TGIF: Jon Batiste and the Sazerac

Sazerac

sazerac cocktail in a crystal-cut glass with a lemon peel garnish

Ingredients

  • Absinthe, to rinse
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 1/2 teaspoon cold water
  • 3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 1/4 ounces rye whiskey
  • 1 1/4 ounces cognac
  • Garnish: lemon peel

Steps

  1. Rinse a chilled rocks glass with absinthe, discarding any excess, and set aside.
  2. In a mixing glass, muddle the sugar cube, water and the Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters.
  3. Add the rye and cognac, fill the mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
  4. Strain into the prepared glass.
  5. Twist the lemon peel over the drink’s surface to extract the peel’s oils, and then garnish with the peel.

The Sazerac, which is a close cousin to the Old Fashioned, has been kicking around in one form or another since as early as 1838 (with other reports pegging its invention closer to the late-1800s) and was trademarked in 1900 by Sazerac Co. The Sazerac was crowned the official cocktail of New Orleans in 2008, a designation more suited to marketers than drink mixers. The truth is the Sazerac has always belonged to the Crescent City.

It is believed that the first Sazeracs were made with French brandy—Sazerac de Forge et Fils, to be exact. And it’s known that those first Sazeracs contained Peychaud’s bitters, a bright-red concoction with flavors of gentian and anise that was invented by New Orleans resident Antoine Peychaud. Add some sugar and a dash of absinthe, and you have a strong, aromatic drink that embodies the city from whence it hails.

Eventually, that French brandy was replaced with American rye whiskey, a spirit that grew in both popularity and availability during the 19th century. Brandy or cognac, which are distilled from grapes, yield a Sazerac that is fruity and floral, different than today’s rye-based versions, which feature the grain spirit’s trademark spice notes. 

A well-made rye Sazerac is indeed a tasty cocktail, full of kick and depth, though perhaps a hair too much muscle. That’s why this recipe combines equal parts cognac and rye, not as a gestural homage to a lost classic but because the two work together so perfectly. The opposing pairing, when accented by the licorice flavors of absinthe, produces a cocktail that’s simultaneously soft and bold, smooth and brash—and unmistakably New Orleans.

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