The predecessor of the Sazerac was a simple brandy toddy, popularized in New Orleans in 1838 by Creole druggist Antoine Amadie Peychaud, who served up the cocktail with his family’s bitters. By 1850, the Sazerac cocktail as we now know it was standardized at Merchants Exchange Coffee House (really a saloon) on Exchange Alley, using a few drops of absinthe “to give it a few more layers of flavor.” The coffeehouse’s owner, Sewell Taylor, was also a liquor importer whose most popular product was the Sazerac-du-Forge et Fils cognac which was used in the cocktail. Eventually the name of the coffeehouse changed to Sazerac Coffee House with its most requested drink taking on its name as well. But thanks to the changing tastes of Americans, who preferred American rye to French brandy, the cocktail was most often made with rye whiskey.
While you can offend a Manhattan drinker by shaking the spirits-only cocktail, you can wrong the Sazerac lover by committing any of the following sins: make it too sweet, serve it with ice, drop the lemon peel into the drink, or use any bitters other than Peychaud’s. (Though adding just a drop of Angostura bitters in addition to the Peychaud’s will open up the flavor significantly.)
by Chuck Taggart, GumboPages.com
Generous barspoon (roughly one teaspoon) of simple syrup (made with demerara or turbinado sugar at a 2:1 sugar to water ratio) or 1 sugar cube
4 big “slugs” of Peychaud’s bitters (“Slug that bottle from the elbow.”)
2 ounces rye whiskey
2 or 3 dashes of absinthe
1) Start with two Old Fashioned glasses. (No mixing tins!) Chill one in the freezer, and use the other glass to mix the drink while the other is getting frosty. (If you’ve got a bit more time in between now and when you’re drinking, feel free to chill both glasses.)
2) Drop in simple syrup and bitters. If using a sugar cube, also drop in no more than a half an ounce of water to help dissolve it.
3) Pour in the whiskey and a scoop of ice cubes and stir for 20 to 30 seconds. If the ice is wet, stir for less time. With hard, non-wet ice, do it for 30 seconds. “You should be able to taste the whiskey. It’s a strong drink, so be careful to not over-dilute it [while stirring with the ice].”
4) Get the chilled glass and put in 2 or 3 dashes of absinthe. Rotate the glass to evenly coat it with the absinthe. You can choose to toss out the excess or keep it, depending on how much of that anise flavor you want in your cocktail.
5) Strain the whiskey from the mixing glass to the chilled glass using a julep strainer.
6) Squeeze the lemon peel over the glass and wipe the rim with it, but for god’s sake DO NOT drop it in. As Stanley Clisby Arthur, New Orleans author, says in his 1936 book Old New Orleans: A History of the Vieux Carre, Its Ancient and Historical Buildings, “Do not commit the sacrilege of dropping it into the drink.” Basically you don’t want to throw the balance off and let it get too lemony.
Also, if you’re going to add cognac, Chuck recommends trying half rye and half cognac. If you’re going for an all-cognac recipe, use an orange peel instead of lemon.
Recommended rye whiskey: Sazerac 6 Year, Rittenhouse, Van Winkle Family Reserve 13 Year
Recommended cognac: Pierre Ferrand 1840, Hennessy VSOP, Germain Robin Alambic Brandy
However, I have to include Las Perlas’ Raul Yrastorza who claims to make one of the best Sazeracs around: “one that is stirred real cold but then poured into a warmed glass where the absinthe rinse was previously lit afire and then extinguished and dumped. I believe that it mimics the warmth of your hand and that warmth opens up the flavor a of the sazerac and orange oils.”