Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What I'm Drinking: the Sazerac

The Sazerac is the definitive New Orleans cocktail (though the meaning of "definitive" in this context is rather complicated since there are relatively few places in town where a Sazerac may be safely ordered and plenty where they would stare at you blankly). It's the elegant, refined cousin of the Old Fashioned, and it's quite lovely.

My favorite drinks are those whose character is defined at least as much by how they are made as by what they are made with, (think of the Martini: the ingredients couldn't be simpler; it's all in the doing.), and the steps to make a Sazerac are wonderfully baroque. You will need the following ingredients:
  • Rye whiskey. I use Old Overholt. (You may substitute bourbon.)
  • Herbsaint. A local pastis akin to Ricard or Pernod. (The latter are perfectly adequate substitutes.)
  • Bitters, preferably Angostura and Peychaud. (Peychaud is another local item, an orange flavored bitters, and I'm not sure how available it is elsewhere. If you can't find it, skip it.)
  • Simple syrup.
  • A twist of lemon.*
Now for the fun.
  1. Fill a rocks glass to the rim with ice. Set aside and allow to chill.
  2. Fill a cocktail shaker** with ice. Add a good pour of whiskey (about 2 oz.), several dashes of bitters, and a modest splash of simple syrup (no more than a tablespoon—the goal is a gentle sweetness, nothing cloying). Stir the contents until frost forms on the outside. (If you've got a proper cocktail stirrer, you're all set. I use a plastic chopstick.)
  3. Empty the ice from the rocks glass. Pour in a splash of Herbsaint, tip the glass to the side, and roll it gently around, lining the entire glass. Pour out the excess liquid.
  4. Strain the liquids from the cocktail shaker into the glass.
  5. Twist the lemon twist over the glass, spritzing it with a tiny mist of lemon oil, run the twist around the rim of the glass, and drop it in the cocktail.
  6. Place on a cloth cocktail napkin monogrammed with your initials, and serve.
As you sip your exquisite, ruby-colored drink, you will find that the world is far lovelier than you ever realized, and all your woes are mere trifles. Enjoy.

* I'm honing in on the perfect twist. Back in my old work-a-day bartending days, at the beginning of the evening we would peel an entire lemon and then just slice the peel into narrow strips. These days I take a paring knife or vegetable peeler and slice just the outer layer of the peel off in a long spiral down around the fruit. The result is a thinner (it's only the exterior zest of the fruit we're interested in), broader, longer, rougher hewn twist that I'm quite liking.

** Or a second glass, though you'll need one of those little hand held strainer-thingies.


  1. Anonymous12:39 PM

    1. No, they CAN'T substitute bourbon.
    2. Originally, Absinthe was used instead of herbsaint. Come on by the house and I can fix you up.

  2. Ashley? A purist? I'm shocked!

    And yes, yes, you and I both know that, but we must ease the highlanders in gently, the poor dears.

  3. Gotta have the absinthe.....what time are you serving?

  4. Anonymous3:10 PM

    I even serve them in these.

    Purist, I am.

    Pick a time...

  5. Anonymous3:12 PM

    OK, so I use Old Overholt when I have to, but Ray gifted me some nice Sazerac Rye.

    And I'm wif you on the simple syrup...sugar just don't do it.

  6. Anonymous6:40 PM

    I agree with Ashley that one must not substitute Bourbon for the Rye. Also, the original recipe calls for Peychaud's bitters. A lot of bartenders these days use 1/2 Peycahud's and 1/2 Angostura, but I would recommend never eliminating Peychaud's altogether. (and they're not orange-bitters BTW - they are a unique aromatic bitters). A "sazerac" without either Rye or Peychaud's just wouldn't be a Sazerac. It may be drinkable, but not the sublime concoction that is a Sazerac.

  7. 7. Optionally, add a shot of Kahlua, top with Reddi-wip whipped dairy product, sprinkle with nutmeg, set it on fire, and slam it back while your friends chant "ooh ooh ooh!" (Some purists claim this version is not a true Sazerac.)

  8. Anonymous3:16 PM

    Well, call me a purist, but it's not. You need Cool Whip, not Reddi Whip.


    Is nothing sacred?

  9. Anonymous11:54 PM

    hi dave
    strange, I was drinking a sazerac last night, and then I check yr blog and here you are....
    old overholt for sure!

  10. That's because I can see into your mind...

  11. Absinthe is worth it... even the Pernod people are selling the real stuff in Europe again (quite nice and licorice-y).

  12. ahh....thanks for this. I'm about to test a Detroit-area cajun joint that touts its sazerac. I will now be properly prepared.