I was discussing all things swell with a friend recently. He began to tell me a story of his quest for the best Sazerac he could find. He chose the right place to look for this historic drink, New Orleans. In his words: I have recently gotten hooked on a new cocktail, I made it my mission to find the best Sazerac in New Orleans. I took my mission so seriously that I do not remember much of the details, but I do know that if you’re looking to lose yourself in the Crescent City, the best way to do so is to start the night with a Sazerac. I highly suggest you pick up a bottle of rye, some Peychaud bitters, and a bottle of Herbsaint. You won’t regret it.
It fills you with images of the Big Easy, walking down historic bourbon street with the aromas of Creole, and the sonic ambush of incredible jazz music filling the air. New Orleans is very adept at holding on to some traditions, so much so that Sazerac has been made the State drink of Louisiana. This drink has its genesis in an area of varied cultures and traditions and rich in artisanal creativity throughout history. As rich in history and flavor it is based simply on a similar drink: “The Old Fashioned”.
Sazerac is the epitome of the historic Bayou drink. I have made one for myself a time or two, I keep absinth in the house (the original to mix in Sazerac before Herbsaint).In any case it is a wonderful beverage rich in history. It began in the early 1800’s when Antoine Amedee Peychaud selling his brand of bitters as a lighter and more flavorful alternative to its contemporaries. Mixed with Cognac, it became signature drink of the Sazerac Coffee House (its namesake) It is most commonly made today with Rye Whiskey the exact reason for the substitution is not known, but the drink certainly hasn’t suffered. The cocktail also originally used absinthe, which although making a comeback, can still be difficult to find. Herbsaint, Pernod or Absente all make suitable substitutes.
The absinthe I keep at home is Mata Hari Bohemian Absinthe. Absinthe has been prohibited in the U.S. for nearly one hundred and has recently made its return. The absinthe most people are familiar with is the French style, characterized by a heavy anise flavor; these are commonly enjoyed only in the traditional ritual, with water and a little sugar. Bohemian style of Mata Hari absinthe comes from Austria. Mata Hari has the same natural green color, grande wormwood (the botanical that led to the banning of absinthe) and louche effect of French style absinthe, but that is where the likeness ends. The much less anise heavy taste leaves a far more desirable flavor when enjoyed in the traditional ritual or in one of the many cocktails that can be created with Mata Hari.
How to make it:
- Chill an old-fashioned tumbler, fill it with ice and let it rest while preparing the drink.
- In a separate glass, muddle a sugar cube and Peychaud bitters (to taste) together.
- Add 3oz Wild Turkey Rye Bourbon and ice to the bitters mixture and stir.
- Discard the ice in the chilled glass and rinse it with Mata Hari Bohemian Absinthe (or substitute) by pouring a small amount into the glass, swirling it around and discarding the liquid.
- Strain the whiskey mixture from the mixing glass into the old fashioned glass.
- Garnish with a lemon twist. Traditionalists will say that the lemon twist should be squeezed over the drink to release its essences but that the twist should not be dropped into the glass itself.
Go ahead and make one for yourself, and for your friends. This drink will make it onto your list of go-to cocktails, and from here on you will be drinking swell.
(images courtesy of: matahari.com, cocktailtimes.com, wildturkey.com, hotels.com& fabianperez)