It may or may not be America’s first cocktail, but it is one of my favorite drinks. Famously made in The Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel (which is now home to our new Italian restaurant, Domenica), my version has Herbsaint, the anise-flavored liqueur invented in New Orleans when absinthe was banned in the 1930s.
Adapted from "My New Orleans: The Cookbook" by Chef John Besh.
- Herbsaint or absinthe
- Twist of lemon peel
- 2 shots rye whiskey
- 1 shot simple syrup
- 4 dashes Peychaud’s or Angostura bitters
Rim the glass with Herbsaint or absinthe. Twist the lemon peel to releases oils, then drop it into the glass.
Pour the rye, simple syrup, and bitters into a cocktail shaker filled with crushed ice and shake well. Strain into the prepared glass.
Combining rye whiskey with a bitters-soaked sugar cube and Herbsaint, an anise-flavored liquor, the Sazerac cocktail is a complex whiskey drink not for the fainthearted. And this recipe from Robert Simonson is no exception.
While rye whiskey is a necessity in a Sazerac, Simonson recommends absinthe as an alternative for Herbsaint. As for discarding the twist rather than dropping it into the cocktail, Simonson explains, &ldquoDon&rsquot ask why just do it.&rdquo
1 sugar cube
3 drops Peychaud's bitters
1 dash angostura bitters
1 jigger rye whiskey
1 splash Herbsaint or Pernod
1 strip lemon peel
Place the sugar cube and just enough water to moisten it in a glass or shaker. Gently crush the sugar with a spoon and then add both bitters, the whiskey and 3-4 ice cubes. Stir gently to mix (Do not shake).
Add a splash of Herbsaint or Pernod to an old fashioned or rocks glass. Swirl the liquid around the glass to coat it then dump out any excess.
Strain the whiskey mixture into the coated glass. Add the lemon peel and serve immediately.
From Punch (http://punchdrink.com)
- 1 1/2 ounces rye, preferably Hochstadter's Vatted Rye
- 1/2 ounce Cognac, preferably Louis Royer Force 53°
- 1 teaspoon rich demerara syrup (2:1, demerara sugar: water)
- 4 dashes Peychaud's bitters
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- 1/4 ounce absinthe, preferably Pernod (to rinse)
Garnish: expressed lemon peel
- Rinse a chilled glass with absinthe and set aside.
- Combine the remaining ingredients in a mixing glass over ice and stir until chilled.
- Strain into the prepared glass.
- Garnish with an expressed lemon peel held 4 to 6 inches over the surface of the drink.
Get our freshest features and recipes weekly.
- In old-fashioned glass, add ice and set aside. In another, combine sugar, bitters, and water. Muddle until sugar is completely dissolved. Add rye whiskey, fill with ice, and stir well, about 15 seconds. From first glass, discard ice, then add Herbsaint. Holding glass horizontally, turn it so that Herbsaint completely coats the interior. Discard any excess. Strain contents of second glass into chilled glass. Twist lemon peel directly over drink to release essential oils, and serve.
This Recipe is Featured In:
Sazerac Drink Recipe
Unlike many of America's earliest cocktails, the Sazerac involves a fair number of ingredients and multiple mixing glasses for a standard preparation. With the Sazerac, practice actually does make perfect, and you might want to try making this cocktail a few times for yourself before mixing a large number of pitchers up for friends or family to try.
- 1 sugar cube
- 2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- 2 ounces rye whiskey
- ¼ ounce Herbsaint or absinthe
- 1 lemon peel for garnish
- Line up two chilled rocks glasses.
- In one glass, add the sugar cube, Peychaud's bitters, and Angostura bitters. Muddle the three together.
- Pour the rye whiskey into the sugar and bitters mixture.
- In the second glass, pour the Herbsaint or absinthe. Swish it around the glass to coat the insides and pour out the excess.
- Strain the first glass into the Herbsaint-coated glass and garnish with a lemon peel.
