To hear the Sazerac Company tell it, in 1838 a New Orleans apothecary by the name of Antoine Peychaud invented this brandy-based drink that would eventually bear the company’s name. However, according to the inestimable David Wondrich, the whiskey-based version we know and love today was created out of necessity, when a severe Cognac shortage in the 1870s forced bartenders to turn to rye and bourbon as an alternative base. He also points out that its history is sometimes exaggerated, probably by the company that makes the eponymous whiskey so often used to mix the classic drink.
However it came to be, the Sazerac has been reinvigorated in the last decade. For most of the last century, Sazeracs were made with Herbsaint—a pastis—in place of absinthe, which was banned in the United States until the early part of the 21st century. But as absinthe has become a regular feature behind bars and in liquor stores, “real” Sazeracs have made a comeback.