December 29th, 2007

The world of cocktails is a fascinating subject and an interest which can quickly develop in to something of an obsession, as you try to source rare ingredients or research old recipes. As this site suggests I personally devote quite a large amount of my personal time to the art of imbibing, and I am lucky to have an understanding partner who puts up with my inane prattlings on the subject without so much as a bat of the eyelid (well ok, perhaps the odd set of rolled eyes…).

Indeed he even pays attention sometimes, and proved this on Christmas day when I was lucky enough to receive a bottle of Jade Liqueurs Absinthe from him. Along with tequila absinthe has been entirely neglected during my exploration of spirits, somewhat perversely given the fact that unlike the poor folks over in the US who are only just starting to get their hands on the stuff (domestically anyway), it’s been legal here in the UK for… well, ever!

That’s all about to change now though, and I’m looking forward to trying a true absinthe drip. Unfortunately the accompanying gift of absinthe spoon and glass are stranded somewhere in the depths of the Royal Mail postal system. For now, then, I’ve settled on using my absinthe to try a classic cocktail I’ve been wanting to sample for ages – the Sazerac.

Jade Spirits Nouvelle-Orléans Absinthe bottle

The Sazerac was created at some point in the mid-nineteenth century at the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans, USA. The owner of this establishment, John B. Schiller, was the local agent for Sazerac-du-Forge et Fils, a Cognac which formed the basis of the Sazerac cocktail along with sugar and Peychaud’s, the bitters synonymous with New Orleans.

Some years later Thomas H. Handy became the owner of the Sazerac Coffee House, and the Phylloxera epidemic which devastated French vineyards meant that Sazerac Cognac was no more. The epidemic, along with the American Civil War, made cognac rather hard to come by, so Handy switched the Sazerac recipe to rye whiskey which was still readily available.

These days almost all Sazeracs are made solely with rye whiskey, but I decided to start things right back at the beginning with a Cognac-based Sazerac…

Cognac-based Sazerac cocktail with Rémy Martin VSOP Cognac bottle in foreground

Sazerac (Cognac-based)

Despite its high alcohol content, the first thing that surprised me about this drink was how smooth and balanced it was. It smelt wonderful – a mixture of anise and lemony citrus, and this continued with the initial taste along with a strong fruitiness from the Cognac. The cocktail lingered with a long, but subtle, anise finish. I’ve never been a massive fan of anise/aniseed flavours, but I was astonished just how much I enjoyed the flavours in the Sazerac.

Sazerac cocktail

Sazerac (Cognac/Rye mix)

Recipes like this that use a mixture of rye and Cognac are probably how the Sazerac transitioned to a rye-based drink as Cognac slowly became harder and harder to obtain, and even today some bars still serve a similar recipe. The rye adds an extra depth which makes for a more complex drink compared to the Cognac-only recipe. It also makes the finish more interesting, with a mix of anise and hot spice lingering nicely.

Sazerac cocktail with Thomas H Handy rye whiskey bottle in background

Sazerac (Modern recipe)

At last we reach the modern Sazerac – an exact replica of the original recipe but for the use of rye rather than Cognac. As Thomas H. Handy was the man who first used rye in a Sazerac, and also thanks to Paul’s recommendation, it seemed pertinent to make use of my recently acquired Thomas H. Handy Rye in my all-rye Sazerac. I also used my just-made real gomme syrup, which both Paul and David Wondrich recommend for the perfect Sazerac.

The Thomas H. Handy rye brought an intense spice to the Sazerac, and strangely seemed to bring out the anise flavours of the Peychaud’s and absinthe. The anise finish I had experienced in the previous two recipes was augmented by a spicey, but mild, burn, which really worked. In addition to making the drink somewhat opaque, the gomme syrup really rounded off the taste of the drink. You could tell a strong spirit was being used, but overall it tasted a lot smoother than it really should considering the ingredients used.

I’m not sure if the gomme syrup should really make a drink quite as cloudy as the Sazerac pictured above became, but after a short while the cocktail did begin to regain its translucent qualities, though it retained the viscosity that made the drink so smooth to down. Sugar syrup works fine, but it’s amazing how much just that bar-spoon of gomme really changes the texture of the drink.

I was really surprised by the Sazerac. As mentioned above I’ve never been an anise fan, but when combined with Cognac or rye the flavours really work for me. While I enjoyed all of the recipes listed here, I think it’s clear why the all-rye Sazerac has become the standard recipe. Don’t worry though, thankfully you don’t need to use the expensive Handy rye every time – I’ve tried the recipe with Rittenhouse Bonded and it works just great, as I imagine many other ryes do.

