JohnS

Let's talk about the Sazerac Cocktail

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The Sazerac Cocktail...have you ever had one? In 2008 it became the official cocktail of the state of New Orleans. Personally, I love it, it is one of my favourite cocktails, when I want a cocktail to wind-down my working week, this is one of the cocktails I go to (the others are the Old-Fashioned, Martini or Manhattan). But what exactly is a Sazerac Cocktail, I mean, what constitutes one? It seems that every recipe you read on-line or in classic Cocktail books is different. Do you use Cognac or Rye (or even Bourbon)? What about Herbsaint or Absinthe? Sugar Syrup or granulated sugar, even?

Difford's Guide states the following...

Traditionally based on cognac or rye whiskey, as David A. Embury says in his seminal 1948 Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, "essentially it is merely an Old Fashioned made with Peychaud's bitters instead of Angostura and flavoured with a dash of absinthe."

Now, the traditional New Orleans way of making the cocktail is very simple...

https://www.diffordsguide.com/cocktails/recipe/3390/sazerac-cocktail-new-orleans-style

It utilises Rittenhouse Rye, Sugar Syrup, Herbsaint and Peychaud's bitters. Oh, and don't forget that the traditional method that involves two glasses, swilling one with Herbsaint (or absinthe) and rimming another with a lemon peel, like in the video below...

 

Or how about the Difford's variation? which mixes Cognac, Rye and Bourbon for a fuller drink, and for which you'll need a standard Old-Fashioned type tumbler...

https://www.diffordsguide.com/cocktails/recipe/1752/sazerac-cocktail-diffords-recipe

If you've visited Revel Café & Bar in New Orleans (or a similar establishment there), this is how Chris McMillian will serve it up for you...

Or, how about Robert Hess on the Small Screen Network? who uses an atomizer to spray the absinthe (and not waste it) and a smaller Sazerac tumbler glass for the drink...

Below, I'm going to show you my method, which I believe will deliver a perfectly-balanced cocktail ideal for sipping with a fine cigar, and your favourite espresso coffee.

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The first thing I do is to start with the Absinthe. I also use a 90 ml (3 US fluid ounces) tumbler glass, which is smaller, but which is ideal for this cocktail.

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Pour about 5 ml (approximately 1/6 of a US fluid ounce) of Absinthe into the glass. This equates to about 2 US-sized teaspoons. At this point, I don't even bother with using another larger Old-Fashioned type tumbler glass, nor do I waste the Absinthe. Instead, I fill the glass with filtered water.

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Then, to get the glass nice and cold, I place it in the freezer for around 45 minutes.

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Don't leave it longer than 50 minutes because you only want the surface of the Absinthe-water to freeze, otherwise it's hard to remove.

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Next, jettison the Absinthe-water down the sink, you'll be left with a perfectly-coated Absinthe glass that is chilled, which is what you want. Get some Sugar syrup, Peychaud's Bitters and the spirit of your choice, mine is typically Hennessy VSOP Cognac, yours may be different.

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Now, pour approximately 8 to 10 mls (approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of a US fluid ounce) of Sugar Syrup into the bottom of the glass. If you want it sweeter, add more, but I find this (volume of Sugar Syrup) about ideal to balance the drink.

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Get your Peychaud's Bitters and add about 2 - 3 liberal dashes. Some recipes allow you to substitute the Peychaud's Bitters if you'd like, in my opinion, there is no substitute for Peychaud's Bitters. Do you notice how the bitters sits on top of the Sugar Syrup? This is fine as the next step will mix the drink nicely when you add your spirit.

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I add around 60 - 75 ml (approximately 2 - 2 1/2 US fluid ounces) of Cognac to the glass and lightly swill to mix it at this point.

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Some bartenders, if they make the drink for you, will get a lemon peel and rim the glass at this point. I say no! Get your lemon peel, remove the with pith as much as you can as the pith is bitter, and twist it, dropping about 4 drops of lemon peel oil into the drink. This will add another dimension to the drink, giving it a citrus edge to go with the anise, vanilla, caramel and sweetened bitters that will soften the burn of the cognac (or rye), giving it what our dear friend @ATGroom described as a "buttery texture" when I served him the drink.

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So do you use Rye Whiskey or Cognac for this Cocktail? Well, let's have a look at the history of the drink. I'll source Wikipedia, it's not a reference, but the information is handy for this question...

Around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his New Orleans bar, The Merchants Exchange Coffee House, to become an importer of spirits, and he began to import a brand of Cognac named Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils. Meanwhile, Aaron Bird assumed proprietorship of the Merchants Exchange and changed its name to Sazerac Coffee House. Legend has it that Bird began serving the "Sazerac Cocktail", made with Sazerac Cognac imported by Taylor, and allegedly with bitters being made by the local apothecary, Antoine Amedie Peychaud. The Sazerac Coffee House subsequently changed hands several times, when around 1870, Thomas Handy became its proprietor. It is around this time that the primary ingredient changed from Cognac to rye whiskey, due to the phylloxera epidemic in Europe that devastated the vineyards of France. At some point before his death in 1889, Handy recorded the recipe for the cocktail, which made its first printed appearance in William T. "Cocktail Bill" Boothby's The World's Drinks and How to Mix Them (1908), although his recipe calls for Selner Bitters, not Peychaud's. After absinthe was banned in the US in 1912, it was replaced by various anise-flavored liqueurs, most notably the locally produced Herbsaint, which first appeared in 1934.

