The Sazerac is a show-stopper for many reasons. It is rich in history and in flavor, and while it has been popularized over the years – I’m still impressed anytime someone sits down and orders one off of the bat.
I’d like to say it is an easy cocktail to make, but unfortunately I’ve seen many people build this thing so disgracefully it would have Thomas Handy rolling over in his grave. What should be a mostly clear, rich and luscious concoction sometimes takes a beating and clouds from excessive use of absinthe, or is littered with ice shards from – dare I say it – shaking.
So where was this lovely drink born, and how do you make it the right way?
It is said that in the mid-1800’s, an establishment known as the Sazerac Coffee House began to serve alcohol when the proprietor went into the liquor importing business. One of his imports was Sazerac de Forge et Fills Cognac, which would them be combined with absinthe or anisette, a little sugar, and some of Antoine Peychauds bitters from the apothecary down the street.
But wait, where does whiskey come into play? In the late 19th century, the phylloxera epidemic destroyed the vineyards of Europe. Because their beloved cognac was produced from grapes, we turned to what was plentiful at the time – rye whiskey.
To put another piece of the whiskey puzzle together for all of my fellow super-nerds, the Sazerac Coffee House changed ownership around 1870 to Thomas Handy, who was the first to record the recipe that we know so well today. If that name sounds familiar, take a look at Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection, where you will find the strong and spicy Thomas Handy Rye Whiskey standing proudly at barrel-proof.
Enough of my rambling, here is what I have found to be the most acceptable (and delicious!) version of the Sazerac cocktail.
First, set aside a rocks glass, filled with ice, and pour about half and ounce of Absinthe in the bottom. In a separate mixing glass, douse your sugar cube in bitters and muddle thoroughly. To that, add your whiskey, ice, and stir. Return to your first glass, slowly dump out the Absinthe laced ice, making sure you have coated the interior of the glass. Strain your whiskey and bitters into it, express a lemon peel over the top, curl it around the edge and there you have it!
Cheers, ladies! Go make Thomas Handy proud!