Food & Drink, Libations

Write drunk; edit sober: The sazerac

It is often claimed that the Sazerac, New Orleans’ official cocktail, was the first American cocktail. The Sazerac was probably first drunk in 1850 at Sewell Taylor’s Sazerac Coffee House. The bar was named for the Cognac imported specially for this drink, called Sazerac de Forge et Fils. But after an epidemic in France weakened its wine crops Cognac became scarce in the United States and rye become the spirit of choice for Sazeracs.

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At this time, spirits were almost always drunk with the addition of bitters. Antoine Amedie Peychaud, a Creole apothecary owner nearby to Sewell Taylor’s Sazerac Coffee House often treated his customers to rye and brandy toddies mixed with his own family recipe for bitters. By 1873, Peychaud’s bitters became quite popular and were always added to the New Orleans classic. Soon, a dash of Absinthe was added, too, another popular drink in New Orleans at the time. Thus, the modern Sazerac was born. After Absinthe was banned in the United States, a local anise liqueur called Hersaint was substituted. This is how Sazeracs are made today.

The Sazerac is always drunk in an old fashioned glass with or without ice. It takes a rinse of anise liqueur, two ounces of rye, some sugar and a few generous dashes of Peychaud’s bitters. Sazeracs are always garnished with a thick lemon peel. To make it the way they did in the 1800s, substitute cognac for rye and absinthe for the Herbsaint.

Sazeracs are always stirred because it is entirely based of spirits. The drink should have uniform clarity while still being ice cold. Stirring gives the Sazerac a smooth, elegant texture and a clear pour.

I like to add anise liqueur directly to the mixing glass so not to waste it with the rinse. This results in a stronger anise flavour, which gives the Sazerac more depth. It’s all booze so it packs a punch, but the bitters and absinthe round it out and give it more atmosphere.


Sazerac Cocktail:

Splash (about 1/8 ounce) of absinthe, Herbsaint or Pernod

2 ounces rye

1/4 ounce simple syrup

4 generous dashes of Peychaud’s bitters

Garnish: thick piece of lemon zest

Combine the absinthe, Herbsaint or Pernod with rye, simple syrup and bitters in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir until chilled and strain into a chilled old fashion glass with or without ice. Rub the lemon zest around the rim of the glass and serve with the lemon resting on the rim.

Note: To make simple syrup bring 1 cup of water to boil with 1 cup of sugar. It is ready to serve when the sugar as dissolved and the mixture has cooled.