Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Sazerac

With the ban on Absinthe in the United States over - the Sazerac is whole again. It is New Orleans’ official cocktail. But how important is the Sazerac?

As an English major, I studied the beginnings of American literature and understood the reverence for the first uniquely American writers and what they meant to the history of our culture. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathanial Hawthorne, Herman Melville – these writers constitute a distinctly American identity in rhetoric and literature. The Sazerac fulfills that space in American cocktail history and identity in much of the same way.

The Sazerac is reported to have come from antebellum New Orleans, Louisiana. Not surprisingly, the cocktail has a distinctly French heritage. The name itself it is generally agreed to have come from a popular type of French cognac called Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils. Over time some adjustments have been made to the recipe. Yet, the almost ceremonial preparation of the drink has likely remained consistent. They just don’t make cocktails this way anymore. It’s the passing down of the recipe and preparation that fascinates me the most about the Sazerac. To be preparing a drink in the tradition of our American ancestors connects you with them and history. In a world where instant gratification is king, a diligent and graceful cocktail like the Sazerac is a relic of a time where things seemed to be made with so much more care. Here is the recipe for the Sazeracs that I've been drinking:

- 2 oz of Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey (original recipes called for cognac)

- a few dashes of simple syrup (modern adjustment from the sugar cube)

- 3 dashes of Angostura Bitters (traditional use was Peychaud's Bitters)

- 1 or 2 dashes of oz St. George Spirits Absinthe Verte

- 1 lemon

Begin chilling down a rocks glass. Add 3-5 ice cubes and 2 oz of Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey into a shaker. Add a few dashes of simple syrup and 3 dashes of Angostura bitters. Stir approximately 10 times. Take your chilled rocks glass and pour 1 or 2 dashes of St. George Spirits Absinthe Verte into it. Coat the inside of the glass completely with the Absinthe so the inside of it has that nice fresh licorice smell. Using a strainer, pour the mixture from the shaker to the rocks glass. Take the lemon and shave a piece of the rind over the cocktail dusting it with lemon zest. Twist the piece of lemon rind over the drink to release some of the oils and drop it in. Enjoy.

Here is Chantal Tseng from The Tabard Inn making a Sazerac (

The key to enjoying any cocktail (particularly old cocktails which sometimes are so removed from our modern sensibilities) is identifying with it. If any of these exact recipes do not fit your palate, make some adjustments and fit it to your own tastes. Cocktails, like literature, are ever evolving and open to the contemporary individual’s interpretation. I hope you enjoy the Sazerac as much as I enjoy it.

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