How to make a Sazerac, a New Orleans cocktail with a sweet and spicy bite
By Erin Keane
Published February 13, 2021 9:30PM (UTC)
The Oracle Pour (Illustration By Ilana Lidagoster)
"The Oracle Pour" is Salon Food's spirits column that helps you decide what to drink tonight.
Perhaps right now you are ice-bound. Perhaps a thawing — of the ground, of the protective shells we've built around ourselves — feels far-away, speculative even. What if we could go outside without pain or panic? What if drinks with friends, or strangers, or strangers who become friends for one evening and then vanish into sweet memory, were possible right this second? Where would you go? What would you order? What would you add to your repertoire that would then influence the next round of drinks, of destinations?
The choices at times seem endless. A basic cocktail may have but a handful of elements — spirits, bitters, sugar, water — but from those essential building blocks grows an endless menu of interpretations and remixes and ingredients to satisfy ever-changing palates, distinct occasions and appetites.
Let's narrow down our quest. In a normal year we might expect to be headlong into a season of deep indulgence before our ritual period of repentance, reflection and sacrifice. The highs, the lows. But here we are instead, a sameness smoothing out the sharp corners of our evenings, which give way to dreams colored by anxiety and fear. Where better to transport ourselves than to New Orleans, a city that enchants and delights, but never coddles?
Mardi Gras season should be underway, a rush of revelry before the fast. But this year, the city's annual carnival parades have been canceled due to the pandemic, so residents have transformed their houses into stationary floats, a testament to the resilience of the imagination. Salute that transformative power with a Sazerac, the New Orleans classic that captures the sweet and spicy bite of a city that always turns out to be more than the sum of its parts.
In his essential book "Imbibe," David Wondrich calls the Sazerac — created in the Crescent City before the turn of the 20th century — "New Orleans' own liquid lagniappe." Adding a rinse of absinthe on the way in and a misting of lemon oil on the way out to the basic cocktail building blocks gives you a complex drink that packs a velvet punch.
A note about absinthe: A mere haunting of it remains behind in the glass, and yet its anise flavor remains essential to the character of the drink. Almost a decade ago, I spent a short honeymoon in New Orleans, where I made it a point to ask bartenders for their suggestions rather than place orders. Accepting a marriage proposal turned out to be a good idea, despite having not thought of it myself. What else might I like if I tried it? One night in a Soviet era-themed bar on Decatur Street, I let the bartender choose, and he poured me a $15 glass of absinthe. What could be more romantic, I thought, than sipping absinthe with my new spouse in a quiet, dark place where secrets might be traded? What other exotic adventures might await me if I am open to suggestions from the universe?
But I did not fall in love with absinthe that night. In fact, I nursed the drink but never finished it, walking it all the way back to our hotel, taking ever-smaller sips, reluctant to give up on an expensive, whimsical pour with a romantic past, or on the promise of the minor delight of my evening taking even a small turn for the unexpected, until finally abandoning it, half-finished on the night stand. What is more romantic, I learned, is understanding your tastes and finding suitable matches for them. As it turns out, the bite of rye complicated by bitters, cut with sugar, then graced with a hint absinthe and a kiss of lemon? Transforms a spirit I'm ambivalent about into a magical experience.
Serving size: one beverage
- 2 oz. rye whiskey
- Absinthe, for rinsing
- Peychaud's bitters
- Angostura bitters
- Sugar cube
- Lemon twist or peel
You don't need any specialty equipment to mix or serve a simple cocktail. Improvise with what you have. But here's what I keep at hand:
Chill a rocks glass with ice, then toss the ice and rinse the glass with absinthe. In your mixer glass, add a few dashes of Peychaud's bitters and a couple of Angostura to a sugar cube, and muddle them together until the sugar is dissolved. Add ice, then whiskey. Stir until good and chilled, then strain into the absinthe-rinsed, chilled rocks glass. Express the lemon peel — pinch it over the drink to release the oils, gently swipe the interior side across the rim of the glass — then discard.
