Episode #063 – The Sazerac Cocktail and Variations

Sazerac Cocktail is a quintessential New Orleans and Mardi Gras cocktail. Its origin is as near to the beginning of American cocktail culture as any other classic you know (even if the recipes first print wasn’t until the early 20th Century). The original Sazerac was born in New Orleans of Cajun heritage. Its French ancestry is more evident in the early recipes which called exclusively for Cognac, but it’s American birth meant that a Cognac shortage in the 1870s meant American bartenders transitioned from the Old World spirit to the spice of New World, American Rye.

Sazerac Cocktails have been revived during this Renaissance of cocktail culture, and by 2009 just about any half-alert bartender in a “cocktail” bar would have an idea of what to do when a patron asked for a Sazerac. The problem is, there are a lot of bone-headed ideas what is acceptable as a Sazerac, and we are here to give you our strong opinions, even if they aren’t originalist in form.

Sazerac Cocktail

  • 2 oz. American Rye Whiskey (Bottled-in-Bond)
  • 1 bar spoon simple syrup (or one sugar cube)
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • Twist of lemon for garnish
  • Absinthe for glass rinse

Chill a rocks glass with crushed ice, or cubes and water while mixing the drink in a separate rocks glass or mixing glass. If using a sugar cube, place it first in the bottom of the rocks glass dash bitters on top and use a drop or two of distilled water, and muddle to dissolve. For simple syrup, simply use one bars spoon in the mixing glass before adding the Rye and bitters. Add ice and stir until the drink is chilled thoroughly.

Discard ice from chilling rocks glass. Use a half ounce of absinthe to coat the bottom and sides of the chilled rocks glass. Discard (read: drink) the excess absinthe. Strain cocktail into the chilled, absinthe-rinsed glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.


It will look like exactly what it is—two ounces of whiskey in a rocks glass. All that empty space will beg you to add a rock or two, and you can if you like. But we (Jordan mostly) highly encourage you to drink your Sazerac cocktails up and in a rocks glass. No cocktail glasses, no coupes. Or don’t listen to us, what do we know.

Please don’t: use orange bitters; shake your Sazerac (no exceptions); serve it on the rocks (or at the very least on one large cube…but you are being judged); don’t shoot it—I mentioned above the up in a rocks glass will make it look like a shooter, it’s not

This is one drink where the substitution of Bourbon for Rye is thoroughly disappointing.

Don’t let Alex throw shade on the simple syrup. It’s the same. The drink is the same.

Preferred Absinthes for Sazerac Cocktails:

St. George Absinthe Verte ($75) — A nontraditional blend of herbs makes this, the only domestic absinthe on our list, something of an acquired taste. Worth checking out, anyway.

Top pick: Vieux Pontarlier ($65) — An absolutely classic French absinthe. As good as it gets.

Pernod Absinthe ($65) Pernod was the leading brand of absinthe before the ban. Now its back, and its clean, balanced, and tasty.

Copper and Kings Lavender Absinthe- Lavender adds something delicate and floral to this spicy, bitter classic.

Acceptable Absinthe Substitute: Legendre Herbsaint $20

Suggested Rye Whiskeys

Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-in-Bond

Sazerac Rye 90 proof (ok, so make it 2 ½ oz.)

Heaven Hill’s Pikesville Rye (110 proof Rittenhouse)

Willett Family Estate 4-year Rye

Recipe: The Cooper Union Cocktail

(Phil Ward, Death & Co., 2008)

  • 2 oz Redbreast Irish Whiskey
  • ½ oz St. Germain Elderflower liqueur
  • 1 dash orange bitters*
  • Laphroaig 10-year Scotch
  • 1 lemon twist (garnish)

Rinse a double rocks glass with the Laphroaig and dump. Stir the Irish, St. Germain, and bitters with ice until cold; strain into the rinsed glass. Squeeze the lemon twist over the surface, and discard. No garnish. (Death & Co.’s orange bitters are a blend of equal parts Fee Bros. West Indian orange bitters, Regans’s orange bitters, and Angostura orange bitters.)