Classic Cocktail Chronicles

Sazerac Everything!

The Classic Cocktail Chronicles No. 1: The Sazerac

This is the first in a series that will explore classic cocktails, outlining the history and using its roots as a jumping off point to inspire a modern variant.

Hear that haunting harpsichord juxtaposed against those crunchy blues riffs? That’s what a good Sazerac should taste like; old world and refined yet tough as nails. It should feel raw but chillingly beautiful, all at the same time.

Legend has it that the Sazerac is one of the first ever cocktails. This could certainly be the case as at its inception, it was a spirited mix of spirits, bitters, sugar and water. But that sounds a hell of a lot more like a recipe for an Old Fashioned than a Sazerac. And truthfully, for a while, the Sazerac was simply a variation on an Old Fashioned (which means the Old Fashioned retains the title of the first cocktail). The Sazerac, in its ultimate form, is more like the first ever modern cocktail. And what I mean by that is the Sazerac is the first sophisticated cocktail. It has a rinse. It calls for very specific, ingredients sourced from across the globe. It’s short, boozy, and a straightforward approach to mixing, yet highly refined in taste and experience. The Sazerac is what jaded cocktail drinkers turn to when they want to reconnect with their roots.

Unfortunately though, the Sazerac has befallen the same fate as most classic cocktails. Too much variation and the previously tenuous availability of certain key ingredients has changed what is commonly called a Sazerac into something much less than what it once was.

If you were to go into any old bar and order a Sazerac, you would (hopefully) receive a mixture of rye whiskey, sugar, and Peychaud’s bitters, all of which will be chilled (stirred please, don’t even think about shaking!) and strained into an old fashioned glass that has been rinsed with absinthe and garnished with a twist of lemon. Here at Drink Everything! we like to use the oldest rye in production, Old Overholt. Though consider Redemption Rye (95% rye!) if you want to spoil yourself. If the bartender tries to pass off bourbon instead of rye, promptly turn on your heels and find the nearest exit. Only in its basest form is a Sazerac made with bourbon. A bourbon Sazerac is like a Sazerac that has just gotten dumped; it’s pathetic and unbearable to be around.

Now why so much dogma about the proper base? Surely it can’t hurt to innovate, especially within the same family of spirit? How different could a bourbon Sazerac be from the real deal? That is a very good question, especially considering that the Sazerac didn’t, in its original incarnation, call for rye or any other whiskey at all. A long time ago, in an American city far, far away, there was a bar called The Sazerac House which served up a cocktail that was a mixture of Sazerac-de-Forge et Filis cognac, sugar, water and a bitters that was locally produced by an apothecary named Antoine Peychaud (maybe you’ve heard of him?). Oh… did I fail to mention how the Sazerac got its name? That’s right, its base, a cognac.

While the first Sazeracs called for cognac, a modern Sazerac should use rye. Cognac in this drink is interesting, but all together, the ingredients don’t quite have the same interplay as the rye variation. If you are still interested in exploring cognac Sazeracs, check out Jamie Boudreau’s thorough effort at his excellent ( though now seemingly mothballed) blog, Spirits and Cocktails.

The next crucial ingredient in a Sazerac is absinthe. Only true absinthe will do which, until 2007, was not available for sale, production or import into the US. Dark days, indeed. After sourcing your base, you must very carefully source your absinthe. There is a surfeit of counterfeits available. While it is wonderful that absinthe flows freely again, this is seemingly the best and worst time for le buveur d’absinthe. There are many, high quality absinthes available, yet they are much harder to find than the vulgar junk more commonly seen taking up space in bars and on the shelves of liquor stores.

The most common absinthe or absinthe-like substance found in Sazeracs across the country is easily Pernod. It has a very strong licorice component and is very light on the herbaceous, bitter quality common to other absinthes that is necessary to round out the sambuca-like sweetness that Peychaud’s brings to the table. Pernod will work in a pinch, though I prefer Absente if absinthe is nowhere to be found. A handy trick when using less than satisfactory absinthe is to add a dash of Angustora bitters to curb the sweetness. It won’t cure the problem (inferior absinthe) but it will treat some of the symptoms (too damn sweet!).

If sourcing is no problem, decently priced absinthes to look for would be Vieux Carré, Vieux Pontarlier and the less prominent Ridge, which a great little bar, The Eddy, uses to great success. Don’t be afraid to experiment though, if you see an interesting looking Absinthe at a good price, try it out. Just make sure to check it out on the Wormwood Society first.

The remaining ingredients are much less political and much easier to source. All you will need to complete the drink is Peychaud’s bitters and simple syrup. Some people prefer to muddle a sugar cube. It’s tradition, I understand, but it can be kitschy at times and it increases the time I have to wait for my drink, so I don’t like it. Also, traditionally, the Sazerac is served in a tumbler or old fashioned glass. I respect tradition (to an extent) but truthfully, I prefer a snifter to concentrate the aromas of the absinthe.

The Sazerac
2 ½ oz. (74 ml) Rye Whiskey
¼ oz. (7.5 ml) Absinthe
¼ oz. (7.5 ml) simple syrup
Dash Peychaud’s

Tools: Mixing glass, stirring spoon, strainer, vegetable peeler or paring knife
Glassware: old fashioned glass
Garnish: lemon zest

Fill mixing glass with ice.
Top ice with a dash of Peychaud’s.
Combine rye and simple syrup in the mixing glass.
Stir to chill.
Strain into an old fashioned glass rinsed with Absinthe.
Garnish with a lemon zest.
Drink and repeat.

Want something less traditional? Try these variations:

Sazerac-de-Skye
2 ½ oz. (74 ml) Talisker Single Malt Whisky
¼ oz. (7.5 ml) Absinthe
¼ oz. (7.5 ml) simple syrup
Dash Peychaud’s

Prepare like a traditional Sazerac. The Absinthe and the peat smoke of the Talisker brings the Sazerac to a whole new level. Talisker has a peppery note similar to rye, but it has an unmatched complexity and depth of flavor. Credit for inspiring this drink goes to Ralfy Mitchell of Whisky Stuff! an excellent place to satisfy all of your whisky needs.

Le Maison du Sazerac
2 ½ oz. (74 ml) armagnac
¼ oz. (7.5 ml) Green Chartreuse
¼ oz. (7.5 ml) simple syrup
Dash Angostura’s
Dash creole bitters

Prepare like a traditional Sazerac. This is a modern interpretation of the Sazerac’s NOLA roots as a cognac-based cocktail. The creole bitters adds an extra bit of New Orleans flare. This time, we’re bringing brandy back into the equation, though an armagnac rather than cognac for the rye whiskey-like earthiness it brings to the table. Marie Duffau Napoléon Bas Armagnac works great. It’s got a bourbon and a green apple flavor that jives with the herbaceous Green Chartreuse. Why the Chartreuse? Because the additional sweetness Green Chartreuse offers over absinthe does a very, very good job of mellowing the rough-around-the-edges nature of the armagnac. It also sets this drink apart from simply an armagnac Sazerac; which is a very good cocktail in and of itself. Especially if you are an armagnac Sazerac anorak, like us.

How do you prefer your Sazerac? Tell us in the comments section below!

Happy drinking!

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One thought on “Sazerac Everything!

  1. Pingback: Infuse Bone Marrow in Armagnac | Drink Everything!

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