As there are so many variations flying around, I have to ask… how do you like your Sazerac?

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Posted in Absinthe, Aromatic Bitters, Cognac, Recipes, Rye

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17 responses to “Sazerac”

  1. stephan stephan says:

    most of the time when i`m making a sazerac for myself i use orange peel for the rye version. i think it works way better than the lemon. otherwise when using cognac lemon peel is my first choice.
    i also make 9 out of 10 on the rocks, dissolving my sugarcube and peychaud bitters with a little water and coating the icecubes with the absinthe. the melting water opens the whiskey and makes the drink even smoother.
    and no doubt, the better the rye, the better the drink!

  2. Christian Christian says:

    i think so stephan but i use only a lemon twist

  3. Mark Parry Mark Parry says:

    In a classic case of serendipity I was making myself a couple of Sazeracs last night (on the rocks – one with rye and one with bourbon – just to see the difference and also to try out my first ever bottle of Pernod) and then this morning I hear this on NPR –

    and then I check out Oh Gosh!. Hmmm, caweenkeedeenky? I think not!

  4. Mycle Mycle says:

    I love Sazeracs. Rye, Cognac, or both, it doesn’t matter (actually, my preference is for all rye). The only thing that always bothers me about the instructions for preparation is “discard the remaining absinthe/pernod”. I always leave it in, unless there really is too much, then I pour it into a small glass and drink it up. No way am I just dumping it!

  5. NewOrleansPuma NewOrleansPuma says:

    Another of my all time favorites after the Ramos Gin Fizz.
    I like it with the rye..and regarding the absinthe/pernod. Rolling the Absinthe pernod all around in the glass before anything else is put in and then throwing it out is about the purpose as I always experienced here in New Orleans of the is supposed to render and does a bouqet at the top of the glass as well as a subtle additional nuance to the ingredients within… Making this traditional move with it…renders a nuance that is very fine!
    Now I know I really love Jay…Ramos Gin Fizz and Sazerac all on the same page on my first visit…As we say here in New Orleans..Yeah, ya rite, Jay!

  6. Jay Jay says:

    Glad you are enjoying the site NewOrleansPuma! Do you go to Tales of the Cocktail?

  7. ND ND says:

    Hey! I seem to remember a whole post on this site about gum syrup and agar-agar, but now I can’t find it. Am I imagining things?

  8. Jay Jay says:

    ND – I’ve not written about gomme syrup directly myself, but Seamus over at Bunnyhugs has a great post that describes how to use gum arabic to create gomme syrup.

  9. Victor Victor says:

    Cocktail a la Louisiane! Similar but different! Also wonderfull!

  10. Jared S. Jared S. says:

    I’ve just created a variation on the Sazerac that I’ve come to adore — I swap the simple for a homemade rosemary syrup, the absinthe/anisette rinse for a Cointreau rinse, and add some Regan’s orange with the Peychaud’s. It’s so good!

  11. John Wilson John Wilson says:

    Your going to have a hell of a time making Congac for the next nine years,

  12. John Wilson John Wilson says:

    you’ll have to use you own

  13. Phil Phil says:

    Love this site!

    I’ve experimenting with various recipes for the Sazerac.
    At this point, my favorite is an all Rye (Jim Beam)
    version, using Lucid Absinthe and Peychaud’s. I have also
    tried all Cognac (Courvoisier), and a 50/50 blend. I have
    to say that the edge that Rye gives to the cocktail is almost
    necessary for balancing the anise flavors.

  14. Joe Williams Joe Williams says:

    I’m about to experiment with making a variation on a Sazerac using Perique Liqueur de Tabac instead of Cognac or rye. I may dispense with the gomme for the first tasting, as the Perique is quite sweet on its own. Will post results imminently…

  15. Joe Williams Joe Williams says:

    Very nice! Good job I didn’t put any syrup in, the Perique makes it sweet enough but also gives it a pleasant spiciness. Some further experimentation with the type of bitters used would probably be worthwhile.

  16. Brandon T Brandon T says:

    I think armagnac (a little spicier than cognac, and a little cheaper) also works well in this cocktail, with a lemon twist. Orange peel seems to work better with the rye version.

    It also makes a lot of sense how many cocktails call for a “dash” of absinthe. It’s amazing how strident and sickly (to me) the flavor is neat, but how much depth and intrigue it lends to cocktails in small amounts.

  17. Triddle Triddle says:

    I just sampled the sazarec at The Hotel Tabard Inn in DC. The mixologist lit a flame to the lemon rind and the absinthe residue on the top of the glass causing a subtle smoky front end taste and aroma. Absolutely stunning drink.

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