This is part of BootsnAll’s 30 Days of Indie Travel project, a daily blogging challenge with a prompt for every day in November 2011. Check out the prompt at the bottom of this post to find out how you can participate!
My alcohol education began long after college, when my Parisian cousin threatened to disown me from the family for not being a wine drinker. It may go without saying, but I’ve come a long way since then – past dessert wine, cab-merlot blends, and syrupy cocktails, I now find myself a fan of things like gin and bourbon. I don’t often have more than one, especially when I’m traveling, but it’s fun to find unique drinks that give me a strong sense of place.
When I was in New Orleans in early 2011, then, I was thrilled to be introduced to the cocktail long associated with the city: the Sazerac.
I’d had my requisite pre-dinner cocktail at the famed Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone – a much more delightful experience than I’d anticipated, given that it’s on so many must-do lists, and thankfully the bar turns slowly enough that having a gin & tonic without having eaten wasn’t an issue. It hadn’t occured to me to ask the bartender for his cocktail advice, which seems idiotic in retrospect. There are, what, 10? 15? stools at the Carousel Bar, and only half were occupied. The bartender was busily drying glasses when we sat down. I could have struck up a conversation and been served something memorable. Instead, it was a good (if ordinary) G&T, a few spins around, and we were off to dinner.
At dinner, the food was supposed to be the show-stopper. We had taken the streetcar all the way out to where the tracks begin to curl back around to a restaurant called Jacques-Imo’s. On the weekends during the high season, I’m told the wait can be hours. On a weeknight in April, we were seated right away and asked if we wanted drinks. Another G&T would have been easy, but it suddenly seemed boring in this quirky old house-turned-restaurant.
“Yes, I do want a drink,” I said, “I just don’t know what.”
“Have you had a Sazerac yet?” asked the friendly waiter without hesitating.
“I have not,” I replied, intrigued as much by the letter Z in the middle of the word as by the drink itself. “What’s in it?”
“Well, do you like bourbon?” he asked.
Those were magic words, and I suspect you know how I answered that question.
He may have told me what was in the drink before he brought it to my table, but I honestly don’t remember. All I remember now is that it was a short glass, very cold and sweating in the southern humidity, half-filled with an amber liquid and a few cubes of ice. It tasted of anise, and I loved it instantly. When the waiter returned to see how I liked it, he told us the Sazerac is New Orleans’ official cocktail – far older than the hurricanes drunken revelers now carry around Bourbon Street in 3-foot-tall glasses like they’ve just walked off the Vegas Strip, and (obviously) far more sophisticated.
Consulting the interwebs today, I read that a typical Sazerac is made with cognac, rye whiskey, absinthe or Herbsaint, and Peychaud’s Bitters, and that it dates back to the 1850s. There are multiple stories about where it was first made, and New Orleans only features in one of those, but in 2008 the Louisiana state legislature named the Sazerac the official cocktail of New Orleans.
What’s in the drink and where it was first made are, however, less important to me than my memory of how I first experienced it. Dinner that night was good, to be sure, but I’m especially thankful for my moment of indecision when a simple question like “do you like bourbon?” had such wonderful consequences.
Come to think of it, I should really thank cousin Pierre for that not-so-veiled threat so many years ago…
30 Days of Indie Travel Project: How to Participate
We’re inviting bloggers from around the world (that means you, too!) to join us in a daily blogging effort designed to reflect on how our travel experiences over the last year – or whenever – have shaped us and our view of the world. Bloggers can follow the prompts as strictly or loosely as they like, interpreting them in various ways and responding via text, photos or video posted on their own blogs.
We’ll share some of our favorites via Twitter and Facebook throughout November, as well as a round-up article at the end of the month, so if you’re playing along make sure to let us know – use the #indie30 hashtag on Twitter, and link to the 30 Days of Indie Travel page in your post so we’ll be able to find it.
Find out all of the 30 Days of Indie Travel blogging prompts so far – it’s never too late to join in the fun!
Prompt #20: Drink
Just as the cuisine of a place reveals clues about its culture and history, so does its signature local drink. What’s the best drink you had on the road, and did the drink have any connection to the place where you drank it or the people you drank with?
Tools and inspiration: Check out some local drinks to taste around the world.