The Sazerac Cocktail is one of my favorite whiskey cocktails. The simple yet potent cocktail is one of the, if not the oldest cocktails in the United States. The mystery, intrigue, and sophistication of the cocktail will make a Teetotaler curious.
There are a couple of strong origin theories but before we get into its history, what is a Sazerac? The Sazerac is a local New Orleans variation of a cognac cocktail. The drink is most traditionally a combination rye whiskey, absinthe, Peychaud’s Bitters, and sugar.
So where did this cocktail come from? One theory is that around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his New Orleans bar, The Merchants Exchange Coffee House, to become an importer of spirits. He began to import a brand of cognac named Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils. Meanwhile, Aaron Bird assumed ownership of the Merchants Exchange and changed its name to Sazerac Coffee House.
Legend has it that Bird began serving the “Sazerac Cocktail”, made with cognac imported by Taylor and bitters from the local apothecary, Antoine Amedie Peychaud. The Sazerac Coffee House changed hands several times until 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.
During this same time, T.V. Munson was working on a rootstock that would save the French wine and Cognac industry. How Texas saved the French wine and Cognac industry is a story for another time.
Sometime before his death in 1889, Handy recorded the recipe for the cocktail. It made its first printed appearance in The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them (1908). At least, according to Wikipedia.
Another story goes that in 1838, Creole apothecary Antoine Peychaud invented the Sazerac. They say he first served it to his fellow Masons after hours in an egg cup –a coquetier—a word that some insist morphed into “cocktail.” We now know that it did not. The name of the drink comes from Peychaud’s favorite French brandy, Sazerac-de-Forge et fils.
No matter which story is true, it is intriguing and fun.
So how can you have an authentic Sazerac when Absinthe is illegal in the United States? Well, it was illegal and I am sure some variations still are. The Absinthe prohibition act passed in 1915 — but thanks to T.A. Breaux in 2007, the TTB issued its final approval, allowing Lucid Absinthe Superieure to be the first genuine absinthe imported in 95 years.
What is genuine absinthe? You can find the long and detailed on their website, but in short, it is an herb-to-bottle product. The recipe is from 100+ years ago and uses only natural French herbs with the appropriate amount of Wormwood.
While there is still much more we could dive into, let’s get to the cocktail.
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
How to make
Rinse a chilled old-fashioned glass with the absinthe, add crushed ice and set it aside. In a separate glass, stir the rye, simple syrup, and bitters over ice. Discard the ice and any excess absinthe from the prepared glass. Then strain the other ingredients into the empty glass. Add the lemon peel for garnish.
Which rye whiskey to use?
Now, which rye whiskey do you choose? Choose the one you like, as the quality of the rye is important in this whiskey-forward drink. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try out different rye whiskey until you find your favorite. We are always searching for the best of the best ourselves, but here are three options we like:
Balcones Texas Rye 100
The herbs and grass from the absinthe dominate the nose. There is a sweetness leading into the chocolate from the malted ryes in the flavor. The finish ends with herbs and anise that sticks around as it coats your mouth.
Ben Milam Rye Whiskey
Again the herbs, anise, and grass from the absinthe lead the way but the grain and dust from the rye quickly catch up. The taste is like a freshly cut green grass and herbs with a fruity sweetness before the anise and familiar rye spice assault your tongue. It has a lighter finish than the Balcones, but more spice.
Ranger Creek .44 Rye
To me, this is the most balanced, with hints of fresh herbs, green apple, and cool damp earth in the nose. The taste is a light citrus and herb bomb with a fruity sweetness. The rye does leave a minor spice on the tip of your tongue, but the finish is shorter.
Let us know what rye you like best. And if a Sazerac cocktail isn’t up your alley, check out the old-fashioned.