The Dos and Donts of Sazeracs

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The Sazerac has been making a big comeback over the past year. It’s popping up on cocktails menus, bartenders are recommending them to their customers, and it’s even being suggested as an official state drink.

But after being served a warm shot of rye with a drop of Peychaud’s last week at a restaurant here in Eugene, and watching as Paul choked down what looked like a foamy rye Cosmopolitan this weekend, I figured that some pointers might be helpful.

The Sazerac is one of the oldest cocktails in the modern repertoire, but don’t let its unassuming presentation fool you: it is a complex drink that requires attention to detail, proper technique and the right proportions to fully reveal its brilliance.


Do use a single dash of Angostura bitters in your Sazeracs. You’ll be surprised how much this opens up the flavors. While it may enrage some purists, you can always counter with, “If it was good enough for Thomas Handy, it’s good enough for me.”

Do not use orange bitters in a Sazerac. I’ve seen this done and I can’t possibly understand the rationale.

Do stir the drink gently with ice.

Do not shake your Sazerac. Remember, shaking a clear drink is like shaking a baby: first there’s going to be a lot of foam, and then you’ll be staring death in the face.

Do not serve a Sazerac on the rocks.

Do not serve a Sazerac in a cocktail glass.

Do serve your Sazerac neat, in a rocks glass that is large enough to accommodate some breathing room. Your drink will thank you as you swirl it in the glass.

Do not drink your Sazerac in one gulp. It might look like a shot, but someone hopefully put a lot of work into that drink. Sip it, you monkey.

Do not use bourbon in a Sazerac. Only the spiciness of a good rye whiskey will do. Cognac is also acceptable if you’re trying to be historically accurate.

Do use this recipe to make your Sazeracs.

Do squeeze a nice, wide lemon peel over the drink. The oils from the lemon are a crucial component to the cocktail.

Do not drop the lemon peel in the drink. Throw it away after you’ve expressed all the oil.

Do watch this video of Chris McMillian making what looks to me like the perfect Sazerac. Repeat as necessary:

Do not use Pernod to rinse the glass, if you can avoid it. Pernod’s sweetness is going to compete with the sugar in the drink.

Do use Herbsaint, if you can find it, or – even better – a proper absinthe. The higher proof and dryness will make perfect sense to you once you try it.

Do muddle a sugar cube soaked in bitters and a splash of water to sweeten the drink.

Do not let anyone give you grief for using simple syrup in its place. There is no difference between a fully-dissolved sugar cube and simple syrup.

Do send an email to Senator Edwin Murray at murraye [at] legis.state.la.us asking him to approve Senate Bill No. 6, which will designate the Sazerac as the official state cocktail of Louisiana.

Please.

63 Replies to “The Dos and Donts of Sazeracs”

  • Heather says:

    I had a “Sazerac” once (on suggestion of the bartender (I’m not polite, it was at the Doug Fir) so I thought “well, that’s nice! He can make a Sazerac, how unexpected.”)

    I was forced to turn away after watching Jim Bean and Orange Curcacao go into the shaker. Who knows what others horrors followed.

  • syoung68 says:

    After years of using Herbsaint, I have switched to using Lucid. Given that I like the taste of Absinthe I leave it in the glass after I have coated it.

    It is truly a shame that bartenders even here in New Orleans get this drink wrong. A few weeks ago after being told by a bartender that she makes the best Saz around, I was given Bourbon flavored sugar water. Seeing as she was older than Methuselah, I was polite enough to drink it, but I certainly did not order another.

  • db says:

    When you said “There is no difference between a fully-dissolved sugar cube and simple syrup.” were you referring to the taste or the actual chemistry? Isn’t dissolved table sugar still mostly sucrose, while a simple syrup is the a much higher amount of the component glucose and fructose?

  • db, if you’re using a cold-process simple, there is no difference at all.

