Step Inside the Sazerac House: An Interactive Museum and Distillery Dedicated to New Orleans Cocktails

Digitized bartenders appear on touchscreens to make you a drink.
October 6, 2019, 1:00 PM UTC
Sazerac House, at the intersection of Canal and Magazine, in New Orleans.
Sazerac House
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Finding a frozen daiquiri in New Orleans’ French Quarter isn’t difficult. But if you want to explore the Big Easy’s love affair with alcohol in an authentic way, the new Sazerac House is a modern museum that’s blending cocktail history with digital innovation. And rye whiskey. Lots and lots of rye whiskey.

That’s because the Sazerac House is not just raising the bar when it comes to presenting historical tales, it’s a working distillery and an educational space where whiskey and Peychaud’s bitters are being made on-site.

We Didn’t Make It, but We’ll Drink It

New Orleans is a city where you don’t have to walk too far to find drink references. From Bourbon Street to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop and the Museum of the American Cocktail, drinking is a draw for residents and visitors alike for many different reasons.

“Cocktails have the unique ability to soar above certain barriers, whether it be language barriers or cultural barriers, which is particularly important in a city that is always celebrating connection,” says Alan Walter, the thoughtful head bartender of Loa at International House, located just a few blocks down from the Sazerac House.

Sazerac Museum was designed by Trapolin-Peer Architects.
Sazerac House

When it came to distilling spirits, however, the city—up until recently—had little part in making actual hooch. The Sazerac Company’s home base for making its rye whiskey is in Kentucky, and up until 1995, when Celebration Distillation began producing rum, New Orleans really didn’t have much if any presence in the commercial distilling industry.

But with the craft spirits industry continuing its rapid rise, the city has seen an uptick in newly formed distilleries with big aspirations. The American Craft Spirits Association’s ongoing Craft Spirits Data Project revealed in 2018 that the number of active craft distilleries in the U.S. grew by 15.5% over the last year to 1,835 distilleries. The project also found that “craft spirits industry investment has doubled over the past two years,” with investments going toward installing or upgrading tasting rooms and visitors’ experiences. Those investments are well represented at the Sazerac House, which is demonstrating to other liquor companies big and small how it plans to pull out all the stops in order to engage with visitors.

The More Things Change, the More the Location Remains the Same

Located a short distance from the original Sazerac Coffee House, one of the locations where the cocktail was widely accepted to have gained prominence with social influencers at the time, the newly renovated corner building on Canal and Magazine streets is a statement piece about preserving New Orleans’ Sazerac legacy.

The Sazerac House opens this month, and it’s a full-on museum dedicated to the spirits of New Orleans.
Sazerac House

“The Sazerac House is a six-story building, featuring three exhibit floors complete with Peychaud’s bitters and Sazerac Rye production as well as a rum-aging room, a floor with dedicated event space, and two floors of offices for the Sazerac Company,” describes Miguel Solorzano, general manager of the Sazerac House. The company did not disclose the total investment needed to transform the 48,000-square-feet building, which took approximately three years to renovate. The Sazerac House expects 200,000 visitors annually.

On the first floor resides a 500-gallon still, measuring five feet in diameter, producing roughly a barrel of Sazerac Rye Whiskey a day, which is shipped to Kentucky for aging. The company also plans to bottle Sazerac Rye Whiskey on-site for sale in the museum gift shop. And as New Orleans gets muggy in the summertime, a 2,200-gallon thermal energy tank will make an estimated 14,000 pounds of ice to cool off the distillery equipment.

But because this is a house of cocktails, guests will need to visit all three floors in order to grasp the full picture of why cocktails are pieces of art in New Orleans.

Visitors use coasters to activate select stories, while motion sensors turn mirrors into screens for animated films, which display old advertisements, photographs, and Sazerac products.
Sazerac House

On the second floor, human bartenders appear in digital form, happily ready to mix up your drink of choice. They’ll share a story with you if you’re so inclined to ask. There is also an exhibit dedicated to rum production, and guests can browse the remainder of the floor discovering tasting notes, Sazerac products, and an interactive Mr. Boston cocktail guide designed to help you find at least one amazing drink that will impress your local bartender.

The top floor is a tribute to the French cocktail influence prominent in New Orleans. Projections on the wall reveal turn-of-the-20th-century cityscapes and home life, leading guests from the city’s port all the way to your final destination, which is obviously a bar.

Technology is a prominent tool used by the museum to connect turn-of-the-century New Orleans with today’s guests.
Sazerac House

Guests can also be educated about all things bitters, viewing the production and bottling of Antoine Peychaud’s bitters. Peychaud is credited with inventing the original version of the Sazerac cocktail, which included brandy instead of rye.

“In regards to passing down cocktail history, it’s important to remember that a recipe won’t tell the full story,” Walter says. “The context and circumstances also play an important role.”

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