Hailing from New Orleans, the sazerac was originally made from absinthe (New Orleans was, with the exception of Paris, the absinthe capital of the world at one time), Peychaud’s bitters and cognac – but then the recipe evolved and it’s now traditionally made with rye whiskey instead of cognac.
In Australia, however, you’ll have two problems when making a sazerac: finding Peychaud’s bitters and finding good quality rye.
Quite frankly, I couldn’t get my hands on Peychaud’s for a long time. I trawled Sydney’s bottle shops, I asked bar staff to slip me some on the sly, but all to no avail. As such, I originally used Angostura instead since it’s also based on the gentian herb but then a number of bartender friends had harsh words with me and said that I was committing a cocktail sin (and, in retrospect, that’s fair enough). Finally, one of them did pass me a bottle on the sly and another recommended I try Cocktail Kingdom in the US. Since then, I have never looked back.
As for the rye: well, over the past five years it’s become far easier to buy rye whiskey than when I first wrote this post. You can sometimes find Jim Beam rye, Bulleit rye, or Wild Turkey rye at some of the better liquor stores, and if you look hard enough you’ll even find some stores that sell Rittenhouse or Sazerac Rye. You can make a great sazerac with any of these – although I personally prefer Rittenhouse, Sazerac and Bulleit.
Then again, if you can’t find rye you can always use cognac – in fact, many prefer it. If you do so, I personally prefer Hennessey VSOP. It’s also common to make a sazerac with 50/50 rye and cognac, but this has never worked well for me.
As for the absinthe: well, the most traditional absinthe for this would be the Jade Nouvelle Orleans, which is distilled in France by a New Orleans native and is closer to the type of absinthes made in New Orleans over a century ago than anything else you can come across.
The final result is a stiff drink that, as far as construction is concerned, is as traditional a cocktail as you’ll find – namely a mix of spirit, bitters, sugar and ice. I even stuck with muddling a sugar cube rather than using sugar syrup to be historically accurate.
As such, without further ado, here’s the sazerac recipe:
- 1 sugar cube
- 2 shots (60ml) of rye whiskey or cognac
- 3-4 dashes Peychaud's bitters
Chill one tumbler glass with ice. In a second glass, muddle a sugar cube with the dashes of bitters (some also add a few drops of water). Add ice cubes and whiskey/cognac and stir until cold. Empty the first glass of ice and pour a small amount of absinthe into it – just enough to coat the inside. Strain the second glass (filled with the whiskey, bitters and sugar) into the chilled glass with the absinthe. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel, although I like using grapefruit or orange peel for this. Rub first around the rim and twist over the drink to release some of the peel’s oils. Some people refuse to drop the peel into the drink afterwards – but this is up to you.