The Sazerac Cocktail
Perhaps no other New Orleans libation has the same mythical allure as the Sazerac cocktail, a cognac- or rye-based cocktail featuring creole-style bitters, absinthe (or an anisette substitute), and a lemon peel garnish.
There’s a lot to love about the Sazerac unless you:
- Dislike licorice/fennel flavors
- Dislike cognac or rye whiskey
Otherwise, you’ll probably fall madly in love with this elegantly simple cocktail that carries with it a controversial history.
History of the Sazerac
The Sazerac is a uniquely New Orleans cocktail, right down to its French ingredients (absinthe and Cognac). Presumably, with the amount of French influence in the city during the 19th century, these types of ingredients could be found more readily in New Orleans than in most other cities in the U.S. According to a number of historians, the Sazerac was invented by Antoine Amedie Peychaud, who owned an apothecary shop that was one of the chief vehicles for selling his eponymous bitters. In fact, it is the creole-style Peychaud’s bitters that give the Sazerac its characteristic red hue.
The Rise of Rye Whiskey
In the late 19th century, Cognac became more difficult to import for a number of reasons. The Phylloxera infestation that decimated French grapes in the late 19th century, followed directly by two devastating World Wars fought in large part on French soil, can both be linked to a drop in the production and exportation of Cognac. The logical response by bartenders was to switch the primary ingredient of the Sazerac from a scarce foreign ingredient to an abundant domestic ingredient—namely, rye whiskey.
Absinthe’s Vanishing Act
A few decades later, the passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act and other regulations made traditional absinthe a rare commodity in the United States, which forced bartenders yet again into a hunt for flavor solutions. Their replacement for the Sazerac’s licorice overtones came in the form of a product called Herbsaint, which is a fennel-flavored liqueur that is still in production today and can be used interchangeably with absinthe in a Sazerac.
To learn more about the people and drinking establishments responsible for the rise and development of the Sazerac cocktail, visit these resources:
- The Sazerac Company’s History of the Sazerac
- Wikipedia’s entry on the Sazerac Cocktail
- Where to get a Sazerac in New Orleans
The traditional recipe for a Sazerac calls for 1.5 oz rye whiskey (or Cognac, if you’re looking to go old-school), ¼ oz absinthe (about 1 bar spoon), a sugar cube, and 2-3 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters.
BUT WE AIN’T USING NO PEYCHAUD’S
It just so happens that Embitterment Aromatic Bitters are also made in the creole style, that is, with an emphasis on the dark, deep flavors of licorice and eastern spice. That means our aromatic bitters are just begging to be used in your next Sazerac, so if you’re fortunate enough to have them behind your bar, break ‘em out and let’s go to town!
WARNING: If you use our aromatic bitters in your Sazerac, it probably won’t look as red as one made using Peychaud’s bitters. This is because we don’t add any outside coloring to our products, and we don’t plan to until we can find a good natural alternative to artificial dyes. Read the Peychaud’s label and you’ll find out why.
Without further ado, we give you the Embitterment Sazerac recipe:
- 2 oz rye whiskey (Rail – Old Overholt; Middle Shelf – Bulleit; Top Shelf – Whistle Pig)
- 1 bar spoon absinthe (both Leopold Bros. and Mt. Defiance Distillery make great ones),
- 1 sugar cube,
- Several healthy dashes of Embitterment Aromatic Bitters,
- Lemon peel (for garnish)
In a mixing pint, soak your sugar cube in the bitters (and maybe a few drops of water to help everything dissolve). Next, rinse a chilled rocks glass with absinthe—that is, coat the inside of the glass—then set it aside. Then, muddle your bitters-soaked sugar cube, add ice, add rye, and stir until all ingredients are combined and thoroughly chilled. Discard the absinthe and any ice from the rocks glass and strain the cocktail mixture into it. Squeeze the lemon peel over the cocktail to express the essential oils, and use it as a garnish for the drink. Serve up, or over a single large ice cube.
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