This post is kind of inspired by my friend and coworker, Vic, who is a displaced New Orleanian. We were in Houston together a few months ago, and had dinner. Houston is filled with displaced New Orleanians, and our excellent waiter was one of them. Vic asked if they made a Sazerac– our waiter said that the bartender didn’t, but he would. After a few minutes, he returned with a perfectly balanced, beautiful-to-look at Sazerac.
The Sazerac is, of course, the official cocktail of New Orleans. It was created in 1859 by John Schiller for the opening of the Sazerac Coffee House. It started out as a brandy drink (based on the Sazerac-et-fils brandy– I wonder where Schiller got the name for his coffee house?), according to the Sazerac website, but was refined by 1873 to use rye whiskey instead. It is distinguished among cocktails for two reasons. First, it uses a rinse of Absinthe, later changed to Herbsaint after Absinthe was made illegal, and again Absinthe after the liquor was legalized in 2007. As Herbsaint is the official spirit of New Orleans, I am sticking with Herbsaint, but trust me– there’s a big Absinthe post coming soon. The other reason it’s distinctive is the use of Peychaud’s Bitters. You probably have Angostura bitters at home, but Peychaud’s, which are a pretty red color, are what you need for this drink– they’ve got a wonderful anise flavor that complements the Herbsaint or Absinthe.
This is a slightly laborious drink to make. First, you need two Old Fashioned glasses. The ones I used were a little big, so the poor drink looks a little bit lost in it.
1 sugar cube
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
2 oz rye whiskey (the Sazerac Company makes a nice one)
1/4 oz Herbsaint or Absinthe
Take one Old Fashioned glass and pack it with crushed ice and a little water. Let it sit to the side. Take your second glass, put in one sugar cube, and douse with the Peychaud’s bitters. Some recipes call for 3, some call for 7, I use about 5. Dashes apparently are all about odd numbers.
With a muddler, muddle the bitters and sugar together until you have a bitters-sugar paste.
Take your other old fashioned glass and pour out the ice. Pour in the absinthe or Herbsaint and swirl around. Discard the leftovers. If that happens to be by drinking, I won’t tell.
Next, add the rye and stir with your barspoon.Pour the whiskey from your mixing glass into the absinthe/herbsaint-swirled glass. Twist your lemon above the drink, and, depending on your school of thought, either discard the twist or pop it in the drink. I am of the twist-in-the-drink school of thought.
What you end up with is the bite of whiskey, tempered with anise and lemon. It smells divine, tastes better, and is a fun drink for the whiskey lover. It’s strong, elegant and unlike anything else– sort of like its hometown.
I’m really excited that in July, I’ll be able to try a Sazerac (or two) in its native environment: New Orleans! I’ll be heading to Tales of the Cocktail to cover the event as media. It’s one of the premier cocktail-related events in the United States. Pretty cool, huh? I can’t wait!