The Sazerac is a beautiful drink in its simplicity. It is unique and exact. It requires technique and style. And each ingredient tells the history of New Orleans — the French absinthe, the American rye, the Louisiana sugar, the Caribbean bitters. (Even the Italian influence can be seen in the lemon peel.) It's no wonder the Sazerac is the city's official cocktail.
A Brief History of the Sazerac
The origin stories of the Sazerac are, you might say, under the influence. Like much of history surrounding alcohol, the facts get a little, well, muddled. But there are three real men involved in the story: Sewell Taylor, Aaron Bird, and Antoine Peychaud.
Sewell Taylor was the man who first imported Sazerac-brand cognac to New Orleans. Aaron Bird was his friend, who ran the Exchange Place Coffee House ("exchange" was a giveaway that an establishment was a bar in New Orleans in the mid-1800s). Another pal, Antoine Peychaud, was the creator of the world-renowned Creole bitters. Together they invented the Sazerac cocktail.
But rye, the great American spirit, was plentiful in New Orleans at the time and France's vineyards were being attacked by an American aphid, so the first official record of the Sazerac (in William T. Boothby's The World's Drinks and How to Mix Them) calls for whiskey (which, back then, would have been rye).
These days you can find versions with cognac or rye, but I say, why choose? My riff on this classic cocktail calls for both cognac and rye.
Taylor Bird Sazerac
Absinthe, for coating the glass
1 ounce cognac
1 ounce rye whiskey
1 barspoon cane syrup or simple syrup
2 dashes orange bitters
6 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
1 strip lemon peel
Pour a splash of absinthe in a rocks cocktail glass and swirl to coat the glass. Pour the absinthe back into the bottle. Chill the glass while making the cocktail.
Place the cognac, rye whiskey, syrup, and bitters in a mixing glass. Add ice (cracked if possible) and stir until chilled. Strain into the chilled glass. Twist the lemon peel over the cocktail, then add to the drink.