  • JJ says:

    Every visit to Teardrop I think, This time I’ll ask Daniel to make me my very first Sazerac. But every visit, there’s a drink on the menu that I.must.have.right.now. And, err, that’s the Belle de Jour (damn you, Daniel). But next visit, for sure, I’m ordering a Sazerac. So, Jeff? thank you in advance for convincing me with this post of yours to order the Sazerac that I’m positive I WILL order next time I’m in Teardrop. Really. I mean it. This next time for sure.

  • Stevi Deter says:

    By your recommendation to use a single dasy of Angostura bitters, do you mean in addition to the Peychaud’s or in place of?

    My current favorite home preparation is to use Jamie Boudreau’s half-cognac, half-rye recipe, which makes a fine, fine sipping drink.

  • In addition to the Peychaud’s, Stevi. I’ll post a recipe this weekend.

    And I do like Boudreau’s half-and-half. Damn you again, Jamie!

  • Eugenia says:

    DO please share, if you’d be so kind, where regular folks can find Peychaud’s in Eugene, pretty please? Is this just a pipe dream? I’m dying out here.

  • NW says:

    While I am in clear agreement of most of this list, I do have a quible or two. Firstly, you cannot demand a dash of Angostura and then insist the peel be thrown out after being expressed. The Angostura is clearly an addition (albeit an early one) that is a result of personal preference. Just as leaving the peel in ( I think it looks nice and I like the staying power that the physical piece of lemon gives to the nose)can be seen as a personal preference.

    Also, while I am not a fan of this drink in a cocktail glass, the tumbler is just plan inelegant. I think over sugaring the drink (like EVERYONE I HAVE EVER HAD IN NEW ORLEANS!!!!!) is a much higher crime than serving on the stem. We have taken to using the Riedel Bourbon glass and it is, quite simply, gorgeous.

  • Eugenia, I don’t know where you can find Peychaud’s in Eugene. I buy mine by the case on the internet somehwere. Now if I could only find that link around here…

  • Great post. I love your list of do’s and don’ts for the Sazerac. Very educational. And, though I must admit that I haven’t actually tried making a Sazerac yet, I am now inspired to give it a whirl.

    Unless, of course, you get your butt down to LA again soon and can make me a proper goddam drink! In that case, I’ll just sit my lazy a** down and sip that instead.

  • Timo says:

    Nice. I really want to try making one of these now though I’m not sure if anyone carries Herbsaint where I live. What would be a decent sub? Ricard?

  • Aimee Scarlett says:

    Jeff, it was a pleasure to see you again at Red Star and Gilt last weekend here in Portland (I was with my brother), though I couldn’t make the OBG event and we didn’t get to converse much (if at all).

    You seem to take issue with leaving the lemon peel in the Sazerac and I was curious as to why – since in the video you provided (“which looks to me like the perfect Sazerac”) – McMillian drops a big fat lemon peel in his creation there at the climax.

  • Timo, I haven’t tried Ricard next to Herbsaint and Pernod, so you’ll have to report your findings to us here. I’m curious, though. Another great option would be Absente, a terrific pastis for use in cocktails.

    Aimee, I’m sorry we didn’t get to chat more, you’ll just have to pull up a seat at the bar the next time you’re in our neck of the woods.

    I feel that dropping the lemon peel adds too much lemon to the drink and overpowers the other, more delicate flavors. But my words are always to be taken with a grain of salt. If you like more lemon in your Sazeracs, by all means demand that the peel be left in.

  • John Claude says:

    I’ve had to use Pernod at my work as the liquor store we go through doesn’t carry Herbsaint and I haven’t bothered otherwise since I’m moving to RI this week. I can’t wait to order a bottle of Herbsaint online and give the real deal a whirl though. I love them with Pernod so I can only imagine.

    From what I’ve read, leaving the lemon peel out is traditional. All my books are in the mail and winging their way to Providence or else I’d look up exactly where I read that…

    And Heather? Doug Fir bartenders are for the most part pretty damn awful. Kinda like the food. I made the mistake of eating their today as it’s close to my friend’s apartment. Ugh. Not sure what I was thinking.

