Historical and Heretical Sazeracs

By Justine Sterling Posted February 07, 2013
Sazerac Interpreted

Sazerac Interpreted Courtesy of Restaurant R'Evolution

With Mardi Gras approaching on February 12, cocktail obsessives can honor the holiday by trying a new variation on New Orleans’s famous Sazerac. The basic recipe features rye whiskey, Peychaud’s bitters and sugar, stirred and strained into a cold (but ice-free) rocks glass rinsed with absinthe. At French Quarter newcomer Restaurant R’evolution, wine and spirits director Molly Wismeier makes a Sazerac with brandy. It’s part personal preference—“I think rye has a grainy feel to it, and a nose that’s overpowering,” she says—and part historical tribute: The first Sazeracs were made with Cognac, according to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. She settled on French Armagnac, because “it’s the middle child that people don’t think about, but it’s so good.” After rinsing a rocks glass with absinthe, she stirs Laubade Armagnac VSOP with Peychaud’s bitters over ice then strains the floral, vanilla-tinged mix into the glass. She finishes the cocktail with a lemon rind—“not just a skinny little twist,” Wismeier insists.

In New Orleans, where food and drink are often worth fighting over, Wismeier’s spirit substitution is just subtle enough to fly with customers. “I think in New Orleans more than other cities, there are some classic cocktails you can’t deviate too far from,” says bartender and cocktail historian Russ Bergeron of the nearby Sazerac Bar (which serves more than 40,000 of the drinks a year). “New Orleanians cherish what’s local and what’s ours. Sazeracs are sacred.” If you are willing to be labeled a heretic, here are a few Sazerac riffs from around the country.


Bäco Mercat; Los Angeles
Known for its signature bäco (a sandwich wrapped in naan-like bread) the downtown L.A. restaurant also offers a menu of twisted classic cocktails. For the Bäzerac, bartenders mix spicy, dry Old Overholt rye with kaffir lime leaf syrup, anise-flavored Herbsaint and house bitters made from a long list of ingredients including bitter gentian root, dried árbol chile and dried Meyer lemon peel. There is also a barrel-aged version of the refreshing, bittersweet cocktail.

Russell House Tavern; Boston
The Harvard Square gastropub’s Sazerac Toddy is a creamy cross between an Irish coffee, a hot toddy and a classic Sazerac. Bartenders mix standard ingredients (rye, Peychaud’s and simple syrup) with hot water and top it with Herbsaint-infused cream. The pink-hued cocktail is topped with a spritz of lemon oil and garnished with the rind.

Scofflaw; Chicago
Head bartender Danny Shapiro created the Caledonia as liquid insulation against the cold Chicago winter. “It’s boozy enough to keep you warm, bitter enough to keep you alert and tasty enough to preserve your resolve during colder times,” he says. Shapiro mixes Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy with Rittenhouse Rye, demerara syrup, Angostura bitters, absinthe and Bittermens Hiver Amer, a bitter orange-cinnamon liqueur. The mixture is stirred and strained into a rocks glass with something you won’t see in a classic Sazerac: ice.

Juga; New York
The newly opened upstairs lounge attached to Kristalbelli, an upmarket Korean BBQ spot, offers an Asian-influenced Oolong Sazerac. Bittersweet oolong tea-infused simple syrup mixed with rye whiskey and Angostura bitters makes a richly sweet, lightly tannic cocktail.

Related: New Orleans Cocktails
Classic Cocktail Recipes
Reinvented Classic Cocktails

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