By Royal Brevvaxling Special to Published Feb 03, 2012 at 3:09 PM

"Bar Month" at – brought to you by Hornitos, OR-G, Party Armor, Red Stag, Absolut, Fireball and Malibu – is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!

I've traveled to New Orleans many times, beginning in 1993 with a non-stop, 24-hour, cross-country drive with five other people in a small Mazda pickup. We made the drive to be at Carnival, staying up for two days straight, sleeping only after being swept out of the Quarter with everyone else by NOLA mounted police at midnight on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras).

My four most recent trips to the Crescent City were all post-Katrina, and all a little more adult-oriented (just as boozy and blurry, mind you, but I was mostly seated in some of the city's great restaurants, without want or care for beads).

My love for New Orleans pales in comparison only to my love for Brew City and I intend to continue engaging in as much cross-cultural, "inter-municipal" exchange as both of these places can bear. I just got back from my last trip on Dec. 25, having finally enjoyed a sazerac, New Orleans' official drink.

A native to New Orleans, the sazerac is a whiskey drink that's getting a bit more notoriety outside Louisiana lately, perhaps due in part to the craft cocktail movement.

Drinking a sazerac was a true cultural experience (if culture is delimited to being that of cocktails drinkers who preferably like to do their imbibing in storied places of historical significance). While not the first cocktail (this myth was recently debunked when instances of the word "cocktail" were found in print predating the sazerac's invention) it remains one of America's finest drinks.

I have been watching the HBO series "Treme" via Netflix and other web-based sources for several months (both because of my love for most things New Orleans and because HBO series are clearly superior to anything you can find on "regular" TV – except maybe on Showtime). I took a special interest in an episode in which sazerac is as much a leading character as the people.

(This occurs during the as-of-yet-unreleased second season of "Treme" – please locate an aforementioned "web-based source" if you can't wait for it to be released, like me.)

In this episode, the character of New Orleans' chef Janette Desautel, played by Kim Dickens, walks up to a bartender where she is cooking and orders a sazerac – only so she can throw it in the face of food critic Alan Richman (who plays himself), who's eating in the restaurant.

"This is how the Creole faerie folk back home cure their three-day stubble," says the chef after throwing the sazerac, who through this action makes herself delightfully unemployed.

The reason she tossed the drink in Richman's face was because he wrote an extremely negative, and to some insensitive, at least for its timing, review of New Orleans' cuisine shortly after Katrina. (You can easily search the original article for the references to "faerie folk" and "stubble.")

Although this is pretty interesting stuff for folks who, like me, enjoy the blending of art and life and who follow all kinds of social commentary on New Orleans, what's really interesting is a part of the scene in which Dickens tells the bartender making the sazerac, "Do it the right way. Absinthe – just coat the glass."

Maybe more than most cocktails, there is a method to making the sazerac right, and this is referenced beautifully in the episode. So, what does it take to make a sazerac right?

"The bartender must take their time in making it and, preferably, make it with love," says Evan Barnes, bartender at Bryant's Cocktail Lounge, 1579 S. 9th St., and at Hotel Foster, 2028 E. North Ave.

Love probably is necessary, but there's a bit more. Here's the base method:

Using two old-fashioned glasses, fill one with ice and in the other muddle a sugar cube with three dashes of Peychaud's bitters. After muddling, add one and a half ounces of rye whiskey or brandy to the glass. Ditch the ice in the first glass and coat it with absinthe.

Next, toss the remaining absinthe and pour in the contents of the other glass. This is a sazerac.

"The key is Peychaud's bitters. It's not a sazerac if it doesn't have Peychaud's, almost by definition," says John Dye, owner of Bryant's Cocktail Lounge.

Another key to Bryant's sazerac is that their recipe calls for three shots of Sazerac rye (yes, and whoa). Bryant's uses Kubler absinthe, but there are sazerac recipes which use a pastis, which is an aniseed-flavored liquor and not an actual absinthe. Dye also makes a more traditional sazerac with Remy Martin cognac instead of the rye whiskey.

The whiskey sazerac at Bryant's sells for $9. The brandy-prepared one is a little more. Sazerac is not usually served on the rocks, but they are at Bryant's.

"It's just the practice here; they were served that way here years and years ago," says Dye.

Dye says they make several sazeracs a day at Bryant's, which is notable because they have so many drinks from which to choose.

Dye says there's something potent (pun intended) about the very preparation of the sazerac that makes it a true classic.

"Spirit, water, sugar and bitters is the definition of a cocktail," he says.

The sazerac origin story typically goes as follows: Antoine Peychaud, while busily mixing all kinds of herbs and chemicals at his apothecary on Royal Street in the French Quarter during the 1830s, stumbled upon a great new cocktail. His recipe includes the bitters which still bear his family name and Sazerac-de-Forge et fils, a French cognac.

"As a matter of current practice, the Sazerac cocktail is a whiskey drink," says Dye, who believes its resurgent popularity is attributable to the growing craft cocktail movement and the fact that, as he's found anyway, people are generally just getting more into whiskey.

The Sazerac Co. of Metairie, La., makers of Sazerac rye whiskey and Peychaud's bitters (at their Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky), are the inheritors of the official sazerac drink recipe. It's been modified a few times over the last 170 years, most notably in 1873, when rye whiskey replaced brandy in the original.

Herbsaint is called for in the recipe favored by the Sazerac company, which also produces this aniseed-flavored liquor. Although it's not an absinthe, the name Herbsaint comes from "herb sainte" a term, popularized in New Orleans, for the grande wormwood plant that's one of the main ingredients of absinthe.

Jill Post of Braise, 1101 S. 2nd St., and James Gutierrez, who she calls her "bartender-in-crime," recently created the George Walker Sazerac, a version of the southern classic quite suitable for the tastes of the national craft cocktail movement (made with local ingredients) as well as paying homage to Braise's Walker's Point location. (Walker, one of the original three founders of Milwaukee, is who the neighborhood is named after.)

Braise uses Great Lakes Distillery's Amerique 1912 Absinthe Rouge to coat the glass. And the rye whisky used in their seasonal sazerac is infused with coconut, pumpkin seeds and almonds.

Post, who is an up-and-coming bartender, having been in the bar and restaurant industry in other roles for years, notes the importance of the bartender in Milwaukee.

"People in this city have a bartender like people have a dentist," she says.

True enough. Since I've asked some of the best bartenders in Walker's Point to make a sazerac, I think it's fair to turn this around on bartenders in New Orleans, asking them to make a brandy old fashioned. While not attaining "official status," the brandy old fashioned might be culturally to Milwaukee what the sazerac is to New Orleans.

So, next time I'm in the Big Easy I'll go looking for a brandy old fashioned to rival the ones in Milwaukee. Presumably, I'll find some and, in the interests of good research, will have to sample them all. We'll see if I'm in any condition to write about them when I get back.

Sazerac scene from "Treme":

Royal Brevvaxling Special to
Royal Brevväxling is a writer, educator and visual artist. As a photo essayist, he also likes to tell stories with pictures. In his writing, Royal focuses on the people who make Milwaukee an inviting, interesting and inspiring place to live.

Royal has taught courses in critical pedagogy, writing, rhetoric and cultural studies at several schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He is currently Adjunct Associate Professor of Humanities at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

Royal lives in Walker’s Point with his family and uses the light of the Polish Moon to illuminate his way home.