  • ND says:

    Peychaud’s bitters and ROB can be bought (quite cheaply) from the Buffalo Trace gift shop (www.buffalotrace.com). Pity that you guys in the States need an African to tell you this, eh? If one of you can tell me where to find Rye in this part of the world, I’ll give you the headman’s daughter…

  • Brando says:

    Jeffrey,
    I am sure you know this already, but they had Mixologists competing on Iron Chef last night!
    Regardless of your thoughts on the food network, it seems Mixologists are going main-stream!
    wooo hoo!

  • Eugenia says:

    Thanks, Jeffrey. I was afraid of that response.

    ND, the shipping at Buffalo Trace is too expensive for someone who just needs a bottle, if I remember correctly.

    Looks like I’ll just need to pick some up in the Bay Area on my next trip! And Herbsaint!

  • John Claude says:

    Amazon.com also carries Peychaud, Regans, and Fee’s. I think they go through KegWorks.com though.

  • ND says:

    Hey Eugenia, I found it pretty reasonable (considering I had to shell out about 8 of my kruger rands to one yankee dollar, AND they shipped it right up to my door). It actually worked out to about the same price as you’d pay for a bottle of Angostura in the shops… I’d take Jeffrey’s recommendation and buy it by the case, it’s a great investment LOL

  • Jeff Frane says:

    I am very much looking forward to the promised recipe. This post has already turned my assumptions upside down, starting with “not on the rocks.” I are cornfused.

  • kikithewondermonkey says:

    Sorry jeff, I want to sit at his bar. (Chris McMillian) And drink his drinks. Guess I am spoiled, right?

  • blair frodelius says:

    Well, the Sazerac is one step closer to becoming the official state drink of Louisiana.

    More here: http://blog.nola.com/updates/2008/04/official_state_cocktail_sazera.html

  • Keith says:

    From the May 2008 Playboy Magazine…

    “Bit of a Fix-You-Upper”
    From the Pacific Northwest, A sweet and sour twist on Kentucky whiskey

    Jeffery Morgenthaler is our kind of guy: an obsessive practitioner of lost arts and an inventor in his own right. He toils behind the bar of Bel Ami Restaurant and Lounge in crunch Eugen, Oregon, mixing, remixing and improvising, and he documents his findings at jefferymorgenthaler.com. Here’s a tasty originial he recommends for warm spring evenings.

    BOURBON RENEWAL
    2oz Woodford Reserve bourbon
    1 oz fresh lemon juice
    1/2 oz simple syrup
    1/2 oz creme de cassis
    1 dash angostura bitters

    shake ingredients over cracked ice and strain into a rocks-filled highball or old-fashioned glass. Garnish with fresh black currants. If black currants are not in season, use a lemon wedge.

    Kudos to you sir!

    Keith and Mark Martin
    John Henry’s

    p.s. somehow we get 3 free issues of Playboy a month at the bar so thank you Hugh Hefner!

  • Keith says:

    should read Crunchy Eugene Oregon…missed a y and an E…

  • Mike says:

    Don’t even try to buy Sazerac or even use their brand name for a drink. They wouldn’t sell me any bottles w/o having to buy some vodka they were pushing. Their rye is “allocated” in the area I work in. Good for them.

  • ND says:

    I wish they’d allocate some to my area (specifically, to my liquor cabinet!). I’m with you on the name brand thing, though—Martini & Rossi is awful stuff, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying a good martini…

  • Chuck says:

    Fantastic post, Jeff … thanks a million!

    Alas, I guess I’ve been one of those folks with the big red PURIST stamped obnoxiously on his forehead to indicate my omission of Angostura. My snarky rejoinder was “That’s not the way Antoine Amédée Peychaud made them!” No, but he wasn’t the one who made the drink truly famous.

    My reaction against Angostura that led me to use only Peychaud’s came from having had so many bad Sazeracs in New Orleans in which the bartender does this: grabs both bottles of bitters by the neck with one hand, and shakes them both three or four times into the mixing glass. (How many times have y’all seen that?) That’s way too much Angostura, and I got tired of it.

