The Sazerac

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The Sazerac can be considered one of the original cocktails.  Originally, it was made of cognac and bitters, Peychaud’s own proprietary bitters specifically, and it was a cocktail used for medicinal purposes.  Now a days, the cocktail is Rye whiskey, Absinthe, Peychaud’s bitters, a sugar cube, and lemon twist.


As DeGroff writes, Peychaud, the creator of Peychaud’s bitters, would operate a pharmacy in New Orlean’s Rue Royal; his drink would be based upon cognac with his own bitters, and would be used for medicinal purposes (DeGroff 47).  The drink originally was served in egg cups, which would be called coquetries, and stories tell that the word would change to that of cocktay, and then finally to cocktail (Ibid).  However, the true story for the etymology of the word cocktail, is that it was originally used in print in the Balance and Columbian Repository, on the date of May 13th, 1806, which would be when Peychaud was only a child; thus the fanciful story is just that, a story (Ibid).

At the time of creation, the drink featured Sazerac de Forge et Fils Cognac, which was the source of the name of the drink (Ibid).  Now a days, the drink is made with Rye whiskey, and it has a historical context in which it was made with the same.  I am using a mixture of Rye and Cognac, as advised by Steve Garcia from Mesa, and it really works well.  The mixture gives it the taste of the Rye, while retaining a slight sweetening flavor found in that of the Armagnac or Cognac utilized in the drink.  Personally, after trying various formats, I prefer this version, since it makes the cocktail more palatable, without forcing it to be diluted as much.  As Steve suggests, something such as (Ri)1 whiskey works well, since it already is slightly more sweet compared to other rye whiskeys.  As he and Jason Schiffer suggest: know your alcohols.  By knowing the ingredients, you can make an excellent cocktail that far surpasses one made with ingredients you are unfamiliar with, or which would not necessarily blend well together.

Many people call this drink the original cocktail, which in fact is not true at all: the drink is just a Whiskey Cocktail done in the Old Fashioned manner with a dash of absinthe to finish it off, and uses Peychaud’s bitters specifically (Wondrich 200).  Overall, the drink would be similar to an Old Fashioned, just replace the lemon peel with orange, replace the Peychaud’s with Angostura, replace the rye with bourbon, and leave out the absinthe, and you have another cocktail done in the old fashioned style. Yes, that is a lot of changes, but if you actually put in orange peel instead, you get the same aroma as the Old Fashioned, and so the similarities are not as far off as one might think.  And actually, using both orange and lemon makes for an interesting cocktail, to say the least: you get both on the nose, and it makes the drink appeal to those who would not necessarily like the lemon oils, which are linked psychologically with that of sour flavors.

The drink is not served on the rocks, and so as it warms up, with each sip, the flavors change.  The anise found in the absinthe, as well as the spices and botanicals of the bitters, and the lemon oils, each become different depending on the temperature, so that the drink has a large variety of overall palates, thereby creating an interesting experience when enjoying and imbibing the cocktail.  Jason Schiffer from 320 Main uses Le Tourment Vert Absinthe, which gives it a nice leathery taste and feel, compared to a Sazerac made with some other absinthes.  Furthermore, he uses caramelized lemon oils to give it a nice smoky and full flavor, which works really well.  I’ve tried this with a few different Rye Whiskeys, and Sazerac Rye works probably the best, alongside the Le Tourment Absinthe, but it does work well with Vieux Pontalier as well.  Even when using something such as Vieux Pontalier, a French absinthe, the drink far surpasses one made with Herbsaint.  Herbsaint, which seems to be the standard substitute for absinthe during the period that absinthe was illegal, has a much sweeter flavor, and does not carry the flavor of anise as well as the real deal.  Furthermore, Jason uses a mixture of Peychaud’s and Angustora bitters, which works wonders.  A four to one ratio for the two types of bitters.  However, Wondrich notes that it is the bitters which work well: he feels that using a mixture is a sin for the most part, and so one should just emphasize the Peychaud’s alone (Ibid 201).  However, having tried it both ways, the Angustora seems to balance and round out the drink, giving it a nicer flavor that is not found otherwise in the cocktail.

The drink is strong, but goes well with barbecue, and would work really well as a drink to sip upon prior to a meal.  Still, the drink works well when paired with food, and could be sipped upon during a meal.  The drink does get a lot of interesting flavors, and the type of rye and absinthe play a strong role in influencing the overall palate and profile of the drink.  The drink does stimulate the appetite well, so it functions really well as an aperitif.  While it does not seem strong, the drink is much more potent than one realizes, and is truly, a drink to be sipped over time, and enjoyed as the flavor opens up and expands depending upon the change in temperature.

Sazerac:

1 1/2 ounces Rye whiskey
1/2 ounce Cognac or Armagnac
Sugar cube
Absinthe
4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash Angustora bitters

In the bottom of a glass, place a sugar cube.  Douse the sugar in four dashes of Peychaud’s bitters, and one dash of Angustora bitters, muddling the sugar.  Add the Rye and Cognac, and stir with ice until diluted and chilled.  In an old fashioned glass, spray the glass with three to five good sprays of Absinthe from an atomizer bottle, and then strain the mixture into the glass with Absinthe.  Garnish with a flamed lemon twist.

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Craddock, Henry.  1999.  The Savoy Cocktail Book.  Originally published 1930.  London: Pavilion Books.

DeGroff, Dale. 2008. The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks. New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers.

Wikipedia contributors. “Sazerac.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sazerac (accessed April 12, 2010).

Wondrich, David. 2007. Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar. New York: Penguin Group.