fries. The fries are hand cut but the oil wasn’t hot enough. They are just ok. The lobster rolls. The lobster rolls. Wow. Hot dog bun, split, buttered and made toasty good on the flat top, stuffed, really stuffed –  with lobster lightly dressed with mayo. Washed down with Blue Moon beer, it was exactly what the moment called for. The perfect storm. I cannot get it out of my mind. I will have another somewhere on our journey tomorrow. There is no shortage of shacks along the way.

Route 1 to Portland takes us past classic New England towns, bustling with tourists and residents this Monday. We passed small resorts, old school motels with turquoise cement pools, cafes, patios, clapboard houses with colourful shutters and antique stores. Nice to see the occasional Canadian and pride flags amongst the American. Past the little towns of Ogunquit, Wells, Kennebunkport and Arundel, on to campgrounds and cottage country and finally into Portland, Maine. We settle in for a bit and decide on J’s Oyster for a late dinner. Portland has so many places of interest for dining but we have only one night here. J’s comes to us from Roadfood.com.

The oysterhouse is a three minute walk from our hotel so we set out on foot and explore a bit. J’s is right on the commercial wharf, which means seedy – but fresh. They do not take reservations and even though it is late on a Monday evening, we face a 30 to 40 minute wait. We take a seat on the windy dockside. There is patio seating but the night is quite cool, so we wait it out.

Eventually we are called and seated. J’s is dimly lit. The entire center of the room is occupied by the bar. There is seating around much of it. This is authentic wharf dive bar classic. Paper placemats with important lobster facts printed on them appear in front of us along with cheap cutlery. There is no water on the table and if you want rolls, you ask for them. Our waitress drops by with menus and we order Rolling Rocks to start. For apps we decide to share the garlic bread and crab and bacon stuffed mushroom caps. The caps are garlicky and have both a lot of crab and bacon.

I however seem to have developed an aversion to any meat paired with bacon. I love bacon. I love crab. I did not like the flavour combination. I believe though that the fault lies with me. The garlic bread was however, amazing. BEST EVER. A white hot dog bun split, spread with garlic butter and chives, then toasted on the flat top. Chewy, steamy, garlicky. Cheese on garlic bread only complicates things.

For our mains, I get the lobster pernod and Rob opts for the lobster scampi. My dinner arrives. Large chunks of lobster meat are lightly sauteed with mushrooms and cream with a dash of pernod, and served over linguine pasta. The lobster is wonderful and there is lots of it. I appreciate the light hand with the pernod but if I were to make this dish at home I would bump it up a bit because I love anise.


Rob’s lobster scampi was rich with butter, garlic, bell peppers and lobster. The luxurious and garlicky butter sauce was used as bread dip for both of us.

Both of our meals came with well made but completely unnecessary coleslaw. All in all, dinner at J’s was excellent, a great end to a long day of travel. We walked back along the harbourfront to our hotel, ready to make plans for tomorrow.