A man in New Orleans, having just gotten off work, or perhaps simply on his way in, stops at a bar. He removes his hat and nods to the tender. "The usual," he says. A moment later, he receives something so delectable, so nuanced, it’s as if that simple drink may have a story to tell one day.
In fact, the drink does have a story. And not just one story, but many.
The Bitter Southerner is proud to present this short film about the long history of the Sazerac. It includes appearances by the three New Orleans bartenders — Chris McMillian, Chris Hannah, and Kirk Estopinal — who inspired us in the creation of The Bitter Southerner. It also features the creator of The Bitter Southerner No. 4 cocktail, Abigail Gullo; Alabama’s “godfather of absinthe,” Ted Breaux, the subject of a recent BS feature story by Clair McLafferty; and the big daddy of all cocktail writers, David Wondrich, also a BS contributor.
James Martin and Jen West have been creative collaborators for as long as they've been romantic partners. When the time came for James to direct his first short film, there was no question it would be a historical telling of one of his favorite cocktails. After all, he'd already started a popular blog as The Sipologist, which profiles bartenders and the drinks they make from all around the country. The big question was, which cocktail would prove to have enough magic to carry a short documentary all on its own?
One day while strolling the Beltline Eastside Trail in Atlanta, the answer became clear to both of them — the Sazerac would be the hero cocktail. New Orleans is close their hearts, and it is also the home of Tales of the Cocktail, the largest cocktail conference in the world. Experts from all over the country would be descending on the city in a matter of months, providing the perfect opportunity to capture interviews and get content for the documentary.
James knew he wanted an artistic mix of spoken word, custom illustrations, and a clever narrative to tell the tale. The final documentary ended up being all of that and more.
“The New Orleans Sazerac” features some heavy hitters in the cocktail world. Each expert brought us an ingredient of the whole story.
Folks like David Wondrich and Chris McMillian provided insight into the overall arc of the story. Ted Breaux schooled us on absinthe, Joe Gendusa and Philip Greene on bitters, and Robert Simonson and Paul Clarke on the culture of cocktails and its resurgence. Elizabeth Pearce gave us the New Orleans backdrop. Each of these people provided immense insight, allowing James to compile a linear story that still accommodated the drink’s unique tangents and folklore-filled history.
A really fun component of the film was to showcase how the drink is made. The Sazerac has a huge backstory, and with that comes many variations. James wanted to acknowledge that by documenting three bartenders and their approach to making it. Abigail Gullo, Paul Gustings, and Kirk Estopinal are widely respected bartenders and humans in New Orleans, each with their own spin on the famed cocktail. Check out the full list of experts.
The production crew included team members from Birmingham and New Orleans. Director of Photography Bill Schweikert is a well-respected artist who captured the essence of the people, places, and personalities in James' vision.
On the post-production side, Christopher Davis joined the team to create the incredibly popular custom illustrations that were then brought to life through Marisa Ginger Tontaveetong’s animation skills. Joe Walker, our editor, pieced together everything to perfection. Just like the Sazerac itself, the film crew came together to create the synergy needed to execute something unique. Take a look at the full team.