Don't Sass the Sazerac

1.21.2013

By Sami Pritchard

With Mardi Gras hard on our heels, it’s time to master New Orleans’s greatest cocktail.

Photography by Joshua Scott

Whether the Sazerac, which predates the Civil War, is the oldest American cocktail is a matter of dispute, but it certainly lays claim to the title. It’s also Louisiana’s official state cocktail -- one steeped in lore and romanticism, and a staple of Mardi Gras parties everywhere. For cocktail purists, it’s an epic example of the art, involving a distinct brand of bitters, a twist of absinthe, and that quintessential American spirit, rye whiskey. Most important, proportion is everything. Be gentle with the Peychaud’s bitters -- a few drops too many can kill your Sazerac dead, but don’t, under any circumstances, substitute Peychaud’s for another brand. At Luke restaurant in the Hilton New Orleans/St. Charles Avenue, bartender Steven Beasley follows local custom by using Herbsaint in place of absinthe, but the distinction may be academic. The spirit is there for the grace note of aniseed. Swirl a splash of it around a rocks glass before filling it with ice and chilling. For Beasley, this is the most critical part.

“The perfect Sazerac starts with making sure to coat the entire glass with chilled Herbsaint,” he says. “That way the aroma permeates the entire drink on every sip.” A couple of these and you’ll be ready for your shrimp and grits.

How to Make a Perfect Sazerac
1. Chill a rocks glass filled with ice and a splash of Herbsaint.

2. In a separate glass, mix 2 ounces rye, 4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters, 1 dash Angostura bitters, and a teaspoon of simple syrup with ice. Stir well.

3. Discard Herbsaint and ice from glass. Strain rye mixture into glass.

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