Chow Town

Searching for Sazeracs in New Orleans

I’m not much of a bourbon drinker — I’ll admit it.

I prefer rye’s cleaner, drier polish. That may be why I can be a bit of a grump when I order my Sazerac — I don’t appreciate the sweet corniness of bourbon in a drink that is otherwise, or ought to be, savory and bracing. Not that it has to be that version; that’s just the version I prefer to drink.

I won’t insist that others should drink the version I drink. And when it comes to the Sazerac, even when you’re ordering one in New Orleans, home of the damned drink, you’ll see plenty of versions.

Some use Herbsainte, some Pernod, sometimes even other absinthe-like concoctions. Some toss the glass in the air. Some use Angostura bitters — the guys at the Napoleon House are part of that set — along with the mandatory Peychaud bitters. Some use Bourbon. Ugh. Please.

I was in New Orleans and I needed a Sazerac — apparently, I needed more than one, based upon what I drank that week. As I will often do, I moved from place to place, seeking a Sazerac to soothe my soul for at least a half hour so.

As usual, I found it at the Napoleon House. A building that has been used for various purposes since 1797, it’s been serving tasty libations and comestibles since Prohibition, ugly beast, was snuffed out decades ago. Napoleon didn’t sleep there; he didn’t drink there, but in the 19th century a plot was hatched to house him there for a happier exile; but he expired before the plot moved from bar rail to reality.

Sipping my Sazerac(s) with friends there, we mused on the notion that the owners of the estimable George Dickel have been fighting to remove the rules from Tennessee whiskey. They apparently want to allow used barrels, less time in barrel, no maple charcoal filtration, that sort of thing. Bastards. If you want to make a whiskey like that, please do so, but don’t call it Tennessee whiskey. Don’t get me wrong; I love Dickel whiskies. But this is really disappointing.

Life is filled with disappointments. One Sazerac after another, until I rediscover the spirit at the Napoleon House.

Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based wine and spirits writer and consultant who for decades has happily educated the public about all things drink. He is one of only three people in the world to have earned the coveted titles of master sommelier and master of wine. He contributes a monthly wine column for The Star’s Food section.