Drink of the Week: Sazerac

One of the many gifts I received from my very loving congregation this Christmas is another bartending resource guide – Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails. Being a Christian, a history buff  and a bartender, I have a natural affinity and desire to connect with those who have gone before me, whom I might benefit from and pass on to those who come after me. It’s this propensity that has launched me into my new theological reading project: The Ante-Nicene Fathers (another delightful Christmas gift from a parishioner!). 

I noticed in perusing the cocktail book that it includes (rightly so) the Sazerac, what some claim is the first truly American cocktail. It’s a personal favorite of mine because of the flavor as well as the history. Initially made with Cognac, it has evolved over time to utilize rye whiskey. It allegedly has roots in pre-Civil War New Orleans, and makes for a delicious and sophisticated drink if you’re willing to take a bit of time in advance preparation.

What I share below is my particular version of the Sazerac, and not necessarily the most historically accurate version. I make mine with rye whiskey, but feel free to use a decent Cognac if you like. I like to rim the glass with lemon and I also prefer to use a fennel-infused simple syrup instead of a basic simple syrup. I toast the fennel seeds first until they  pop and brown.  I then add water and then let the mixture boil for a few minutes before removing it from heat. Pour through a fine sieve to strain out the fennel seeds once it has cooled and stir in the sugar. I use about 2 Tablespoons of fennel seeds, a cup of filtered water and between one-half to one cup of sugar. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved and keep in the refrigerator.

  • 2 oz rye whiskey (or bourbon, or Cognac)
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • absinthe wash/spray
  • ½ oz fennel infused simple syrup
  • Lemon peel

Peel a bit of  lemon rind and run it around the edge of the glass. Next, drizzle a small amount of absinthe into the glass and swirl it around until the inside of the glass is coated, then dump out the residual absinthe. An alternate approach is to fill a cooking atomizer with absinthe to spray a fine coating into the glass. Two or three pumps should be plenty. Throw the lemon peel you used a second ago into the bottom of the glass.  Set the glass aside for a moment.

In a shaker or another glass thoroughly stir or shake the rye whiskey, both bitters and the simple syrup.  Pour the contents into the absinthe-rinsed glass. You can add ice if you like (either in the shaking stirring or to serve with the drink) but I think the flavors are more prominent if you don’t. The interplay of the lemon and the absinthe with the sweetened bourbon is magical. I rank this just behind the Manhattan in terms of classy cocktails that a well-heeled bartender should have in their arsenal, and fantastic uses of a decent whiskey. Sure, there’s a bit of work in advance to prepare the simple syrup, but it should last for at least 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator so you can keep making Sazeracs for the people you love. Enjoy!