When absinthe was illegal in the U.S. and hard to source, anise-flavored liqueur Herbsaint served as a fine stand-in, and it still may. I like to use Pernod, another anise liqueur — I find it more versatile, if sweeter than absinthe, and therefore more likely to already be on my home shelf — but know that purists may reject that spin. You can also skip the Angostura and double down on the Peychaud's bitters. If you're feeling extra French, Jim Meehan's "Meehan's Bartender Manual" suggests trying it with cognac instead of whiskey.
More Oracle Pour:
Salon Food writes about stuff we think you'll like. Salon has affiliate partnerships, so we may get a share of the revenue from your purchase.
Erin Keane is Salon's Editor in Chief.
MORE FROM Erin Keane • FOLLOW eekshecried
Recipe for Fall: Sazerac Cocktail
As the days grow shorter and cooler, I begin to crave drinks with subtle, complex flavors. With its delicately layered and nuanced flavors and aromas, the Sazerac feels like the perfect drink for this time of year.
Although, for some, the Sazerac might be more likely to bring to mind sultry summer weather (it is the official drink of the City of New Orleans, after all), its warming whiskey base and aromatic layers of anise, spice, and citrus make it a lovely choice for toasting the changing colors of fall.
Invented around 1830 by Emile Peychaud, an apothecary who created herbal medicines in French Quarter of New Orleans, the Sazerac is believed to be the very first cocktail ever created. (For more on this story – and on the cocktail’s cinematic claim to fame – see our previous posts on James Bond and cocktail bitters.)
As is the case with any cocktail that’s been around more than a few decades, the Sazerac has seen more than a few variations on its basic recipe. Some versions call for Cognac as a base spirit, others rye whiskey, and others still, a mixture of both. Some add a dash of Angostura bitters to the Peychaud’s. Some get their sweetness from a sugar cube, others from simple syrup. Some are served over ice in a rocks glass, others…well, you get the idea. What follows is my own favorite way to make and serve a Sazerac. I hope you’ll enjoy it too.
A Jazzy Sazerac Recipe
Said to be New Orleans' first cocktail, the Sazerac is a staple for Mardi Gras.
It&aposs often said that the word "cocktail" originated in New Orleans. That it is derived from the French word coquetier, an egg cup that was used to serve spirited beverages in the Crescent City in the early 19th century. Whether New Orleans is the official home to the "cocktail" or not, a visit to NOLA (as the city&aposs affectionately called) proves, if anything, that they take their drinks seriously. And now, the city has been honored with its own official cocktail--the sazerac.
The Louisiana legislature passed a bill, originally proposed by Senator Edwin Murray, naming the sazerac the official beverage of the city of New Orleans. This concoction of rye, Herbsaint (or absinthe), and Peychaud&aposs bitters packs a punch.
The sazerac, created by Antoine Peychaud in New Orleans in the early 1800s, was originally made with Cognac and Peychaud&aposs bitters. He named the drink after his favorite brand of Cognac-the Sazerac-de-Forge-et fils. However, in 1870, Cognac was hard to find because of an epidemic affecting grape vineyards in France. Rye whiskey was used as a substitute. Also, absinthe, which was used to coat the cocktail glass, was banned in the United States in 1912. Hence, Pernod or Herbsaint was substituted.
Lately, one Angeleno has been telling bartenders to keep adding bitters to her Champagne cocktail “until it’s the color of my prom dress.” That’s way more than a dash or two -- it takes about a teaspoon of Angostura to turn Champagne pink.
She positively likes bitters. How about that? Not too long ago, bitters seemed just a weird leftover from the golden age of 19th century quack medicines -- an evil-tasting liquid that came in tiny bottles with wordy, antique labels. It may have been traditional in certain cocktails, but many people had taken to leaving it out.
