Sazerac

Overview

The Sazerac is one of the seminal cocktails of the pre-Prohibition era that has led the charge in the modern cocktail renaissance over the past 15 years, and during that time it has gained quite a following.  It is the official cocktail of New Orleans, and a close relative of the Old Fashioned, (both center around whiskey, sugar, and bitters).  But a few tweaks and a unique preparation propel the Sazerac into a completely different realm. 

 

It is a drink of delicate aromatic layers that need to be placed just so so that one doesn't overwhelm the other.  As such, the preparation involves a few additional steps, most notably the glass being rinsed with absinthe (which will not make you hallucinate) before the cocktail is poured in, more on this in the commentary section. this is below.   

 

Another hallmark characteristic of the Sazerac is that it's served in a rocks glass with no ice and no garnish, which looks very plain.  But I think that’s part of its charm.  The Sazerac is a prince dressed like a pauper, and a worthy - I'd even go as far as to say essential - addition to your cocktail arsenal.

Recipe

 

 

  1. Fill a rocks glass with ice and set it aside to chill.

  2. In a chilled mixing glass, combine all ingredients, except the absinthe, fill with ice and stir for 10-12 seconds

  3. Dump the ice out of the chilling rocks glass and add the splash of absinthe.  Swirl the glass around - or toss it up in the air - so that the absinthe fully coats of the sides of the glass, then dump it out (or drink it!).  

  4. Stir the cocktail a few more times and strain it into the rocks glass.  Do not add any ice!

  5. Hold the lemon peel 4-6 inches above the glass (yes, this actually makes a difference) and express its oils over the drink. the lemon peel while. Discard the peel, do not place it in the glass.

 

 

If you make a Sazerac, let me see!  Tag a photo with #socialhourcocktails on Instagram.

rye whiskey, social hour, tom macy, cocktail, classic cocktail

Commentary

 

Absinthe Rinse

The technique of swirling an ingredient around in a glass and then dumping it out - before adding the cocktail itself - is a called “rinsing the glass”.  This is often employed with ingredients that have particularly potent aromatics - such as absinthe's anise-forward profile.  By coating the sides of the glass with an ingredient rather than actually add it into the drink, you can maximize the aromatic impact without overwhelming the actual cocktail.   The Sazerac rinse it the most famous example of a rinse in a classic cocktail but it is a favorite technique of modern bartenders.  Some other ingredients that are well suited to be used as a rinse are Green Chartreuse (potent French herbal liqueur), Smith and Cross (high ester Jamaican Rum), and any peaty Islay Scotch (Laphroig 10 is a common choice).

 

Chill the glass with Ice, Not in the Freezer

While I'm generally a huge advocate of chilling glasses in the freezer, the Sazerac is an exception.   This is to get the most out of the rinse I just discussed above.  When you rinse a frozen glass with absinthe, or anything for that matter, it will become so cold the aromatics will be stifled and literally held in place.  Those aromatic compounds need to be just a little warmer so they can rise up out of the glass and into your olfactory receptors.  That's why I employ a compromise of taking a room temperature glass and filling it with ice to chill while I make the drink in a separate mixing glass.  This gets the serving glass plenty cold, while not spoiling the drink. 

 

Served Neat & Sazerac Glass

Serving as I explain here, something neat means putting it in a rocks glass with no ice.   It's not a very common way to serve a cocktail, making this another one of the Sazerac's novelties.  But there is a method behind this peculiar madness. The sides of the glass provide ample space for the absinthe and lemon peel to disperse their aromatics.  If you serve a Sazerac in a coupe or Martini glass, the cocktail will come right up to the rim and those aromas would be lost.  

 

On that note, I think the best size of glass to serve a Sazerac is 8-10 ounces.  If you get much larger, the presentation is lacking because the drink only fills a measly quarter of the glass.  But using a small 5-6 ounces glass, which looks much more appealingly full, has its own issues.  There isn't enough surface area for the rinse, and you don't enough absinthe coming through.  8-10 ounces, for me is the sweet spot.  That said, if I had to choose between a 14 oz glass and a 5 oz one, I'd go with 14.  Presentation be damned. 

 

Discarded Lemon Twist

Tossing out the lemon peel after expressing its oils, rather than placing it in the glass, is called "express and discard" in bartender speak.  It is yet another quirks considered essential to the Sazerac's dogma.  As Stanley Clisby Arthur puts it in his 1938 "Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix 'em", "do not commit the sacrilege of dropping the peel into the drink".  

 

But once again, it's not just for show.  Could you drop the peel into the glass?  Sure.  Though I find a lemon peel floating in an iceless rocks glass isn't terribly visually alluring.  I also think by expressing just the oils of the peel avoids overdoing it on the lemon, which should be supporting to the absinthe.  Adding the peel itself can put lemon in the driver's seat and offset that delicate balance. 

 

Sazerac Variations

Like the Old Fashioned, this cocktail is a great formula to plug other spirits, sweeteners or bitters into.  Here are two of my favorites. 

Latin Quarter - Created by Joaquín Simó

  • 2 oz aged rum - on the darker side, preferably

  • 1 teaspoon demerara syrup

  • 4-5 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

  • 1 dash mole bitters

  • splash of absinthe

  • lemon peel for garnish (lime peel is nice too)

 

Prepare as above

Mezcal Sazerac

Mezcal brings yet another aromatic layer to a Sazerac, and it is a thing of beauty.

  

  • 2 oz mezcal

  • ¼ oz simple syrup - or ½ teaspoon agave nectar

  • 4-5 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

  • 1 dash Angostura bitters

  • splash of absinthe

  • orange peel for garnish

 

Prepare as above

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tom@socialhourcocktails.com Brooklyn, NY

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