The Sazerac is a simple variation on a plain whiskey or Cognac cocktail (alcohol, sugar, water, and bitters) and could have been ordered in any latter 19th Century bar in the U.S. as a whiskey cocktail with a dash of absinthe. It was this type of variation to the cocktail that caused patrons uninterested in the new complexities of cocktails to request their drinks to be made the Old Fashioned way. By the early 20th Century, simple cocktails like the Sazerac had become a somewhat rare curiosity, which would eventually rekindle their popularity.

The creation of the Sazerac has also been credited to Antoine Amédée Peychaud, the Creole apothecary who emigrated to New Orleans from the West Indies and set up shop in the French Quarter in the early 19th Century. He was known to dispense a proprietary mix of aromatic bitters from an old family recipe. According to popular myth, he served his drink in the large end of an egg cup that was called a coquetier in French, and the Americanized mispronunciation resulted in the word "cocktail". This belief was debunked when it was discovered that the term "cocktail", as a type of drink, first appeared in print at least as far back as 1803 and was defined in print in 1806, as "a mixture of spirits of any kind, water, sugar and bitters, vulgarly called a bittered sling".

My personal preference is definitely Cognac, as this was the original spirit of choice for the drink, but you may find that Rye Whiskey serves your palate better. Why don't you experiment and give this a try the next time you enjoy a cigar on a weekend sunny afternoon? I know you'll be glad you did!

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This is a favourite drink that I've ordered in a lot of cocktail bars - it's always good, but the one John makes is the best I've ever had.

A few observations:

1. Don't skimp on the brandy. This is basically just a glass of cognac with a little sugar, so make sure it's something that you'd be prepared to drink straight. John's choice of Hennessy VSOP is a good one. In general I think it's a waste putting really high end spirits in cocktails, but this drink is so cognac forward that I don't think it'd be a terrible place for something top shelf if your taste and budget ran to it. A lot of places do it half/half cognac/rye, but full cognac is better.
2. Use a small glass. 80ml maximum. This is crucial for the absinth ratio.
3. If you're in a hurry you can get away with just topping the water and dumping it, and skipping the freezing. The coating works just as well, the only difference is that the glass isn't cold.
4. The Doubs absinth that John uses is another good choice. It is a very strong, bitter, woody absinth that normally overpowers and ruins pretty much anything you put it in, but in this case because you're only coating the glass, it's just enough that the character comes through without the bitterness.
5. I've never managed to get it quite as buttery as John's... I think it's to do with stirring it down just the right amount.
6. There are worse ideas than putting the lemon peel in the glass once you've squeeze it a few times.

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Thanks Alex! I agree, you do want to mix it to get the flavours balanced. I have dropped the lemon peel in a number of times myself, again, it's a matter of personal preference.

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So the main difference between the Sazerac and an Old Fashioned is the absinthe, right?

Cause I love an Old Fashioned (rye, of course) but never tried Sazerac because it seemed like the absinthe might add an extra dimension of sweetness I wasn't sure I wanted.

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Wow, I should have paid more attention to the bartender preparing the first (and last) Sazerac I've ever had. I'm just not a brown spirits type of guy, but I was smoking a cigar at Arnauds French 75 during Marti Gras in the city of New Orleans. (in the state of Louisiana) So I had to try one. The French 75 (champange, Gin, Lemon) I followed it up with suits my pallet much more.  

It looks like you have worked this down to just about perfect though, no part can be removed without detracting from the whole. Very Nice! 

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30 minutes ago, Stogieninja said:

So the main difference between the Sazerac and an Old Fashioned is the absinthe, right?

Cause I love an Old Fashioned (rye, of course) but never tried Sazerac because it seemed like the absinthe might add an extra dimension of sweetness I wasn't sure I wanted.

Yes, the Old Fashioned Cocktail has Sugar Syrup and Angostura Bitters as a base, and then Rye or Bourbon is added thereafter. The ice in the drink dilutes it and is critical, in my opinion, to it, as well as the addition of an orange peel, so it is similar to the Sazerac Cocktail.

Absinthe is an anise-based liqueur. Other anise-based liqueurs include Ouzo, Sambuca and Pernod, all similarly have a licorice-type flavour. And yes, it is sweet. When added to a Sazerac Cocktail, you only would want a minimal amount, just enough to coat the glass, which is an ample amount to give the drink the characteristic element which it is known for.

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What's the difference between Peychaud's and Angostura bitters?



Peychaud's is a creole bitter, made popular in Louisiana. Angostura is also gentian-based herbal bitter, but from the Caribbean. Paychaud's is sweeter and has a distinctive red color.
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Thanks for this introduction to this cocktail. Ive never heard ot it but will try.

Would it be barbaric to mix the absinthe/sugar syrup/bitters in a shaker with ice to cool it off? Your way looks perfect but i cant see myself doing the freezer trick.

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@dicko, as @luvdunhill mentioned, it should be stirred, not shaken. If I was short of time, I'd fill up a glass with Absinthe, ice and water. Let it stand a few minutes to chill then discard and make the drink with the other ingredients. 

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I've never made them myself due to never having absinthe at home, but recently had my first at Dry Martini bar in Barcelona. I didn't realise there were so many variations, and was a bit taken aback when he asked whether I wanted cognac/rye/bourbon or a mixture. I ended up with a bourbon version which I really enjoyed. Going to get a bottle of absinthe and explore the Sazerac further as it's certainly a cocktail that's a great pairing for a cigar.

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