Today, though, these bitter extracts of roots, barks and other botanical ingredients seem to be making a comeback. Just a few years ago, liquor stores usually carried only one brand of bitters, Angostura, but now you can easily find five or six, with radically different flavors, including orange, peach and mint.
The fact is, you can get tired of all the simple-minded cocktails being invented in this flavored-vodka-plus-fruit-juice age. Bitters clean up after too much sweetness.
Still, the taste for bitterness might seem surprising. We all think bitterness is unpleasant -- but is it? Children certainly don’t like it, but as grown-ups we learn to love coffee and chocolate. In fact, these days we’re actually going for more bitterness -- espresso, ever darker and more bitter chocolate.
“From a taste standpoint,” says Peter Birmingham, bartender-sommelier at Norman’s in West Hollywood, “a bitters makes the mouth water and promotes visual and smell pleasures, because it contains concentrated flavor essences. The bitterness itself makes the flavors [of a drink] extend. Here at Norman’s, we hang our hat on a Manhattan made with Peychaud bitters, sweet vermouth and Joshua Brook bourbon.”
The Manhattan is a classic cocktail because it harmoniously amplifies the rugged, woody flavor of whiskey with the fruity sweetness of vermouth and the perfume and bracing astringency of bitters. Birmingham’s particular version relies on the exotic flavor of Peychaud.
“Most bars don’t even bother using Angostura bitters in their Manhattans anymore, which is a real shame,” says Jeremiah Doherty of Grace in Los Angeles. “Try the two side by side and you’ll be able to tell the difference, I promise.”
“Another thing,” says Birmingham. “Most bitters have a modest alcohol profile, so they give you a lift without mowing you down. They’re particularly useful in non-alcoholic cocktails.” For pregnant women and others who want a very low alcohol drink, Birmingham makes a virgin mojito with a couple of splashes of mint bitters. “It’s like mint-flavored limeade with a little something extra,” he says.
Bitters were originally medicines. If you tell a bartender you have an upset stomach, he’ll probably give you a glass of soda and bitters -- and it will probably work. A lot of people trust bitters to see them through the early stages of a hangover. Certain bitters started out as malaria treatments, because they contained quinine, just as tonic water does.
Still others once claimed to cure absolutely anything that ailed you. Many of the worthless patent medicines so popular in the late 19th century billed themselves as bitters. One secret of their popularity was the fact that they were extracted from all their secret roots and herbs with alcohol. They were a respectable way of getting a shot of booze.
So it’s not surprising that medicinal bitters ended up in mixed drinks, particularly when their beneficial effect on flavor was recognized. Until the late 1880s, every drink called a cocktail contained bitters.
There’s a distinction to be made between aromatic bitters -- the kind that come in tiny bottles and are used in small quantities as a flavoring -- and bitter liqueurs. The latter can be, and often are, drunk by themselves, because they’re sweet enough to be palatable. Downing a shot of Jager is one thing, but even the biggest bitters fan in the world probably wouldn’t drink a whole glass of Angostura.
The best-known aromatic bitters is Angostura with its spicy, clove-like aroma. “Angostura is versatile,” says Birmingham. “It has a wide range of applications. But like Worcestershire sauce, it has only one note.”
Peychaud’s bitters has an anise and aromatic root scent, which makes it particularly suitable to cocktails with an anisette component, such as the famous Sazerac. Both Angostura and Peychaud’s get their bitterness from gentian root, which adds its own dry, sardonic aroma.
Orange peel is bitter as well as fragrant, and there were several brands of orange bitters on the market through the 1950s before they died out. The style has recently been revived. Fee Bros. is the most widely available brand, found in many larger liquor stores (Fee’s also makes three other bitters see the box on Page 9). The Stirrings company of Nantucket, whose mixers are carried by Sur La Table, has just introduced a bitters made from blood oranges. Author-bartender Gary Regan makes Regan’s Orange Bitters, which has a more aggressive flavor than the others, fuller, spicier and more bitter.
