There are a lot of different types of cocktails out there. Bubbly cocktails. Fruity cocktails. Cocktails that require straws. Cocktails that are best shared. Even some that are better made by the pitcher! (These are rare.) But I would remiss if I didn’t, from time to time, call out the serious cocktails. Cocktails that are about the booze, front and center. They deserve to be hailed in a class of their own, and I intend to do so, starting now. This is the first post in a series I’ll be working on about SERIOUS COCKTAILS. And, with Fat Tuesday just behind us, what better place to start than with the Sazerac?
Two critical aspects make up the Sazerac (even more so than most serious cocktails): the ingredients and the method. So allow me to illuminate for you the signature drink of New Orleans, with love from Austin.
You know how you can order a Vodka Redbull or a Jack & Coke? And that means something? (It mostly means you’re tacky and awful, but whatever.) The Sazerac is kind of the grandfather of those. It’s the first “branded” cocktail in that it gets its the name from one of the original, intentional ingredients — Sazerac brandy. Nowadays, it’s made with rye whiskey (Sazerac Kentucky Straight Rye, if you’re religious about it) and a few other elements. But back in the day, it was just Sazerac French brandy and Peychaud’s Bitters. No more, no less.
But things have changed from the original recipe back in 1850. Within 25 years, the recipe had already changed to accommodate American rye over brandy and a dash of absinthe was thrown into the mix. Over the years, absinthe has been swapped for Herbsainte in the official recipe and back again, and at some point, someone decided to add a sugar cube. I, for one, am very glad they did.
These days, the recipe is pretty tight: rye whiskey, Peychaud’s bitters, absinthe, sugar cube, and lemon peel. Some like to throw in Angostura bitters, some still hail Herbsaint. But all agree that the drink is a classic representation and salute to New Orleans, where the Sazerac company was based. It’s spirit-forward and full of surprises, just as you’d expect given its heritage.
Bitter ‘n’ Better Every Day
Almost more important than the “Sazerac” in the Sazerac itself are the bitters. Peychaud’s are absolutely required, and anyone worth their salt will muddle the bitters with the sugar cube. (Some jokers think it’s sufficient to muddle the cube with a few drops of water. To which I scoff! Scoff, I say!) But beyond that, you’ll find some interesting variations.
Many recipes, even the highly-revered “classic” interpretations, also include Angostura bitters. Yeah, sure, fine, cool, if you want to. Personally, I think that the flavor profile between the two is similar enough to do a disservice to Peychaud’s. And since Peychaud’s is as New Orleanian as the Sazerac itself, why muddle those waters? (Hyuck hyuck hyuck.)
Instead, if I may dare play with such a classic, my tiny twist on this seriously classic cocktail is another bitters. For an ever so slightly spicier version, I offer a dash of Strongwater “Riza” Orange Licorice bitters. The licorice leans into the herbaceous absinthe rinse, and the orange gave a stronger base to the lemon peel’s oil. Now, these come from a super cool set available online (or at our local liquor store) but I know it’s unlikely you have them in your bar cabinet. So allow the recipe below to be your go-to for the classic, and disregard my tweak if you like. Or try it with just orange bitters, which you may have handy. Or try a dash of another bitter you have on hand and love!
After all, I couldn’t just give you the same old SERIOUS cocktail and add NOTHING to it, could I?
A classic, serious cocktail, with an option to add orange licorice bitters to amp up the flabor profile of the original.
- 1 sugar cube
- 2 1/2 oz rye whiskey
- 2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
- 1 dash orange licorice bitters (optional)
- 1 dash absinthe
- 1 lemon peel
Fill an Old Fashioned glass with ice and let sit as you make the drink that will go in it. (Alternatively, keep an Old Fashioned glass or two in the freezer at all times.)
In another Old Fashioned glass, add your sugar cube and dashes of bitters. Muddle with a muddler until well mixed.
Add the rye whiskey and a few ice cubes to the muddled sugar and bitters mixture and stir, letting the ice melt just a bit.
Dump the ice out of the first glass and pour in just the dash of absinthe. Hold the glass at a 90-degree angle and spin it so that the absinthe coats the inside of the chilled glass. Pour out any excess absinthe.
Stir the mix in the second glass again to ensure even distribution of any newly-melted water, then strain into the chilled, absinthe-coated glass.
Twist the lemon peel over the drink, then add to drink as garnish.
Cheers to the Sazerac
When made right, a Sazerac packs a boozy punch then smooths out, leave you wanting more. It is delicately bitter, a tad syrupy but leaves you with a cool mouth-feel. Ultimately, the question is: when should you Sazerac?
- On a Marti Gras that you forgot about until you got to work, after eating WAY too much free King cake, and when you definitely just need to be still and nurse your food baby at home, alone.
- For a third date, when you really want to impress this dude and distract him with your home bartending acumen while you try to figure out if his parents are still together and which side of the bed he sleeps on.
- When you just want ONE drink to enjoy with your questionable Thursday night TV, but you want to make that one drink count, so you indulge yourself in preparing it slowly and properly and savor every sip.
All things considered, it’s a serious cocktail for serious drinkers, but I promise you, you can do it. I hope that you will, and surprise yourself with your new skill!