Drink Your Medicine: Why You Should Be Sipping a Sazerac

Craft cocktails have vastly reshaped the 21st-century American drinking and dining scene. Still, it’s not unusual for bar patrons to claim a storied drink as their signature order. For some, it’s the Negroni, while others favor a certain iteration of the martini. But a few have proudly claimed the Sazerac as their tippling calling card.

The allure of the Sazerac is easy to spot. Its complex taste is belied by its simple mixing instructions and short ingredient list, so it serves as a skill test for your bartender. And while you may have seen more Sazeracs ordered in your favorite bars lately, the cocktail has been popular since it originally took one American city by storm nearly two centuries ago.

It all started in 1838 in New Orleans. Pharmacist Antoine Amédée Peychaud began serving mixtures of the French import, Sazerac de Forge et Fils brandy and his namesake gentian-based bitters (which are still ubiquitous behind bars today). Fast forward to the 1850s when a Sazerac Coffee House opened on Royal Street not far from Peychaud’s place and based their business on a version of his popular concoction. The recipe has evolved over the decades; someone somewhere introduced an iteration that substitutes the French brandy for American rye whiskey, and it took a hit when absinthe was temporarily banned in the U.S. in 1912 (though bartenders stubbornly found near-taste legal substitutions).

Today, both the brandy-centered and rye whiskey-based recipes are celebrated in New Orleans and at serious cocktail spots all over the world. Honeybee’s on New York City’s Lower East Side hosts Sazerac Sundays featuring live jazz and discounted Sazeracs of three varieties—brandy, rye whiskey and a split brandy-rye—refined by Beverage Director Sother Teague. When asked about the reasons behind the cocktail’s longevity, Honeybee’s General Manager Sean McClure points to how “it has incredible depth and complexity all-around. Upon taking a sip you get the bright lemon oil up front and as the cocktail coats your palate with just the right amount of weight from the sugar, while the anise, gentian and subtle mint notes of the bitters soften the bold base spirit. A true cocktail you can sit and really think about while sipping it.”

Here are the recipes for the three Sazeracs served at Honeybee’s so you can mix one (or all three) at home and have yourself a good long drink—or, think.

Brandy Sazerac

2 oz brandy
1 bar spoon cane syrup
4 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
absinthe rinse

Combine all ingredients except the absinthe in a mixing glass and stir with cracked ice until well chilled but not over diluted. Rinse a well-chilled single old fashioned glass with absinthe. Strain the cocktail into the rinsed glass. Express a lemon twist over the cocktail and gently rub the oils on the rim of the glass. Place the expressed twist into the cocktail or discard.

Rye Sazerac

2 oz rye whiskey
1 bar spoon cane syrup
4 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
absinthe rinse

Combine all ingredients except the absinthe in a mixing glass and stir with cracked ice until well chilled but not over diluted. Rinse a well-chilled single old fashioned glass with absinthe. Strain the cocktail into the rinsed glass. Express a lemon twist over the cocktail and gently rub the oils on the rim of the glass. Place the expressed twist into the cocktail or discard.

Split-Base Rye & Brandy Sazerac

1 oz brandy
1 oz rye whiskey
1 bar spoon cane syrup
4 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
absinthe rinse

Combine all ingredients except the absinthe in a mixing glass and stir with cracked ice until well chilled but not over diluted. Rinse a well-chilled single old fashioned glass with absinthe. Strain the cocktail into the rinsed glass. Express a lemon twist over the cocktail and gently rub the oils on the rim of the glass. Place the expressed twist into the cocktail or discard.

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