In the 19th century, orange bitters was the choice for gin or vermouth cocktails, while Angostura tended to go with whiskey or Champagne. A new generation of mixologists may or may not follow that tradition.
By comparison with this short list of aromatic bitters, there are literally scores of bitter liqueurs, ranging from mildly bitter vermouth and the familiar liqueurs Dubonnet and Campari to rarities such as Jeppson Malort and Zwack Unicum. Nearly every country in Europe has its own traditional bitter liqueurs. They all have their uses.
Grace’s Doherty has created two cocktails that capitalize on bitters. The Luca Brasi is his version of the Americano -- Charbay blood orange vodka, Punt e Mes (a bittered vermouth) and soda. His latest is the Marco Polo: Bombay gin, ginger juice, Campari and soda.
“I started this one with just gin and the ginger juice but felt it was too sweet,” says Doherty. “So I added Campari, and the drink changed completely. The bitter was just the thing to cut the sweetness, bring out the flavors of the gin and tame the fire of the ginger.”
Some cocktails, such as sours and highballs, aren’t improved by a bitter flavoring, the latter because they’re intentionally light and simple, the former because -- the virgin mojito notwithstanding -- sourness and bitterness rarely go well together. In others, though, people instinctively add a bitter flavor, whether or not they actually reach for a bitters bottle.
Take the martini. Originally it consisted of gin, vermouth and orange bitters, but the bitters dropped out of the formula early in the 20th century. What saved the martini from blandness (especially as people started using less and less vermouth) was a bitter garnish, either an olive or a twist of lemon peel. And eventually we got the dirty martini, flavored with olive brine -- which is, in effect, a salty bitters for a post-margarita generation.
If aromatic bitters are basically a flavoring, why not use them in food? People do.
The label of the Angostura bottle has always suggested adding a dash to stews, sauces and salad dressings. Six years ago, Trinidad food writer Wendy Rahamut published a cookbook (“The Taste That Changed the World”) in which she threw Angostura into just about anything you can imagine -- coleslaw, pea soup, pot roast, lasagna -- producing a pleasant, mysterious effect, like the indefinable sparkle a dish gets from a dash of Worcestershire.
Some people even put a little on their vanilla ice cream. Once you start down the bitters trail, you can feel like slapping every simple-minded sweet taste on Earth with a jolt of grown-up complexity and sophistication.
Angostura. Developed in Venezuela by a German doctor, it’s the long-standing favorite sweet spice (mostly clove) aroma with a winy character.
Fee Bros. Based in Rochester, N.Y., this company makes several rather mild bitters including Old Fashion Bitters, clove and citrus note but not much bitterness Orange Bitters, like a spiced triple sec with bitter orange peel Mint Bitters, peppermint with an edge Peach Bitters, aroma of peaches and bitter almonds.
Peychaud’s. Made by the Sazerac Co. of New Orleans with a complex aroma suggesting anise with a hint of root beer.
Regan’s. Gary Regan, author of “The Joy of Mixology,” makes a spicy, peppery Orange Bitters, aggressively flavored with gentian and quinine. At www.buffalotrace.com.
Agwa. A Bolivian liqueur with an attractive bitterness and a slight stimulative effect -- contains ginseng, guarana and (nonnarcotic) coca leaf.
Amaro Felsina Ramazzotti. A vermouth with bitter orange flavors.
Campari. A bitter vermouth with a cherry-like aroma.
Cynar. A sweet vermouth bittered with artichoke.
Dubonnet. A vermouth flavored with quinine, herbs and spices.
Fernet Branca. Numerous herbs, including peppermint from a Milan producer.
Jagermeister. Complex herbal flavor from Germany.
Punt e Mes. A bitter vermouth.
Suze. The French aperitif flavors of gentian, orange and vanilla.
Torani Amer. A sweet vermouth with orange, gentian and quinine flavors, somewhat reminiscent of Amer Picon, a traditional Basque vermouth not available in this country.