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The Sazerac

Posted by Reese on 2008-08-02 @ 08:48am

When you hear about New Orleans (NOLA) any number of images likely pop in to your head.  For me I think about NOLA’s rich cocktail history.  Nothing sums up this cocktail history better than the Sazerac.  Recently named the official cocktail of New Orleans (after a proposal to make it the official drink of Louisiana was defeated) it’s clear I’m not the only one who holds this view.

Created in the early 1800s by Antoine Peychaud, the creator of Peychaud’s bitters, this drink was originally made with Sazerac Brandy.  However, when the Phylloxera bug hit France in the 1860’s the drink’s primary spirit changed to the more widely available American Rye Whiskey.  A similar story surrounds the other main ingredient Absinthe.  When Absinthe (or more specifically thujone) was regulated in the US the flavoring changed to pastis, usually Herbsaint.  Now that Absinthe has returned to the US I’d recommend you try that as the flavoring.

The traditional recipe for the Sazerac reads as follows:

“Take two heavy-bottomed 3 1/2-oz. Bar glasses; fill one with cracked ice and allow it to chill while placing a lump of sugar with just enough water to moisten it. Crush the saturated lump of sugar with a bar spoon. Add a few drops of Peychaud’s Bitters, a jigger of rye whisky and several lumps of ice and stir briskly. Empty the first glass of ice, dash in several drops of Herbsaint, twirl the glass rapidly and shake out the absinthe. Enough of it will cling to the glass to impart the desired flavor. Strain into this glass the rye whisky mixture prepared in the other glass. Twist a lemon peel over the glass, but do not put it in the drink.”

This recipe is a touch confusing in my opinion.  I much prefer Chris McMillian’s recipe.

“Chris McMillian, late of the Library Bar in the Ritz Carlton New Orleans – among others, has the Sazerac glass into which is then added a sugar cube (would’ve been loaf sugar in the 19th century, so more like a sugar nugget) over which is dashed enough water and Peychaud bitters to create a syrup in the bottom of the glass, which is performed with the aid of a muddler, either of hardwood or hardwood with a porcelain muddling head. Several medium-sized pieces of ice are then added, and about 2 oz. of rye whiskey is poured in. This mixture is then STIRRED, as traditionally all drinks not containing egg or fruit juiced were, with a bar spoon and strained via a strainer, either Hawthorne or cobbler, into a SECOND Sazerac glass rinsed with pastis (generally Herbsaint) standing ready to receive the drink. A small piece of lemon peel is then twisted smartly over the surface of the drink which is then ready to serve.” – Ted Haigh (Doctor Cocktail)

Or, in our usual recipe format:

The Sazerac
2 oz Rye Whiskey
Dash of Absinthe
Dash of Peychaud's Bitters
Sugar Cube
1 tsp Water
1) Combine water, sugar, and bitters in a Sazerac glass
2) Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved
3) Add Rye and Ice
4) Stir until drink is chilled
5) Add Absinthe to another chilled glass and swirl to coat
6) Strain cocktail into coated glass
7) Garnish with a lemon twist

The ingredients you’ll need for this cocktail you may not have at this point.  You can substitute Bourbon for the Rye, but the flavor will be considerably different.  Same holds true for the Absinthe (sub any pastis) and Paychaud’s bitters (sub your favorite bitters).  That said, if you want a true Sazerac find the original ingredients.  Trust me, its worth it.

  • American Rye Whiskey
  • Peychaud's Bitters
  • Absinthe
  • Sugar Cubes
  • Lemon

This cocktail calls for a Sazerac glass, but in a pinch you can use an old fashioned glass or small juice glass.

  • Sazerac or other small glass
  • Measuring Device (Jigger)
  • Bar Spoon (Or other stirring stick)
  • Strainer

Enjoy a piece of New Orleans history this week as you sip your Sazerac.