This is a continuation of my recent post A Short History of the Sazerac Cocktail.
The Sazeracs Ethan drank in The Last Day of Forever and An Eternity of Four Years were not as sophisticated as the modern versions. Sazeracs in the 1850s and 1860s were probably only Sazerac Cognac, a couple dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters and some sugar. While ice was available then, the drink was more likely served at room temperature.
The modern Sazerac is not an easy drink to make and requires a bit of ritual. While a well-made Sazerac is a delightful drink, a poorly made Sazerac is truly awful. Many bars and restaurants in New Orleans make good Sazeracs, and some not so good. A safe bet to have one is at the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel. You can use theirs to gauge what a good Sazerac should taste like. Or, make one according to my recipe.
The original (modern) Sazerac consists of five simple ingredients: Sazerac Rye Whiskey (I use Sazerac Rye 6YO), simple syrup, Peychaud’s Bitters, a sliver of lemon peel (the yellow part, not the pulpy white part or the juice), and good quality ice. You will also need two heavy-bottomed, Old Fashioned glasses, a teaspoon to measure and stir with, a two-ounce jigger, and a cocktail strainer of some sort. There are variations on this ingredient list; some use Angostura Bitters along with the Peychaud’s. While that is a common practice these days, that is not the original (modern) recipe.
You must prepare ahead. One of the two glasses needs to go into the freezer for at least 30 minutes to chill down. In a pinch, you can pack it with ice and let it chill that way, but the freezer method is much preferred. You must also prepare the simple syrup far enough ahead so it can come to room temperature or even be chilled. I make small batches and store mine in a jar in the refrigerator. They say it keeps for up to a week, but I have kept it a bit longer.
Lane’s Sazerac Cocktail Recipe Secret #1: Most make simple syrup using white refined sugar, but I have recently experimented with Organic Turbinado Raw Sugar, which is partially refined sugar. It retains some of the natural molasses flavor of raw sugar. That little hint of molasses adds a wonderful subtle bouquet and flavor to the Sazerac. I make all my Sazeracs with Turbinado Raw Sugar simple syrup these days.
Simple syrup is easy to make, but you must be careful or you will have a sticky mess to clean up. I make mine in the jar I am going to store it in, and I suggest you use a cooking container that you will not fill to more than one fourth. (Why in a moment.) Mix one part Turbinado Raw Sugar (or white sugar) with one part bottled or filtered water by volume. I usually make only a two-tablespoon batch (two tablespoons sugar and two tablespoons of water). Using only a teaspoon of simple syrup in each Sazerac, this is more than enough for my relatively infrequent needs. Mix it as best you can, but much of the sugar will not dissolve. Next, the mix goes into the microwave or on the stove. I use the microwave because it is faster.
VERY IMPORTANT: You must not leave the cooking simple syrup unattended. Once it starts boiling, it is like a volcano erupting, only much faster. You must stop the cooking before it erupts all over the inside of your microwave! This is why I suggest the total contents not exceed one fourth of the cooking container.
Cooking time will depend on how much is being made. Stop the cooking as soon as it begins boiling. Take it out and stir it to dissolve the sugar. One trip through the microwave will probably not be enough to dissolve all the sugar. Stick it back in and bring it to a boil again. It will boil sooner this time. Take it out and stir. Make sure all the sugar is completely dissolved. Twice usually does it for me, but if a third trip into the microwave is needed, then do it. You can, of course, make simple syrup the old fashioned way in a pot on the stove. Bring it to a very low boil and stir as it cooks. Once all the sugar dissolves, take it off the heat to cool.
If made with Turbinado Raw sugar, the resulting simple syrup will have the color of motor oil. That is because of the molasses content of the sugar. This has to cool before you use it. Once it reaches room temperature, I cap it and stick it into the refrigerator to be used when needed. It will hold for at least a week.
The third ingredient that needs pre-prep is the lemon peel and use good fresh lemons. As mentioned, you want only the yellow part of the peeling and none of the white pulpy part. You are after only the oils in that yellow peel. Use a sharp knife and carefully shave off a strip about a quarter to a half-inch wide and an inch to two inches long. You can experiment with size. I prefer a larger peel.
Lane’s Sazerac Cocktail Recipe Secret #2: Recently, I started experimenting with orange peel instead of lemon peel, and I like the very subtle flavor the orange peel adds. Lemon peel is traditional, but try both and see which you prefer. Whether lemon or orange, you need good quality fruit to harvest the peel from.
Gather your ingredients and get ready to build a fabulous Sazerac. Everything should be at hand and ready to grab except the frozen glass, which I leave in the freezer until the last possible moment.
Step 1 – In the unfrozen Old Fashioned glass, add one teaspoon of your simple syrup, three dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters, and two ounces of Sazerac Rye Whiskey. I use Sazerac Rye 6YO (SPAR did the package), but their Antique Collection Sazerac Rye 18YO, the winner of American Whiskey of the Year (SPAR did this package, too), makes a Sazerac to die for. However, you may have to arrange bank financing to buy a bottle of the 18YO, assuming you can even find it. It is usually released in October and gone before the end of the month. If you want a bottle, make friends with your local liquor store owner. (You might want to consider bribing them.) And expect to pay above MSRP. It is that good and that popular.
Next, fill the Old Fashioned glass containing the ingredients to the top with a good quality clear ice and stir (not shake) vigorously until the ice is partially melted. This usually takes about ten seconds. I stop when I see the ice has melted enough the cocktail is nearly covering it. Obviously, more melt means a weaker drink. Experiment and find your perfect melt level.
Step 2 – Now, you must move fast! Retrieve the frozen glass from the freezer (or dump the ice from it if you chilled it that way). I usually have my wife hovering near the freezer awaiting my call for the glass. Best to do the following over a sink, because you might spill some of the Herbsaint. Put about a tablespoon or less of Herbsaint into the frozen glass. Rotate the glass so the Herbsaint coats all around the inside of the glass as far up to the rim as you can get it. (This is where you are likely to spill some.) Work fast; you want that glass to stay cold! Dump any remaining Herbsaint out. You want only a hint of the Herbsaint remaining in the glass. Too much will ruin the drink.
Step 3 – Using the cocktail strainer, strain the mixed cocktail into the frozen Herbsaint–coated glass. Some drink it “on the rocks.” That is not the original, but if that is “your perfect Sazerac,” go for it.
Step 4 – Wipe the rim of the glass with the lemon (or orange) peel then twist the peel over the drink to squeeze out some of the oils. I toss it in for good measure, but that is not the original. Some say never toss it in but hook it over the rim of the glass as a garnish giving off a citrus aroma as you sip the drink.
Step 5 – After all that work, you must be tired? Head for your favorite recliner and rest from your efforts while you enjoy your perfect Sazerac Cocktail.
I think I hear a Sazerac calling me now?
The Sazerac Cocktail name is a trademark of the Sazerac Company of New Orleans.