New Orleans, 1850 — The Sazerac Coffee House — Bartender Leon Lamothe adds absinthe to a brandy cocktail. The world changes, if only by a little. The cocktail Mr. Lamothe was making contained brandy, sugar, and Peychaud’s bitters. It was called the Sazerac, after the French Quarter coffee house where it was born. By the 1870s, the Sazerac’s recipe had changed. Rye whiskey replaced brandy. The world, thus changed, became somehow better.
A lot of people will tell you a lot of things about how to make a Sazerac. I’m one of them. I’ll tell ya one thing for nothin’, if it has crushed ice in it – it ain’t a proper Sazerac. My first was served in a tumbler filled with crushed ice. The sweetness of the Peychaud’s and the simple syrup made sucking the last of the rye cocktail through the crushed ice magnificent. I was in love. But, we grow and we change. Nowadays I like the ice when I’m giving it a stir or when I’m chilling a glass. By the time I’m pouring my cocktail, there’s no place for ice.
My preferred recipe is copped from Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology. You might recognize Mr. Regan from the label of a bottle of Orange Bitters No. 6. Tho’ he looks rather olde timey, he’s a right-now sorta guy. Mr. Regan suggests washing the glass in Herbsaint, which is an absinthe substitute from New Orleans. Geographically appropriate, yes. (There is another reason: When his mixology book was published, absinthe was not legal in the U.S. Today it kinda sorta is.) I use a bottle of Kübler Absinthe. This change is based exclusively on the contents of my liquor shelf. For rye, you can never go wrong with Old Overholt.
I highly recommend Mr. Regan’s glassware suggestion – a champagne flute or a cocktail glass. He has very compelling reasons for doing so and they’re in his book.
First step, wash the chilled champagne flute with absinthe. Just pour a drop and swirl it around and throw it out. If you’re smart, you’ll pour a little too much and then – after washing the interior of the flute – drink the absinthe. It’s only a drop, really. Also, I’m not a bartender and I only do this when it’s my cocktail. It’s more eco-friendly to drink the absinthe. I hear this green thing is going to be big. Let’s get with it. Meanwhile, in a mixing glass add and stir –
Three ounces straight rye whiskey
3/4 ounce simple syrup
Peychaud’s bitters to taste (which means dump a whole lot in there)
Once the ice has diluted, strain the liquid from your mixing glass into your drinking vessel. Be sure to stir your Sazerac. You can give it a good stir before tending to the absinthe wash. You want the melted ice to dilute the cocktail in a nice way. But strain, yes, and season the rim with a twist of lemon. Anything that happens afterwards – you’re on your own.
The Sazerac is my favorite cocktail. Be careful with it. One will put you right. Two – well, I hope you don’t have anywhere to be tomorrow. By three? Tho’ I’ve been there, I can’t recall the circumstances… Exactly.