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The Unfussy Sazerac

October 23, 2009

I took this awesome cocktail class at a bar called Absinthe in San Francisco.  The instructor was Jeff Hollinger, who would later go on to write The Art of the Bar.  He was then, and continues to be, all about classic cocktails.

As the class went on, Jeff got a read on my tastes.  Eventually it was time to go behind the bar and start making drinks.  But what to make?

JH: Have you ever had a Sazerac?
DB: No.
JH: I think you are going to like it.

This is the secret of a good bartender.  They can size you up, and get a sense of your preferences, and recommend something wonderful that you’ve never even considered.  Jeff pegged me perfectly as an old man drunk.

By that I mean, someone who enjoys a stiff drink, without a lot of frills and fluff, or fruit.  Someone who likes drinks that are brown, and short, and full bodied.  Someone who likes drinks that most people will look at and say in disgust, “How can you drink that?”

The Sazerac was perfect.

The fussy cocktail historians can get to be a bit overwhelming at times.  The Sazerac has been made with a bunch of different base spirits.  And that’s fine.

For the class, Jeff made it with 2 ounces of rye whiskey, washed the glass out with Herbsaint, muddled a sugar cube with 8 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters, and added a lemon twist.  The resulting drink was a combination of strong peppery whiskey, perfumed with herbal and bitter anise sensations, with just a hint of sweetness to balance out the bitterness and the heat of the spirit.  Served strained into a bucket glass.  It was beyond brilliant.  It was a revelation.

And that was before there was good American absinthe being legally produced.  Thus the Herbsaint.  Herbsaint is an herbal liqueur that is an absinthe substitute.  Since it is produced in New Orleans, and common in that region, Jeff made the decision to use that as the herbal anise flavor in the drink.

Now, you can get Absinthe Verte from St. George Spirits in Alameda, California.  And it is incredible.  In fact, I decided that it is really the one thing I want for my birthday this year.  It’s not cheap, but it’s worth every penny.

Especially since in most cocktails you use it by the thimbleful.  At the same time, if you are an old man drunk like me, you can pour yourself a glass for special occasions.  And the best part is that most people find it so foul that you are not compelled to share your precious stash.

I already have my bottle of Peychaud’s Bitters at the ready.  Now all I need to do is decide if I’m going to pick up a bottle of rye, a bottle of brandy, or just drag my knuckles on the ground and [gasp] make the noble Sazerac with bourbon.

You know what?  I’m not even going to muddle the sugar cube with the bitters.  I’m just going to make a little simple syrup and put just the teeniest dash into the drink.

Look at me, getting all fast and loose with a classic cocktail.

I suppose this may bring up some larger philosophical issues about The Rules, and which ones can be bent, and which ones can be broken.  Why is it okay to make a Sazerac out of bourbon, when it is not okay to make a Martini out of vodka?  It’s a fair question.  And it deserves a fair answer.  Just not now.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul Kornblueh permalink
    October 23, 2009 11:54 am

    Hey when are you going to write about Sirachin?

  2. Raf permalink
    October 23, 2009 1:56 pm

    Send me your address and I’ll send you a small bottle of st george absinthe that’ll keep you in Sazeracs for a year and save you $75.

    BTW, I make mine with 1.5 oz rye, .5 oz cognac. Best sazerac ever. Don’t use bourbon, it ain’t right.

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