The Sazerac is a New Orleans classic and unlike many old cocktails it seems to have a somewhat clear story line as to how we have gotten where we are today. It seems to have all happened at the Sazerac Coffee House by combining Cognac, Absinthe and Peychaud’s Bitters made by a local apothecary, Antoine Peychaud.
The original recipe received its’ first overhaul in the late 1800’s by substituting rye whiskey in for Cognac because of a Cognac shortage caused by phylloxera (little bugs that feed on grapevines). The second recipe tweak came in 1912 when Absinthe was banned from the United States forcing bartenders to choose a different anise flavored spirit. Most opted for Herbsaint which made the drink a bit lighter and more floral.
In recent years, Absinthe has become legal again in the United States causing many bartenders to switch back from the other anise spirits the were using for years (but not without some debate of course). However, the switch back to Cognac was never made, and it is widely accepted that when ordering a Sazerac you are going to be served rye.
So next time you make Sazeracs stir one with rye and one with Cognac and see what you prefer.
When choosing your whiskey for a Sazerac pick a high quality spicy rye like Rittenhouse, Michters, or redemption. If you need a more middle or the road price point go for Bulleit, Sazerac or Wild Turkey. I am usually an advocate for Old Overholt Rye for its’ light fruity flavors that make some of my favorite manhattans, but I am not a huge fan of it in the Sazerac. I think you need something with some good spice and backbone to stand up to the bitters and absinthe, but if you want to try something lighter grab your bottle of Old Overholt or even a bourbon if you want to give it a go.
There are lots of recipes online that call for somewhere between 1-3 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters which is fine if that’s the way you like the drink, but I like to go heavy on the bitters. It seems like the same thing as watching a cooking show when the cook says “and add just a pinch of salt” as the throw in what seems like half a cup. Recipes say just a sash or two but If you see pictures of Sazeracs from New Orleans THOSE BABIES ARE RED and I know that did not come from 2 dashes!
There are a few more technical issues to address with the Sazerac which are: sugar, ice, lemon and Angostura. I like to follow tradition by serving this cocktail neat (no ice) and not dropping the lemon peel in after expressing the oils, but I guess I break the rules a little bit by adding a dash of Angostura. It seems to ground the bright anise notes coming from the absinthe and Peychaud’s which I think is really nice.
The sugar cube vs. simple syrup is one of those discussions that is really not worth getting into. If you want to be a traditional purest the use a single sugar cube, cover it in the bitters and muddle it with a splash of water. If you want to save some time, and make an identical tasting drink without little sugar granules in it, then use 1:1 simple syrup.
Enjoy this classic guys,
- 2 Oz Rye Whiskey
- 1/4 Oz Simple Syrup
- 3-5 Dashes Peychauds Bitters
- 1 Dash Angostura Bitters
- Lemon Peel
- Absinthe Rinse
- Chill a rocks glass and prepare it by swilling a tsp of absinthe around the inside or using an atomizer to coat the glass. Set aside and dump out the absinthe just before straining the cocktail into you glass.
- Add the Rye, Simple Syrup, and Bitters to your shaker tin or chilled mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir until desired chill and dilution is reached.
- Strain into your prepared rocks glass.
- Express the oils from the lemon peel and discard.