    (That’s not nearly as bad as what they used to do at the Sazerac Bar at the now-former Fairmont — the bartenders there started making a pre-mix by adding bitters to simple syrup, laughably swearing that the proportions would be correct in the final product, and then proceeding to put an inch of that crap into the glass … but that’s a different rant. The bar’s closed anyway, which is sad, but when someone else, I hope, reopens it they’ll make the drinks properly. End of digression.)

    The single dash of Angostura really is better, and thanks for the kick in the pants. I love the Thomas Handy rejoinder, and I’m stealing it immediately! That said, we do still commit the sacrilege of dropping the lemon peel into the drink, but we apologize to Stanley Clisby Arthur every time we do it, and now we’ll start apologizing to you too. 🙂

  • I had a Pegu the other night with a dash too much of Angostura and I swear it tasted like Worchestershire sauce! I wonder how similar the ingredients are between the two?

  • Chuck says:

    It might have been Worcesterchire sauce. There’s no similarity in ingredients, but in a dark bar the bottles can look similar.

    I once had to stop a bartender from whem I had just ordered a Manhattan from putting Worcestershire sauce in it. He was moving very fast, had grabbed the wrong bottle and was about to dash it in with the whiskey and vermouth, and didn’t even notice … sheesh.

  • Brutis says:

    Living in Australia, it is impossible to obtain Buffalo Trace Sazerac Rye.

    So I have always stayed to true the original recipe and used a VS or VSOP cognac and have found for my taste and most of my customers’ for that matter a squeeze of orange zest to be a better match!

    Just wondered what others thoughts were?

  • That’s a great couple of points you bring up, there, Brutis.

    When I make Sazeracs with cognac, which is how the drink was originally made, pre-phylloxera, I use an orange peel as well. I personally find it to match better with the spirit.

    But when mixing with rye, I like to use lemon.

    And if you can’t get Sazerac rye, I think Old Overholt is a great substitute. Any other rye suggestions out there?

  • I use Rittenhouse Rye. It is a fantastic value. I got mine for $14.99 a bottle and beats just about any bourbon that I’ve tried.

  • Perfect selection, Blair. I adore Rittenhouse, but it’s really tough to find in Oregon. This does not make me happy at all.

  • Jeff Frane says:

    Living in Australia, the poor bastard’s lucky if he finds any rye whiskey at all, I suspect.

    Rittenhouse BIB is great stuff, but not easy to find even in the US. I’d be willing to guess the only rye with any chance of appearing down under would be Wild Turkey.

  • Brutis says:

    I have been able to source Rittenhouse on the odd occasion, but have heard from a few industry reps that buffalo trace sazerac is on the way to my fair shores!

    I would agree that it makes the best rye based Sazerac. I had to re familiarize myself as the bottle I personally own had only one Sazerac left, which I was saving for a special occasion. Knowing that I soon will be able to replenish my stock made it even more enjoyable!

  • Brutis says:

    On a side note. I made a cognac based Sazerac last night using Peychauds and Fee Brothers Old Fashion Bitters as a substitute for the Angustura.

    I found that it added even more depth and complexity to the drink. However if one was a little over exuberant with the fees it would definitely over power the drink.

    Has anyone tried this before, would be interested to hear there thoughts.

    Your Man in Oz.

  • For those of you who have made cognac Sazaeracs, what brand works best? Will a VS do? Or do you need a VSOP?

  • Mike S. says:

    For Cognac-based Sazeracs, I find a higher-quality brandy works best. For me, that usually means VSOP. And if you can get your hands on some Louis Royer VSOP Force 53, it’s ideal. It’s bottled at 53% ABV, unusual for a Cognac, and works wonderfully in any brandy-based cocktail. Not a sipper, though, IMO.

    Cheers,

    Mike

  • Brutis says:

    I generally use Courvoisier VSOP, as the price to favour ratio is spot on. However the Hennessy VSOP is a better cognac but the price in Australia is a little prohibitive.

    If neither are available then most VSOP cognacs will do just fine. I wouldn’t use an VS as I find most very rough around the edges and at the other end an XO’s rich and round flavours would be wasted.

