Sazerac. A classic, spirit-forward New Orleans cocktail with rye, absinthe, Peychaud's bitters and simple syrup. (Originally made with cognac.)
drinks

Sazerac, a classic New Orleans cocktail

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If you are a cocktail fan, and especially if you are a whiskey fan, you have probably already had a Sazerac. You don’t need to be sold on its inherent deliciousness. You probably like rye and a good stiff drink.

And I am so with you on that.

It’s a hell of a cocktail. Somewhere high on the list of classics with staying power, in the company of Manhattans and Martinis and Old Fashioneds and Negronis.

Its contents have, however, shifted over time.

Sazerac. A classic, spirit-forward New Orleans cocktail with rye, absinthe, Peychaud's bitters and simple syrup. (Originally made with cognac.)

The Sazerac was born in New Orleans sometime in the mid 19th century and was originally made with cognac, a popular spirit in the former French colonial port town. (The name of the drink comes from Sazerac de Forge et Fils, a brand of cognac imported to New Orleans in that era.)

But a wine blight in France wiped out cognac and wine production for a while around 1870, when American rye whiskey took over the starring role, which it maintains to this day. (If you are from Wisconsin and like brandy Manhattans, you may prefer a cognac-based Sazerac–for the rest of us it is rye or a split-base of cognac and rye.)

Sazerac. A classic, spirit-forward New Orleans cocktail with rye, absinthe, Peychaud's bitters and simple syrup. (Originally made with cognac.)

New Orleans’ French roots also show in the inclusion of absinthe in the original recipe.

But America’s complicated relationship with absinthe (it was banned in the U.S. in 1912 and had murky legal status until 2007 having to do with its supposed hallucinogenic qualities [it doesn’t have any]) brought absinthe substitutes like Pastis and Herbsaint into the Sazerac.

And Herbsaint is still deservedly popular in the drink, but personally I like it better with absinthe for the rinse.

Sazerac. A classic, spirit-forward New Orleans cocktail with rye, absinthe, Peychaud's bitters and simple syrup. (Originally made with cognac.)

One ingredient that’s stayed essential to the drink since the beginning is the bright red, anise scented Peychaud’s bitters, which were sold by apothecaries as medicinal in purpose but considered palatable only mixed in a cocktail.

(Now there are a number of artisanal Creole bitters that have a similar flavor profile, but all self-respecting Sazerac makers should have a bottle of Peychaud’s in their bitters collection.)

Sazerac. A classic, spirit-forward New Orleans cocktail with rye, absinthe, Peychaud's bitters and simple syrup. (Originally made with cognac.)

Making the drink is mostly straightforward. Chill a rocks glass. Stir everything except the absinthe in a mixing glass with ice. Then rinse your chilled glass with absinthe.

You can do by pouring absinthe into the glass, swirling it around to coat the inside, and pouring it out. I’ve always thought that was a waste of absinthe, but it doesn’t require any special equipment.

My preferred method, one I discovered by watching and chatting with bartenders over the years, is using a bottle with a fine mist sprayer to mist the inside of the glass. (They’re cheap and totally worth the investment if you make Sazeracs with any frequency.)

Sazerac. A classic, spirit-forward New Orleans cocktail with rye, absinthe, Peychaud's bitters and simple syrup. (Originally made with cognac.)

Strain the cocktail into your chilled, absinthe-rinsed glass.

Sazerac. A classic, spirit-forward New Orleans cocktail with rye, absinthe, Peychaud's bitters and simple syrup. (Originally made with cognac.)

Express the lemon oil from piece of lemon peel over the drink and rub the lemon peel around the rim of the glass and discard the peel.

Sazerac. A classic, spirit-forward New Orleans cocktail with rye, absinthe, Peychaud's bitters and simple syrup. (Originally made with cognac.)

And then you have a delightful cocktail that, if spirit-forward whiskey drinks are your thing, is pretty tough to beat.

Sazerac. A classic, spirit-forward New Orleans cocktail with rye, absinthe, Peychaud's bitters and simple syrup. (Originally made with cognac.)
Yield: 1 drink

Sazerac Cocktail

Sazerac Cocktail

The Sazerac is a classic New Orleans drink that was originally made with cognac, but is now typically made with rye whiskey. It's a bracing, spirit-forward drink for people who really love the taste of rye. It's a rinse of absinthe (you can also use Herbsaint), a mix of rye, simple syrup, and Peychaud's bitters, and a twist of lemon peel expressed over the glass. I like to use rich simple syrup here which is a 2:1 mix of sugar and water because it adds a little body to the drink. If you're a fan of cognac, you might try using half cognac and half rye for a nice, split-base variation. I like to use a rye on the lower-proof side (80-90) rather than one in the 100-proof range for the right balance in this one. (If all you have is a high proof whiskey, consider stirring it for a few more seconds to add some dilution to tame the heat.)

Prep Time 2 minutes
Total Time 2 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 1/4 ounce rich simple syrup, (2:1 sugar to water)
  • 2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
  • 1/4 ounce absinthe, for rinsing the glass
  • lemon peel, for expressing over the drink

Instructions

  1. Put a rocks glass in the freezer to chill. Add the rye, simple syrup, and Peychaud's to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 30 seconds or until thoroughly chilled. Rinse your chilled rocks glass with absinthe (pour absinthe in the glass and swirl it around to coat the inside and pour out or generously spritz with a mister). Strain the cocktail into the drink. Express the lemon peel over the drink and rub around the rim of the glass. Discard the peel. Serve.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

1

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 184 Total Fat: 0g Saturated Fat: 0g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 1mg Carbohydrates: 8g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 8g Protein: 0g

5 Comments

  • I have never tried a Sazerac but being a whiskey drinker it sounds like a cocktail I would enjoy. The history behind it is interesting too!

    Reply
  • One of my favorite cocktails!! I love the tip for misting the glass, I also hated the idea of just swirling and rinsing a glass – what a waste!

    Reply
  • I haven’t heard of a Sazerac but it sounds interesting. My husband likes whisky, so maybe I’ll try it for him. 🙂

    Reply
  • What an informative post! I learned a few things. I have never tried this, but it sounds like a cocktail I would like!

    Reply
  • I love how much history is behind this drink! It never ceases to amaze me how drinks evolve over time, and how each addition/change usually has something to do with its history and all the different cultural influences around it. I never even really realized that a Sazerac had that New Orleans tie!

    Reply

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