Classic: The Sazerac

When people see my home bar their eyes tend to glaze over. I have everything you could want, which leaves people too overwhelmed to figure out what they really want to drink. When they ask me to surprise them, I make a Sazerac.

Since it doesn’t require any fresh ingredients like lemon juice, the Sazerac is easy to make in a pinch if I haven’t been to the grocery store recently. It is also fairly simple and has a story behind it. The one I tell is that it’s one of the oldest cocktails ever made (dating back to 1859, though the recipe has evolved). It originated in New Orleans, where they say the tourists drink Hurricanes, but the locals drink Sazeracs. I like that.

Here’s how I make it:

The Sazerac
1 tsp. Absinthe liqueur (preferably Herbsaint)
1 1/2 to 2 oz. Rye Whiskey (preferably Old Overholt)
1 sugar cube
several dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Coat the inside of a cocktail glass with the Herbsaint and pour out the excess. Shake the remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Caveat: You have to like absinthe (that is, licorice) to enjoy the Sazerac, but it’s not overpowering in the drink. A good Sazerac has that classic rye kick, balanced by the sweetness of the sugar. If you like an Old-Fashioned, you ought to love a Sazerac.

I’ve seen this made with numerous variations. Chenery Park restaurant, a local haunt, makes it with, of all things, Crown Royal. Canadian whiskey in a Sazerac is about as heretical as it comes, but the drink isn’t bad. It’s perfectly palatable, but lacks the rye spiciness that makes the cocktail so memorable. You may not use Old Overholt (though it’s so good and so cheap I don’t know why you wouldn’t), but for Pete’s sake don’t use foreign whiskey in this all-American drink. Some also serve the drink in an old-fashioned glass, but I like the way the residual sugar pools at the bottom of a cocktail glass. If you don’t like that rush of sweetness at the end, sub in simple syrup instead of granulated sugar.

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