The Herbsaint Cocktail

Herbsaint is not only New Orleans’ venerable (and inexpensive and damned tasty) pastis, or “absinthe substitute” as it’s often called, it’s also the name of one of the city’s finest restaurants, headed by Chef Donald Link, who co-owns the restaurant with Chef Susan Spicer of Bayona.

Herbsaint the liquor was a product of Marion Legendre’s liquor company for many years, appearing in 1933 as an absinthe substitute (“Herbsaint” being a play on words and a homonym of absinthe en français). Legendre was acquired by the Sazerac Company in 1948, who have been producing Herbsaint ever since.

The namesake restaurant has a pretty good cocktail list, and their eponymous house cocktail, based on Herbsaint liqueur, is mighty good too. Here’s how they make it:

The Herbsaint Cocktail
(House cocktail at Herbsaint Restaurant, New Orleans)

2 ounces Herbsaint.
1 teaspoon simple syrup.
4 dashes Angostura Bitters.
4 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters.

Fill an Old Fashioned glass with cracked ice and
build with the above ingredients. Top with water
and stir. (You may substitute Pernod for the Herbsaint
if it’s unavailable.)

UPDATE, August 8, 2008:

This week I got an email from a fellow by the name of Jay Hendrickson, who introduced me to his wonderful website called New Orleans Absinthe History, concentrating on Legendre products, including Herbsaint and original Legendre Absinthe, and other New Orleans absinthiana. He’s also got what appears to be a stunning collection, including vintage bottles of 1930s- and 1940s-era Herbsaint. (Wow.)

Jay was kind enough to send me a scan from an Herbsaint recipe booklet from circa 1944 showing the Legendre/Sazerac Co. recipe for their own Herbsaint Cocktail recipe, slightly different but sounding no less yummy. (The entire booket is viewable and downloadable here.)

Herbsaint Cocktail

For the image-challenged:

The Herbsaint Cocktail
(Legendre/Sazerac Co. house version, circa 1944)

Fill a large glass three-quarters full of cracked ice.

One teaspoon of simple syrup.
Two ounces of Herbsaint.
One dash of Anisette.
Two dashes of Angostura Bitters.
Two ounces of carbonated water.

Stir well and strain into a cocktail glass.

Jay points out that the anisette used in this cocktail would have been Legendre’s own brand, no longer produced. I’d recommend Marie Brizard nowadays.

I’m gonna try my own adaptation of this, which in my head tastes rather like the Ojen Frappé you get at Lüke Restaurant in New Orleans, although less sweet and more complex.

The Herbsaint Cocktail No. 2
(Chuck’s adaptation, 2008)

2 ounces Herbsaint.
1 teaspoon simple syrup.
1 dash of Marie Brizard anisette.
4 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters.
Chilled carbonated water.

Combine first four ingredients in a mixing glass with plenty of cracked ice. Stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and top with carbonated water.

Be sure to add Jay’s fascinating New Orleans Absinthe History to your RSS reader. I’m guessing it’s only gonna get better and better as we apparently prepare to add a new chapter to that history.

UPDATE, December 2009: The Sazerac Company have finally begun producing their “new” 100-proof Herbsaint. “New” is in quotes because although it may be new to most of us, it’s the original 1934 recipe for Herbsaint, which was changed in the 1970s. The proof was lowered to 90, and the fresh herbs were replaced by herb extracts.

I’ve tasted the newly released Herbsaint original, and it’s superb stuff. The quality of the Herbsaint Cocktail is about to skyrocket.