The Sazerac

2 oz. rye whiskey
1 lump (or tsp) sugar
1/4 tsp pastis
3-4 dashes Peychaud bitters
1 lemon twist

Coat the inside of an Old Fashioned glass with the pastis, pouring off any excess. Muddle sugar and Peychaud bitters with a few drops of water (less than 1/4 tsp), or use simple syrup. Stir rye in an iced shaker to chill and strain into glass. Twist lemon peel over drink to release its oils.

Despite an abiding fondness for the Old Fashioned, I had not until now sampled the Sazerac, its close relative and one of New Orleans’ signature cocktails. In part, I blame this shortcoming on a perpetual lack of ingredients: I prefer Scotch for neat drinking and Bourbon for mixing, particularly dislike the anise flavors of pastis (Absinthe, Pernod, Herbsaint, etc), and have never owned a bottle of Peychaud bitters because, well, its raison d’être these days is the Sazerac. Fortunately, my recent commitment to stocking a broader bar means that I now have a bottle of Pernod to employ when a pastis is called for, and a bottle of Peychaud on the general principle that I should find more uses for bitters. I picked up some Old Overholt Rye just today, and in the Sazerac I have found ample justification for keeping all three in constant supply.

If you like an Old Fashioned, you will very much enjoy a Sazerac. If you’re not one for short whiskey drinks, this may not be for you, though I would encourage testing that assumption. If you dislike licorice and anise, don’t be put off — the rye seems to mask the aspects of anisette that I find objectionable, and yet the drink is much more complex than straight rye with a bit of sugar. There must be undertones to the Pernod and Peychaud’s that emerge from this venerable synthesis, because there is a honeyed cherry fruitiness to the Sazerac that makes all the difference in the world.

Others have written on the subject better and more extensively than I could hope to, and I direct attention in particular to Chuck Taggart’s excellent appreciation of the Sazerac from his Gumbo Pages site. In print, the recently published vol 1. of Mixologist: The Journal of the American Cocktail contains a biography of A. A. Peychaud by Phil Greene, touching in many places on the Sazerac’s 170 year history.

5 thoughts on “The Sazerac”

  1. I generally like a less sweet cocktail, but I have to say that the Sazerac has an exceptionally smooth and pleasant mouth-feel and admirable complexity for a sweeter drink. A little more lemon essence, perhaps?

  2. eh, mix in haste, repent in leisure. should’ve been less sugar in that Sazerac I delivered, though I’d’ve thought that a Tom Collins fan like yourself wouldn’t complain about the sweetness. Re: the lemon essence, we need a new zester — the one I’m using has too shallow a channel, yielding skinnny twists which aren’t expressable — all of the oil comes out when you zest it in the first place, which requires damned careful aim.

  3. If your dislike of the anise/absinthe flavors in the Sazerac dissuades you from enjoying this classic (and I know many who would agree with you), I would recommend that you sample the Vieux Carre Cocktail, another New Orleans creation. It has the rye whiskey and bitters component of the Sazerac, but in place of the sugar and the absinthe (Herbsaint, Pernod, etc.), you’ll find Benedictine and Italian Vermouth, respectively. It’s a wonderfully complex drink, invented in the 1930s by Victor Bergeron, who ran the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans. I should mention that it also contains brandy in addition to the rye, which to me represents a past-and-present homage to the Sazerac, though I have no idea what Mr. Bergeron had in mind when he created it.

  4. Mmm. Well, I like the Sazerac myself — no complaints at all — but the Vieux Carré sounds mighty nice, and I shall hasten to mix one (need some Benedictine). I believe you’re inadvertently confusing Victor Bergeron, aka Trader Vic, with Walter Bergeron, however. I wasn’t familiar with the latter, but I didn’t think that Vic spent time in N.O.

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