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The Sazerac

The Sazerac

The Sazerac

The Sazerac

1.5 oz Remy Martin Cognac
0.5 oz Rye
1 Sugar Cube (brown is a good choice)
2 Dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
1 tsp Water

Splash of Kübler Absinthe

Chill a rocks glass with ice. Discard the ice and then rinse the glass with Absinthe, coating the entire inside.  Discard the Absinthe.  Set aside.
Place the sugar cube in a mixing glass and dash the Peychaud’s onto it. Add water and muddle together until the sugar is dissolved. Add the spirits and stir. Pour into the rocks glass. Adding a couple of cubes of ice is traditional but, in my opinion, a matter of taste.
Twist a Lemon Peel over the surface of the drink, then add to the drink as garnish.

On Nov. 9, 2010, we lost Peychaud’s Bitters in favor of Orange Bitters.  As a proper Sazerac can only be made with Peychaud’s, we are “retiring” the drink.  Nothing should stop you from making one, however, so you be so inclined.

* * *

If you want to drink well, head to New Orleans. Walk into an average bar in any state other than Louisiana and try to order a Sazerac. I’ll bet good money that, even if you were to provide the recipe, the bar would still be unable to produce a proper facsimile. And it doesn’t stop with the Sazerac. By the same token, cozy up to any long slab of New Orleans oak or zinc and demand a 150-year-old libation, and — outside of the monster daiquiri joints — you’ll get it. Exactly as it was and exactly as it should continue to be. No place in America — or in the world, for that matter — can drink like New Orleans. This has always been the case, and most likely, always will be.

There’s a movement afoot to proclaim the Sazerac the original American cocktail. There’s an equally vocal movement to proclaim that it isn’t. The thing with cocktail history is that for every yah-saying yin, there’s a nah-saying yang. So be it. Rather than argue the merits of either camp, I’ll concede to both on one simple front: the Sazerac is certainly one of the finest cocktails ever created.

Here’s what is true. At the mid-point of the 19th Century, bejeweled “bars” lined the streets of The Big Easy like so many Starbucks. I say bejeweled because the popular establishments sported names like Gem, Diamond, Ruby, and Pearl. By 1859, the city boasted more than 200 “coffee houses”, as they were known. As the list of precious stones ran dry, other names took over. When he purchased the Merchants Exchange Coffee House, Aaron Bird decided to change the name to the Sazerac Coffee House. His gimmick was simple: his signature drink would be a cocktail made with the popular Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils Cognac and the local Peychaud’s Bitters. The drink caught on.

Only a few decades after the Sazerac’s creation, phylloxera devastated the European wine industry, and Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils never again saw the light of day. Figuring they were fooling nobody, the new owners of the Sazerac House dropped the “Coffee” from its name. With cognac in short supply, they also adopted good, old American rye whiskey to fill the void, and the drink saw the first of its two subtle ingredient changes. The second came in 1912, when the United States banned Absinthe. Here again, intrepid American ingenuity stepped in with the substitution of Herbsaint (a loose anagram of Absinthe — plus an “r”).

Fortunately, Absinthe is back, and we might as well enjoy the drink as originally intended. Above all other things, the Sazerac really showcases the herbal wonders of Absinthe when used judiciously. Absinthe also pairs beautifully with the Peychaud’s. When concocting the drink, many classic bars today will grab for a bottle of the recently-introduced Sazerac Rye. Conveniently, Sazerac Rye, Peychaud’s, and Herbsaint — the usual trinity here — are all manufactured by the New Orleans-based Sazerac Company. If that’s the way you like yours, you’ll be in fine company; however, our recipe returns the drink back to its roots.

The cognac/rye combination comes from Dale DeGroff. It’s a wonderful touch, but don’t be afraid to use just one or the other (use a full two ounces). The advice here is the same as it always is — try all the variations and find your favorite.

A Tip on the Twist: Use a vegetable peeler to extract a wide slice of lemon peel, avoiding as much of the white as possible. When squeezing the peel over the surface of the drink, the goal is to extract the oils — not the juice — from the peel. I then rub the twisted peel over the rim of the glass a few times before tossing it into the glass.

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