cocktail time

The Sazerac Cocktail
After writing in
Looka! about my 2000 trip
home for Jazzfest and my rediscovery of the Sazerac as being my
favorite cocktail of all time, a gentleman wrote in to ask why I
didn’t talk about having any Hurricanes during my visit home.

I replied, “Hurricanes
are for tourists. Sazeracs are for natives.” Here’s how you make

1 teaspoon of simple syrup (or 1 sugar cube or 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar)
3 – 4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
2 ounces rye whiskey (most New Orleans bars use Old Overholt)
1/4 teaspoon Herbsaint, a New Orleans brand of anise liqueur
        (You may use Pernod, or some other pastis or absinthe substitute)
Strip of lemon peel

The traditional method: Pack a 3-1/2 ounce old fashioned glass with
ice. In a cocktail shaker, moisten the sugar cube with just enough water
to saturate it, then crush. Blend with the whiskey and bitters. Add a few
cubes of ice and stir to chill. Discard the ice from the first glass and
pour in the Herbsaint. Coat the inside of the entire glass, pouring out
the excess. Strain the whiskey into the Herbsaint coated glass. Twist
the lemon peel over the glass so that the lemon oil cascades into the
drink, then rub the peel over the rim of the glass; do not put the twist
in the drink. Or, as Stanley Clisby Arthur says, “Do not commit
the sacrilege of dropping the peel into the drink.”

My preferred method:
(Notes — For a long time I preferred to serve this drink in a cocktail
glass rather than the traditional 3-1/2 ounce Old Fashioned glass, finding
that it added a touch of elegance that this cocktail deserves. However,
of late Wes and I have managed to slowly and painstakingly acquire a set
of eight heavy-bottomed Old Fashioned glasses from the old Roosevelt
Hotel in New Orleans, emblazoned with the hotel’s name and the word
“SAZERAC” in large letters. We’ve become very fond of these glasses,
have realized that it really is more traditional to serve them this
way, and I’ve subsequently changed my opinion on the glassware.

I also recommend the use of a prepared
simple syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water) for this and most other
cocktails involving sugar that don’t involve muddling. I don’t like
adding granulated or lump sugar to a drink unless I’m muddling, because it
never quite dissolves completely. In simple syrup the sugar is already
dissolved, so there’s no chance of serving a gritty drink to your guests.
You may additionally substitute Pernod or any other pastis for the
Herbsaint; however, I find that the flavor of Herbsaint is superior to
that of Pernod, so it’s worth your while to seek it out. (I don’t care
for Absente brand pastis.)

Add the Herbsaint to the
glass, then swirl it around to coat the entire sides and bottom of the
glass. (I’ve also used the small-sized Misto atomizer that’s sold for
the purpose of anointing Martini glasses with vermouth.) Discard the
excess, although if you enjoy the flavor of Herbsaint you may wish to
leave a small amount of it in the bottom. Remember that the flavor of
the Herbsaint should be there, but in the background — it should not
dominate. In a cocktail shaker (I use the glass portion of my Boston shaker),
add four or five small ice cubes, then add the sugar syrup, whiskey and
bitters. Stir gently for about 30 seconds (if you must shake this, merely
tilt the shaker back and forth for 10 seconds; you don’t want a frothy
Sazerac) or until the drink is cold, then strain into the Herbsaint-coated
glass. Twist lemon peel over the drink, and try to watch carefully to
make sure a cascade of tiny lemon oil droplets actually strike the surface
of the drink; this is one of my favorite parts of the preparation ritual.
Rub the twist over the rim of the glass, then add as garnish. (No, I’m not
a slavish adherent to S. C. Arthur’s admonitions; I’ll do this drink in a
very acceptably traditional manner, with my own tastes taken into account.)

Sit back, relax and enjoy
the greatest cocktail in the world. (Sorry, Martini.)

To take a trip back in time with the original, really lovely version of the Sazerac (which I like to call a “Royal
Sazerac”), substitute a fine Cognac for the rye, and use real absinthe if
it’s available. Just a reminder — while I love Overholt Sazeracs, you
can also make a great and equally royal Sazerac by using the limited
edition Sazerac 18-Year-Old Straight Kentucky Rye Whiskey. It’s
marvelous, if you can find it.