Cocktail a la Louisiane

Ever since I visited New Orleans last summer, I’ve been inordinately fond of two particular bottles in my liquor cabinet: the rich, luscious Sazerac 6-year-old rye whiskey, and New Orleans’ homegrown absinthe substitute, Herbsaint.

There’s something about the younger Sazerac that is just so damn lovable; it’s not as crisp as many Pennsylvania-style ryes like Rittenhouse bonded or Michter’s U.S. 1, and it’s not as mellow and bourbon-like as ryes like Van Winkle Family Reserve. Instead, it’s smooth and round, with a distinct herbaceous dryness matched with tinges of peaches and brown sugar. This rye is downright bosomy.

Herbsaint, of course, started life in New Orleans in 1934 as a stand-in for the banned absinthe, and quickly became the top American-made absinthe substitute. Today, it’s made in Kentucky (by the same company that makes the Sazerac rye), and aficionados say current bottlings aren’t up to the complexity of classic Herbsaint from the ’40s, but it’s distinctive anise character — rougher and more robust than French relations like Pernod and Ricard — is still desirable in a lot of cocktails. (Want more info? Pick up the latest issue of Imbibe, which has an article I wrote about Herbsaint.)

Typically, these two ingredients can be found hobnobbing with a hearty dose of Peychaud’s and a touch of sugar in a Sazerac, a drink that is the natural home for both the Sazerac rye and the Herbsaint. But it’s a shame to only mix these made-for-each-other spirits in one drink; thankfully, there’s another New Orleans cocktail, a kissing cousin of the Sazerac, that uses these ingredients to great effect: the Cocktail a la Louisiane.
In Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, from 1937, Stanley Clisby Arthur writes that this was the house cocktail at the Restaurant de la Louisiane, “one of the famous French restaurants in New Orleans, long the rendezvous of those who appreciate the best in Creole cuisine.” The cocktail uses the Sazerac’s base of rye, Herbsaint and Peychaud’s, then fleshes it out with sweet vermouth and throws cascading layers of complexity into the drink with a mighty measure of Benedictine, a venerable French herbal liqueur. This cocktail is on the sweet side, but not cloying, as you might expect from a cursory glance at the recipe.

Rich and voluptuous, with the flavor of decadence mixed with sin, the Cocktail a la Louisiane is a great reason to break out the rye and pastis. This has become my signature drink of autumn 2006.

Cocktail a la Louisiane

  • 3/4 oz. rye whiskey (I like the Sazerac 6-year in this, but it also works well with other brands)
  • 3/4 oz. Benedictine
  • 3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 3 dashes Herbsaint (use another pastis, or better yet absinthe, if you don’t have Herbsaint on hand)
  • 3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Stir with cracked ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

16 Responses to Cocktail a la Louisiane

  1. I absolutely love these, they have long been a favorite after-dinner drink. Unfortunately I have to make do with Old Overholt or Wild Turkey since ryes like Rittenhouse or Sazerac are extremely hard to come by here in Texas, if they can be found at all (I have never seen either).

    I do usually add a twist as garnish, in lieu of (or in addition to) the cherry.

    -Andy

  2. I was amazed to see Sazerac Rye in my local Pennsylvania liquor store the other day. I will definitely have to pick up a bottle. It’s approximately twice the price of Old Overholt – which is quite tasty in many cocktails. I wonder if it’s worth it?

    The Cocktail a la Louisiane looks quite pleasing; I think I may just craft one now…

  3. Oh wow.

    The pastis washes over your tongue first (I used Henri Bardouin), then the vermouth marches in with a peychaud tuba player. And as you swallow, the rye hits the back of your tongue with another hint of Peychaud.

    Thank you Paul. :)

    If you chaps aren’t crafting your own maraschino cherries, you absolutely must. This formula came from Chris over at Brilliant Cocktails.

