Monday, February 8, 2016

A taste of NOLA: the Sazerac

Posted By on Mon, Feb 8, 2016 at 9:00 AM

WIth Mardi Gras right around the corner, my thoughts fondly drift towards the Sazerac. This cocktail is a quintessential New Orleans drink that reflects the city’s deep French-inspired history, and how it has evolved and adapted into its current form.

Often called the “oldest cocktail,” (although the truth of that is debatable), the Sazerac is the official cocktail of New Orleans. This dark red drink, a glass neither half full nor half empty, epitomizes languid days slipping by as you sip it. The Sazerac began its life as a Cognac-based cocktail, taking its name from a specific Cognac brand—Sazerac de Forge et Fils. When this cognac was coupled with the late 19th Century's  bad boy spirit Absinthe, a little bitters and a touch of sugar, the drink that would come to permeate The Big Easy was born.

Then the grapevines died. European vineyards and vines fell victim to the aphid-like pest phylloxera, which devastated crops and yields. To this day, the shadow of phylloxera has shaped wines—but that is a different story. The insect scourge meant New Orleans was now facing a crisis for its much-beloved drink. In the sudden absence of Cognac, the Sazerac turned to one of America’s great spirits—rye whiskey.

The Sazerac continued to flourish in New Orleans even as absinthe was banned in the United States, turning to anise-flavored substitutes. These liquors and liqueurs brought a similar flavor and a similar joy to the Sazerac, with New Orleans expressly adopting the local product Herbsaint as the proper ingredient while Pernod and other pastis spread elsewhere.

These ingredients, however, all play around the constant Peychaud’s Bitters in the drink. These aromatic bitters are synonymous with New Orleans. Peychaud’s have less, well, bitterness and a bit more sweetness than the baseline Angostura bitters. This flavor profile helps give the drink a bright, almost brilliant red color of and acts to tie the entire drink together.

The good news is that if you have some rye leftover from our discussion of the Manhattan last month, the Sazerac is only a step or two away. This variation on the Old Fashioned is made traditionally with with two glasses instead of a mixing tin, but very little harm will be done if you do.

click to enlarge Sazerac ingredients - JOEL DIPIPPA
  • Joel DiPippa
  • Sazerac ingredients


*2 ounces Rye Whiskey
*1/4 ounce Absinthe, Herbsaint or Pernod
*1/2 ounce Simple Syrup
* Peychauds Bitters to taste, I prefer 4-5 dashes myself
* Lemon Twist to garnish


1. Swirl the serving glass with the absinthe, herbsaint or pernod, coating the inside of the glass.
2. Fill glass with crushed ice to chill and absorb any excess spirit.
3. In mixing glass or tin, combine sugar, whiskey and bitters to taste.
4. Add ice to glass or mixing tin and stir to combine well.
5. Discard ice in the absinthe-coated glass.
6. Strain mixing glass into serving glass coated glass. Garnish with a lemon twist, lightly pressing to express the lemon oil.

click to enlarge Sazerac, ready to drink. - JOEL DIPIPPA
  • Joel DiPippa
  • Sazerac, ready to drink.

Around Town:

click to enlarge Sazerac from Trio's - JOEL DIPIPPA
  • Joel DiPippa
  • Sazerac from Trio's


You can almost be forgiven if you forget that Capi Peck’s Trio's serves up fantastic cocktails. Merrick has made a point to keep the cocktail menu evolving over time, but the classic sazerac has a place on the menu year-round. Using an atomizer, the glass gets a spritz of pernod not once, but twice, as another spritz is used once the drink is in the glass. This gives the anise-nose a real prominence which plays well with the additional spice from mixing Peychaud’s Bitters with Angostua at Trios.

click to enlarge Sazerac from Capital Bar and Grill - JOEL DIPIPPA
  • Joel DiPippa
  • Sazerac from Capital Bar and Grill

Capital Bar and Grill

A Sazerac oozes elegance and old world charm, which makes it right at home in CBG. On a recent trip to CBG, I got a hint at what is coming in the soon-to-be revamped cocktail menu with an increase in experimentation and signature cocktails. In addition to a standard Sazerac, CBG offers a smoked Sazerac where your glass is delivered with smoke from one of several kinds of wood. I choose hickory smoke to go with my rye, but maple, apple and more are also available. The smoke added just the right amount of body to the nose without overwhelming the anise and spice notes in the drink. A quick sip confirmed that this was indeed a Sazerac, but also something new and complex. If you want to go old school, CBG does offer a Cognac Sazerac to taste the original formulation.

Four Quarters

Four Quarters isn’t opened yet, but the New Orleans inspired eatery has plans for a Sazerac on the regular bar menu according to the word on the street. More on them coming up.

Have a favorite sazerac? Let us know about it down in the comments. And laissez les bon temps rouler

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