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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Why You Should Visit New Orleans' Sazerac House

New Orleans is steeped in history. In fact, this year is their 300th birthday/anniversary, so you can imagine the stories the city could tell. While the food and some activities can be quite expensive at times, there are many cheap or free things to do, if you know where to find them. One of these things is the new Sazerac House.

Sazerac rye was birthed in New Orleans, as well as bitters. Want to learn all about this whiskey? Sazerac House is a free "museum" that gives the public a history lesson on booze in the city. The building it's housed in is part of history itself. It was an appliance store and then a hat & glove store, then sat vacant for over 30 years. Sazerac House swooped in and took over the bottom three floors of the six, gussied it up, and started a distillery where they make small batch rye. They produce just one barrel a day, which is then aged for six years.

Each bottle is marked with the actual date and sold in the gift shop. I was lucky enough to catch one of the brewers at the end of my tour, and he gave me a quick turn around the small distillery. It has just four cookers and one still. The bottling line is probably around 15 feet long. It's all very compact, but also very streamlined and shiny.

Now that I've skipped to the end of the tour, let me talk about the beginning. You must make a reservation, even though the tour is free. When you show up, you'll receive a funky bracelet that will enable you to sample three different cocktails. You have the option to get your photo taken in front of the gorgeous bottle wall, then you'll take the elevator to the third floor to start and learn about Peychaud's Bitters.

On this floor, you can taste bitters on their own. Now, they are called bitters for a reason. Don't expect them to be sweet or slightly flavored. It's a very concentrated flavor. While we were there, they were not testing bitters, because of the Coronavirus, but we assured the employee that we all washed our hands and were aware of the risks. You see, you taste bitters by them putting a drop on the back of your hand and then you lick them off (similar to salting your hand for tequila shots). The dropper doesn't touch your skin or anyone else's. 

As a group, we tried the general bitters, Xocolatl Mole, and Hellfire. We were all in agreement in our tasting experience. The general bitters tasted a lot like Nyquil/medicine-y, the mole had a great deep flavor that would give a dark chocolate depth to a cocktail, and the Hellfire was very spicy (it's made with habanero peppers), but didn't linger, so you didn't feel a burn in your mouth. 

We then proceeded around the corner and tried the drink of the hour: the Sazerac. This is made with Sazerac rye whiskey, Herbsaint (an anise-flavored liqueur) and bitters. It's a sipping drink and it was delicious. From here, we thanked our bartender and headed down to the second floor. Here we stopped to interact with the virtual bartenders to learn about specialty drinks like the Ramos Gin Fizz. We took some selfies and then strolled through a rum "storage" room, which took us to the next real bartender who made us a drink that was a bit of a twist on a mojito. This drink used Rum and Elemakule Tiki bitters (cinnamon, allspice and island spices) and was fairly tart in my opinion. 

I like rum, but a more simple drink is preferable to me. If you like lemonade, this is probably a drink for you. The hitch on this drink is that it's made with rum that you can only buy at Sazerac House. The tour continues with the story of whiskey in New Orleans, along with tons of different whiskey varieties. You're then face-to-face with your third bartender, who makes you an apertivo called Peychaud's Spritz. 20% of it is Peychaud's Apertivo, which is a bit bitter and can overpower the palette. It's one part apertivo to four parts prosecco or champagne. You can add or omit soda water, though I think it might need it. Annita and I agreed that it wasn't our favorite, but it may have been a bit more palatable with the soda water. 

Your tour ends in the gift shop, where you also have the opportunity to enter the distillery, which I did, because I love to learn about the making process of things. I also was able to talk to the brewer to ask some questions about burning out the barrel and what they do with them afterward, since you can't reuse a burned out whiskey barrel for whiskey. Turns out you can use it for other alcohol, including gin and even wine. This gives an interesting flavor to them that you can't get on its own. It's a great exercise in recycling and reuse. 

So, that's an awesome free tour in New Orleans, just about a block from the French Quarter, which comes with the extra benefit of getting free drinks. It's probably one of the only places in the city that offers absolutely no-strings-attached booze. If you'd like to see more pics and action shots, see my Instagram post.

Have you ever tried a Sazerac cocktail? If so, what did you think?

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