Day 56: Le Toast Legendre
It was sometime around 2010, and I was helping with another bar opening. We were unpacking our first spirits order, going through the mundane task of putting it all into an inventory spreadsheet. Knowing my love for New Orleans, the GM looked over at me with a bottle of Herbsaint in his hand. "Yeah," I smiled, "we are gonna be making Sazeracs for sure!"
Welcome to day 56, thirsty readers.The past month has been a strange transition for me, moving away from my own little tropical happy place in New Orleans, and finding a different kind of comfort by coming back to my icy hometown of Pittsburgh. Yeah, it snowed in the middle of May. It's funny how familiar surroundings become less familiar over time. At least that's what I've always felt. That being said, coming home, though it has it's own set of challenges, is still like wrapping yourself in a very comfortable blanket. Having lived and worked in as many places as I have, I find comfort in so many different familiar things, just like that bottle of Herbsaint, and I'm really thankful for those moments.
Awhile back, on Day 35, I shared with you my New Prescription cocktail and a brief history of the Sazerac. It was there, I mentioned how the phylloxera insect had made French brandy all but impossible to acquire for cocktails in America. What I didn't mention, was how another key ingredient to this famous cocktail was lost to us for much longer. That's right, I'm talking about absinthe.
During the time frame from the mid-1800s to the early-1900s, anyone who was anyone, was drinking absinthe. Especially popular in France at the time, absinthe was usually where the the finger of blame was pointed for rowdy and out of control behavior. A French psychiatrist, named Dr. Magnan, even conducted some bogus medical experiments on mice and dogs, "proving" that absinthe causes hallucinations. It doesn't by the way, so let's just get that out of the way right now.
Now usually, when a society is trying to demonize something, they need some situation in which to make an example. Enter now, the story of Mr. Jean Lanfray. One night, Mr. Lanfray brutally murdered his entire family, and the world decided to put the burden of guilt on the green spirit. What they failed to mention, was Lanfray was on a multi-day bender, where he had also consumed every other alcohol he could get his hands on. Unfortunately, the damage had been done, and absinthe eventually became banned in several countries, including the United States.
So what did this mean for our glorious Sazerac cocktail? Well, we bartenders are a resourceful lot after all. Since there are many other forms of herbal liqueurs to stand in, and since the "mystique" of absinthe was mostly propaganda in the first place, substitutions could be made. J.M. Legendre released Legendre Herbsaint, an "absinthe substitute," in 1934. Having studied absinthe production in France, Legendre marketed Herbsaint, boasting "Always serve when absinthe is called for." He even put a picture of the famed Old Absinthe House, of New Orleans' French Quarter, on the label. This is a toast to Legendre.
Le Toast Legendre
.5oz Rye Whiskey (It only seems right to use Sazerac ala New Orleans)
.5oz Peychaud's Bitters
.5oz Vanilla Syrup
.25oz Legendre Herbsaint
4oz Sparkling Blanc de Blancs
Stir and strain into a chilled flute.
Top with Sparkling wine.
Garnish with expressed lemon peel.
*If you're saying "wow, this is like a refreshing-sparkling Sazerac," then you're doing it right!*
If you go down to visit the bars of New Orleans in the future, and you absolutely should, you'll still see this being used in place of absinthe. It's an ingredient of comfort, reminding us how sticky history can be at times. Something about Herbsaint says "welcome home." I hope everyone who can, is also staying home for now. This is far from over, but at least we have each other, if we stick together. I'll catch you all tomorrow. I'll be back with more cocktails, as long as you come back to make them, Until then, keep shaking.