    I was once given a Sazerac made using spanish brandy, it was very interesting but not my cup of tea!

    I hope this was of help!

  • Patrick says:

    Regarding Rittenhouse: I don’t know why anyone would drink anything else, given the price points. Sazerac is twice as expensive, and not noticeably better. I’m all for history, but the cocktail can be made for less.

  • Drago says:

    Finally got around to making one of these…got my Peychaud’s Bitters in the mail last week. (From Kegworks via Amazon.)

    Used Old Overholt Rye, and Pernod in place of Herbsaint. (My sad, sad Ohio liquor depot only had Absente and wanted to charge me $39. I passed. I wonder what green Chartreuse would do to this?)

    Very delicious, amazingly complex. A good balance between sweet and spicy.

    This will definitely become a new evening sipping staple.

  • Garretto says:

    I don’t see it mentioned, but I’m sure you’re in the know, Jeff,
    On June 26 legislation passed and the Sazerac is the official New Orleans cocktail. They covered it on NPR. Pretty cool.
    Sorry, Pat O’brien.
    NPR includes some cool history and the recipe. I hope I got the link done correctly. But just in case,
    NPR.org & just search “Sazerac” and choose the show “All Things Considered”. I bought some rye and made my first that night —very nice.

  • You can get Peychaud Bitters at Big Y Liquor on 6th Ave.

    My favorite pastis is La Muse Vert, and it works particularly well in this drink as its very dry, like absinthe. I haven’t seen it since moving to Eugene, but bevmo.com has it.

    On the subject of cognac… I’ll take a Germain-Robin alambic brandy over any cognac of similar price. (Thats not to say you should never buy Cognac, but any Cognac with a flavor unique enough to warrant space on my liquor shelf deserves to be drunk straight, not mixed.)

  • also, I’m not sure whether there was a comparison intended, but any similarity between absinthe and chartreuse is merely chromatic.

  • Hockey19 says:

    OK- I am interested. But for all the comments can someone describe to me what I am looking forward to tasting?

  • NOLA says:

    If I may rebut NW (a year later)- drinks tend to be sweeter in new orleans, because that’s the taste of the populace.

    It’s been my experience that in colder climates dryer drinks are favored, and in hotter climates, sweet prevails.

  • Craig says:

    Official cocktail? No, I don’t think I can agree with that. The Ramos Fizz–Huey Long’s favorite drink, for crying out loud–has to be the One True Cocktail of Louisiana, if one true cocktail there be. Every man a king, indeed.

  • Craig – You don’t have to worry, there is no state cocktail, the agenda never passed. However, the Sazerac is the official cocktail of the City of New Orleans:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91912549

  • Rooney says:

    I must say, the moment I had my first Sazerac I was hooked… even with it being made of bourbon (granted this is not a Saz; however, sweet bourbon is still a money concoction).

    That being said, as a bartender I have altered this drink ever-so-slightly. As opposed to using a rocks/old fashioned glass; I have become an advocate of using a brandy snifter. This is a very fragrant drink and the way the snifter locks in the bouquet of absinthe, peychaud’s and rye whiskey is the closest my nose has ever come to Heaven.

  • Atalanta says:

    I first made one for my step-father’s wake. There weren’t nearly as many ryes then (I had to get Jim Beam’s) but I did have Sebor Absinth. I based mine on the one in the Gentleman’s Companion (which is where I get a lot of my older recipes). I will have to try it again with one of the newer ryes, I particularly like the ones from Anchor Distilling (the same people who bring us Anchor Steam Beer).

  • Mike janowski says:

    I enjoy the hell out of a good Sazerac…my wife requested on last evening and so I complied, using Old Overholt (my fave mixing rye) and St. George absinthe. Stirred it slightly, placed it in a chilled rocks glass, left the peel in..,delicious!

  • Richard neeno says:

    Planning on barrel aging sazerac, thinking of a blend of cognac & rye–any thoughts? Also, can you help with scaling up your recipe, especially the bitters and absinthe?

