Thursday, May 22, 2014

Trust Me, You're Drinking Your Sazerac Wrong

Ah, the Sazerac, what a contentious cocktail. 

The Sazerac is the holy grail of historical cocktails, and is argued to be where the name cocktail originates (a mixture of spirits, bitters, and sugar, to be exact), although cocktail historian David Wondrich contests this theory.  Somewhere along the line, it was decided that the Sazerac must be made with surgeon-like precision, and that any variation from the recipe deems the cocktail not a Sazerac, and instead some sort of bastard cocktail unworthy of consumption.

I for one, have historically stayed vehemently true to the well known recipe (pulled from the PDT cocktail book) until now...

The classic recipe calls for:

2 oz Rye Whiskey
3 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 demerara sugar cube 

Muddle the sugar and bitters, then add whiskey and ice.

Stir and Strain into a chilled, Vieux Pontarlier Absinthe-rinsed rocks glass.

Twist a lemon peel over the surface and discard.

(credited to William Boothby, World Drinks and How to Mix them 1908)

Confession: the first time I made this cocktail I used Angostura bitters (we were out of Peychaud's), and fell in love with the drink.  Upon visiting the famed Sazerac Bar in New Orleans, I had a traditional  Sazerac, and was profoundly disappointed.  Apparently, I don't like the strong medicinal flavor of Peychaud's.  Wah Wah.  So, I've continued along my merry way, making them wrong, and liking it.

I recently sat down with Ted Breaux, creator and master distiller of Lucid Absinthe to discuss the Sazerac and many of the myths of Absinthe (no, it will not make you hallucinate).   Mr Breaux tells me that Absinthe, as well as Peychaud's were used as medicinal elixirs in the 19th century and were often mixed with whiskey and sugar to help the medicine go down.  It was believed that Absinthe was good for the digestive system, and Peychaud's was good for over-all health and well being.

His favorite Sazerac recipe comes from the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans, and dates from the 1880s.  Historical note: the original Sazerac Coffee House Sazerac was made with brandy, not whiskey, and the recipe changed in 1873 to use rye whiskey and included Absinthe.

The recipe is heavy on the Absinthe (Lucid, obviously), heavy on the Peychaud's, and uses Gum syrup instead of a simple syrup or a muddled sugar cube.  (Note: You can substitute Demerara Simple Syrup for the Gum Syrup, it still makes a damn fine cocktail).  I find that the more generous pour of Absinthe balances delightfully with the Peychaud's, and the gum syrup gives the cocktail a thicker viscosity and a quite pleasant mouth feel.  And - the shocker - lemon peel in the cocktail!  Gasp!  The horror!

Calm down, it's delicious.  Give it a try, and if it doesn't please, you can always go back to the original recipe, Absinthe wash and all.

Sazerac Coffee House - 19th Century, favorite recipe of Ted Breaux

2 oz Rye Whiskey
1/2 oz Gum Syrup*
1/4 oz Lucid Absinthe
5 drops Peychaud's Bitters
Lemon Peel to Garnish

Stir and Strain into a chilled low ball glass.

Twist a lemon peel on top, and float on the surface of the drink.

 Gum Syrup

100 g Gum Arabic
100 g water

Heat and stir until dissolved completely.

In a second pot, prepare a Rich Simple Syrup of 2 parts demerara sugar, 1 part water, and heat until completely dissolved.

Mix the two syrups:  1 part Gum Syrup to 2 parts Rich Simple.

Store in a glass bottle, and refrigerate.

Keep Reading: 

Gaz Regan's Historical Timeline of the Sazerac >>

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