The Sazerac is a classic New Orleans cocktail. It’s also just a bit harder to make (while requiring a little bit deeper bar shelf at home) than the most-straightforward drinks. It’s a great “we’re not beginners anymore” cocktail and a nice weekend project.
The Sazerac dates back to at least the early 1800s. Cognac, bitters, sugar, water, and absinthe came together to create an old fashioned variation that was very French Quarter (cognac being from Cognac, France, and modern absinthe hailing from francophone Switzerland). But cognac became scarce after the Great French Wine Blight destroyed France’s vines in the mid-1800s. So barkeeps in the Big Easy started using booze from a little closer to home: Rye whiskey.
Fast forward to 2021 and Sazerac’s are generally served either with cognac, rye, or a 50/50 mix of the two as the base spirit. We’re going to make the latter riff today. Why? Because that version of a Sazerac is the most delicious — pairing the vinous, floral, and almost chocolate/nutty nature of a good cognac next to the peppery and fruity rye. It’s a perfct combination with the Peychaud’s Bitters, absinthe, sugar, and lemon oils.
That being said, don’t be afraid to play around with 100 percent cognac or rye versions or create your own golden ratio for this drink. Let’s get mixing!
- 1.5-oz. rye whiskey
- 1.5-oz. cognac
- 4 dashes Peychaud’s Bitter
- 1 barspoon raw sugar or demerara sugar
- 1 barspoon water
- 1 barspoon absinthe
- Lemon peel
This is sort of dealer’s choice when it comes to booze to use. I have a bottle of Hennessy VS and Woodford Reserve Rye on the shelf, so I’m using those. Both bottles are affordable and very easy to locate at any liquor store. Use whatever cognac or rye you have.
As for the absinthe, I’m using a local brand that’s 66 percent ABV. I usually use Pernod but my bottle was empty. Generally speaking, you want to find a bottle that’s between 65 and 75 percent ABV and from France. And no, it’s not going to make you hallucinate. It’s just high-alcohol booze with a lot of herbs in it that never made anyone hallucinate (folks just got very very drunk). In fact, by today’s standard of high-ABV barrel proof whiskey, it’s not even that high of proof anymore. This year’s Buffalo Trace Antique Collection had higher proof whiskey in it than the absinthe I’m using for this cocktail.
Finally, you really need to grab a bottle of Peychaud’s Bitters. The red bitter is what gives the cocktail its reddish hue and subtle bitters edge.
- Pre-chilled rocks glass
- Mixing jug
- Fruit peeler or pairing knife
A couple of quick notes before we dive in. You really need to pre-chill your glass in the freezer. The frozen glass will help the absinthe wash adhere better, allowing a better coating. Think of it like a tongue sticking to a frozen flagpost on a cold winter’s day.
I’m also using demerara sugar, which dissolves pretty quickly. Take your time stirring to make it dissolve fully before you add ice. It’ll be worth it in the final product, trust us. In a pinch, you can use simple syrup. You’ll see a lot of bars (even “good” ones) using simple syrup to keep the flow of drinks going out quickly. It’s fine. But, since this about at-home mixing, take your time and use real sugar.
- Add absinthe to the pre-chilled glass and swirl around to coat the inside of the glass. Pour off excess absinthe.
- In a mixing jug, add in water, bitters, and sugar. Stir until sugar starts to dissolve, creating a reddish base.
- Add cognac and rye and stir until sugar dissolves.
- Add in ice and stir until the cocktail is chilled (the mixing jug should be frosted over on the outside).
- Strain the drink into the waiting rocks glass.
- Spritz the lemon oils from the peel over the cocktail and rub the peel around the glass. Discard peel.
This is a really, really tasty drink but might be an acquired taste for some. The anise and fennel are just there but fade as you drink, and those flavor notes will be what turn some people off. The nuttiness of the Hennessy is a great counterpoint to the peppery rye and both are smoothed out by the bitters and sugar. The lemon oils bring it all together and really help it feel both very light and bright.
This always goes down too easily and you’ll find yourself making another before you know it. If that’s the case, try it with only the cognac or rye. Maybe adjust the ratios a little to lean into certain flavors. It’ll be a fun mixing session no matter what you try!