    Put some tasty cherries in the bottom of a jar or small tupperware. Cover with maraschino liqueur and keep in the refrigerator. They take probably four or five days to turn a dark brown, but they are good before then. Keep adding cherries as you use them. Chris seemed to think you could just keep the same liqueur forever – this may be possible if you don’t leave cherries in there for more than a couple of months. We’ll see.

    Nonetheless, these are so so tasty. Intense is the best word to describe them. I wouldn’t want more than one or two at a time.

  4. I am really deny to use a wine based beverage (wine, vermouth, port, sherry) with any juice and any liqueur.
    For me it is something like a faux pas…

    I know, a lot of bartenders are in this issue not with me (even some really classics use this combinations like the bronx) – but I like some more rules in mixology ;))

  5. Oh, my, this is good stuff. I used Rittenhouse Bonded (100-proof) rye and Pontarlier-Anis pastis, with M&R vermouth. Rick’s comment nailed it to a tee. Two thumbs up!

    One thing to be sure, though – pastis is as powerful as bitters when it comes to flavoring a drink. In fact, next time I empty a bitters bottle, I ought to wash it out and fill it with pastis.

    Some time back, I tried a variation on the Red Hook theme (with Punt e Mes vermouth), substituting Bénédictine instead of maraschino, but with no pastis or Peychaud’s. That also turned out very well. I went with 2 oz. rye, 1 oz. Punt e Mes, and 1/2 oz. Bénédictine.

  6. HI there:

    at first I wasn’t pleased with the overall sweetness of this, but the little fire that it lights in yr. belly kind of changes that sentiment! I actually used some less-than-great Absinthe that I got on a cruise (Absinthe Teichenné) but I think I hit it a bit too hard.. It *is* a good idea to put some pastis in a bitters bottle for those “dash” needs!

  7. […] Even after winnowing the wheat from the chaff, we were left with a healthy roster of candidates. We shook, we stirred, we sipped, we shot. We tasted and tested, and resisted the urge to tweak. When all was said and done, two drinks rose to the top of the pack, and we set those recipes aside for a second night of testing on fresh palates. The first, Tango No. 2, was dead simple: Equal parts dry and sweet vermouth, Benedictine, white rum, and orange juice. No complicated garnish, no funky glassware, no special equipment. The combination of rum and OJ brought out the Benedictine’s citrus notes, and the two vermouths played well with its herbal components. A well-balanced drink and a serious contender.But the drink that won our hearts — the one we both tried to sneak away with when judging was done — was the Cocktail a la Louisiane. […]

  8. […] Even after winnowing the wheat from the chaff, we were left with a healthy roster of candidates. We shook, we stirred, we sipped, we shot. We tasted and tested, and resisted the urge to tweak. When all was said and done, two drinks rose to the top of the pack, and we set those recipes aside for a second night of testing on fresh palates. The first, Tango No. 2, was dead simple: Equal parts dry and sweet vermouth, Benedictine, white rum, and orange juice. No complicated garnish, no funky glassware, no special equipment. The combination of rum and OJ brought out the Benedictine’s citrus notes, and the two vermouths played well with its herbal components. A well-balanced drink and a serious contender.But the drink that won our hearts — the one we both tried to sneak away with when judging was done — was the Cocktail a la Louisiane. […]

  9. I was introduced to this cocktail three years ago as the house drink of the restaurant on the ground floor of my building in downtown Detroit. Spectacular flavor and has been my drink of note since that time. I love introducing this to fellow whiskey drinkers. Surprised I can get Salzerac, Herbsaint and Peychaud’s at my local Michigan spirits shop.

  10. Thanks for this!

    I recently did a little tinkering with blended scotch and B&B in a Manhattan / Rob Roy structure – as sadly Benedectine is a specialty ingredient around here and is available in 12 packs.

    It worked out well – but this recipe may be enough for me to bring in a bottle of good ‘ol straight up Benedectine. The allure of hitting it up with a little Peychauds is far too attractive!

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