  • joe says:

    nice video!
    I have to try that one. I’ve been working on the perfect Sazerac for a while, and there seems to be infinite variations, but I pay my respects to New Orleans.

    I’ve tried a lot of permutations in the Canadian wilds here. Lately, I’ve been using Canadian Club with great effect, until, for fun, I made a Sazerac with some duty-free Jamieson Signature Reserve. OMFG, to, coin a phrase…
    Here’s my fave recipe so far:
    Rinse the glass with Taboo Absinthe (BC is one of the few places that did not ban the real absinthe during the drug scare of the 1890s; and I like it far better than the French stuff). Throw in 1.5 oz of Jamieson’s. Crush three sugar cubes in a separate glass with a little water, and spoon them in. (yeah, it’s a lot of sugar, but most stays in the bottom of the glass for a lovely hit of siudge when your drink is done). Two dashes of Peychaud’s, one of Angostura, and a couple drops of lemon oil from a slice of squeezed peel ( much better if only the peel is squeezed, and no peel put in the glass). Make sure you don’t overdo it with the bitters or the lemon – a Sazerac is a drink of sublime subtlety. Add some ice. Fuck the no-on-the-rocks-thing, ice lets the water-soluable fraction of the whiskey come out. You must try this. Rotate your glass occasionally so you get a hit off the absinth resting on the sides.
    I’m pretty sure it’s what the gods drink.
    joe

  • joe says:

    ok, I just tried (and am still sampling) the method in the video, with Taboo absinthe, and CC. Damn, that’s good! Mine, above, has more complexity, with the Angostura and more sugar, but this has a cleanness to it.
    J

  • SteveR says:

    T Cooks at the Royal,Palms in Phoenix,AZ makes a great Sazerac.

  • Tully G says:

    DO experiment and find what you like best. Cocktails are fun. They’re not recipes from the an angry Old Testament God.

    Don’t take the word of mixologists who are overly rule oriented.

  • Andrew Inman says:

    A younger rye (I admit I use the inexpensive Jim Bean Rye) gives the Sazarac a sweeter flavor and you can offset by not adding so much sugar (which along with just dumping the absinthe in the glass is the biggest cardinal sin). I also think younger sweeter ryes are complimented better by using orange peel. And I have to confess I dump it in the glass just to add color.

    I have a lovely bottle of Two James newly issues rye, but it’s not remotely mellow and higher proof. Completely unsure if I can blend it into a subtle joyful drink like a sazarac. Need to go hunting for my white whiskey recipes

  • Michael says:

    What type of absinthe should we use? Not a lo of options here. Grand Absente, Lucid….brand new to that world and its not a cheap bottle so want to get it right and then let the exploring begin.

  • indiefab says:

    What a long-lived and well-lived article! I just received a very special bottle of single barrel, cask strength 10 year old Whistle Pig rye and came straight here to make sure I do this right. Thanks Jeffrey.

  • Andrew says:

    Stumbled on this drink a couple of Mardi Gras ago looking for something new. Been trying to perfect my home recipe.

    I learned a couple nuances worth trying at the Whiskey Library in Portland last month:

    1) Use a spray bottle to mist the glass with absinthe – it coats well and the anise aroma is a great prelude to the actual drink.

    2) Zest a little lemon peel into the drink – it adds a little bitterness without the clunky peel.

    3) Rub some more peel around the rim and discard – It gets that aroma right to up to your nose to complement the anise and rye.

    I’ve been using Sazerac and Lucid lately but I really enjoy Bulleit in this drink – I’ll try a different absinthe when I run out in about 5 years…

  • Robert LaBree says:

    While I’m a big fan of Angostura, I think this one calls for Peychaud’s instead.

  • Paul Pinot says:

    These are such a comical suggestions as if they were some sort of biblical Canon to making the drink. The reality is, you can use whatever you have on hand to make the drink the way you like. Do: whatever you want. Don’t: assume some blogger with a know-it-all attitude has every answer under the sun.

    No matter the opinion, saying it loud and proud doesn’t make it a fact. Perhaps that was lost on the poster.

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