As the days grow shorter and cooler, I begin to crave drinks with subtle, complex flavors. With its delicately layered and nuanced flavors and aromas, the Sazerac feels like the perfect drink for this time of year. Although, for some, the Sazerac might be more likely to bring to mind sultry summer weather (it is the official drink of the City of New Orleans, after all), its warming whiskey base and aromatic layers of anise, spice, and citrus make it a lovely choice for toasting the changing colors of fall.
Invented around 1830 by Emile Peychaud, an apothecary who created herbal medicines in French Quarter of New Orleans, the Sazerac is believed to be the very first cocktail ever created. (For more on this story - and on the cocktail's cinematic claim to fame - see our previous posts on James Bond and cocktail bitters.)
As is the case with any cocktail that's been around more than a few decades, the Sazerac has seen more than a few variations on its basic recipe. Some versions call for Cognac as a base spirit, others rye whiskey, and others still, a mixture of both. Some add a dash of Angostura bitters to the Peychaud's. Some get their sweetness from a sugar cube, others from simple syrup. Some are served over ice in a rocks glass, others...well, you get the idea. What follows is my own favorite way to make and serve a Sazerac. I hope you'll enjoy it too.
Approximately 1 tsp. absinthe (I used Pernod absinthe, but regular Pernod liqueur, Herbsaint, Ricard, or any other pastis will work as well)
2 ounces rye whiskey (I used Old Overholt)
1/2 ounce simple syrup (for a super-fast, super-easy recipe, see our previous post)
1-2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
"Rinse" a stemmed cocktail glass or Old Fashioned glass with the absinthe or pastis by rolling a small measure of liqueur inside it until it fully coats the inside of the glass. Pour out any excess. Set the glass aside. Now combine the whiskey, simple syrup, and bitters in a cocktail shaker with ice. Stir and strain into the absinthe-coated glass. Cut a thin slice of fresh lemon peel. Keeping the yellow side facing downwards, twist the peel so that the essential oils are released over the surface of the drink. Discard the peel. Sit back and watch the autumn light shift and the leaves slowly turn.
(Images: Nora Maynard)