Do you regularly pronounce New Orleans as “nawlins?” Would you rather chug a Jaeger Bomb than sip an Old Fashioned? If you’ve answered yes to the second question, the Sazerac may not be the drink for you. If you said yes to the first, you might need to befriend some actual New Orleans natives. Either way, if you’re feeling adventurous or like whiskey at all, give it a chance — you might be surprised.
As another descendent of the 18th century cocktail (liquor, sugar, bitters and maybe a splash of water), this variation adds in a few elements that will please drink nerds: a cool history and boldly flavored, relatively hard to find ingredients.
Though the first written recipe for the Sazerac wasn’t printed until the early 1900s, the history of the drink itself starts around 1850. At that point, Sewell T. Taylor gave up his bar and went into the liquor import business. One of his products was Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils. Aaron Bird, the man who bought Taylor’s bar, renamed it the Sazerac House. Their specialty was the Sazerac Cocktail, a brandy-based drink made with Taylor’s brandy and (supposedly) bitters made by the neighborhood apothecary, Antoine Amedie Peychaud.
Since then, the Sazerac House was bought and sold many times. At some point during Thomas Handy’s ownership, he either wrote down the Sazerac recipe or shared it with someone. In any case, it ended up in the 1908 edition of The World’s Drinks and How To Mix Them — with one change: this cocktail called for “good whiskey,” not Sazerac cognac.
During that time, Europe’s grape crops were decimated by an infestation of American aphids. In just four years, French wine production was cut by 67 percent, and dedicated cognac drinkers switched to whiskey. For New Orleans, that meant switching to rye whiskey that was shipped to the city down the Ohio River to the Mississippi.
However the change happened, the spice of the rye compliments the bitters beautifully. Using just a touch of absinthe to rinse the glass gives the drink an herbal nose, and finishing the drink with a lemon peel adds depth and a light, citrusy note.
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters*
.25 oz simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
2 oz good rye whiskey (don’t skimp — use the good stuff)
lemon peel for garnish
Combine all ingredients except the lemon peel over ice in a mixing glass. Stir well to combine. Roll a few drops of absinthe around in a chilled rocks glass to rinse, and strain the mixture into the rinsed glass. Garnish with a lemon peel and enjoy.
*Angostura bitters aren’t part of the original recipe, but they’re a traditional ingredient.