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Three Ways: Sazerac

Few cocktails so aptly capture the vibe of a place as the Sazerac. The drink’s nuanced combination of rye whiskey, sugar, Peychaud’s bitters, and absinthe was invented in New Orleans in the late 19th century. And while historians long debated whether the original iteration was made with Cognac instead of rye, that theory has been successfully debunked. But there has been some tinkering done with the original formula over the years: When absinthe was banned in 1912, Herbsaint—which was invented in New Orleans in 1934—became the Sazerac’s default herbal component and remains a popular option today. But within the parameters of the iconic drink (named the official cocktail of New Orleans in 2008), bartenders continue to experiment with a multitude of assemblies and flavor combinations.

Jewel Sazerac

At Jewel of the South in New Orleans’ French Quarter, co-owner and bar manager Chris Hannah maintains a tradition of “keeping alive the uniquely antiquated and incorrectly built” Sazerac he learned during his 15-year tenure at French 75, the bar located inside Arnaud’s Restaurant. The variation was itself a nod to the Duke’s Martini, which was prepared tableside and served glacially cold and undiluted. “What I realized after a couple of years was, if I could explain why our Sazerac was incorrectly arranged, but it was altogether balanced and enjoyable, then it was all perfectly fine,” says Hannah, who batches the cocktail and freezes it before service. “Despite the heat from the Rittenhouse, which is 100 proof, the whole point is proofing our Sazerac down to drinkability without dilution by incorporating the Madeira and rancio sec,” says Hannah.

15 oz. rye whiskey (Hannah uses Rittenhouse bottled-in-bond)
3 oz. rainwater Madeira
3 oz. rancio sec (a dry, oxidative wine from Roussillon)
2 1/4 oz. of Herbsaint
2 oz. rich demerara syrup (2:1)
1 1/4 oz. Peychaud’s bitters

Tools: 1-liter bottle
Glass: rocks
Garnish: lemon peel

To make a batch, combine all the ingredients in a 1-liter bottle. Shake and store in the freezer for at least several hours. Serve in a chilled rocks glass and garnish with a lemon peel.

Chris Hannah, Jewel of the South, New Orleans

Sazerac Grind

Chantal Tseng, a bar consultant and cocktail educator based in Washington, D.C., often incorporates tea into her cocktails. But when it came to the Sazerac, she opted for a different flavor profile. “The aromas of coffee and espresso are intoxicating, and the combination of coffee with spices, sugar, and chocolate is next-level,” says Tseng. “I adjusted the sweetener of a classic Sazerac slightly to enhance that effect.” Tseng offers two options for incorporating a sweet coffee flavor: Either prepare a coffee-infused simple syrup with equal parts fresh-brewed coffee and sugar, or substitute with a coffee liqueur such as Kahlúa.

2 oz. rye whiskey (Tseng uses Rittenhouse or Old Overholt)
1/2 oz. coffee-infused simple syrup or coffee liqueur
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
absinthe rinse

Tools: mixing glass, strainer
Glass: rocks
Garnish: express lemon peel over glass and discard; chocolate bitters (optional)

To make the drink, in a mixing glass filled with ice, combine all the ingredients except the absinthe. Stir and strain into a chilled, absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Express a lemon peel over the glass and discard, then add an optional dash or two of chocolate bitters, such as Bittermens Xocolatl Mole or Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters, for extra oomph.

Chantal Tseng, Washington, D.C.


Natasha David, a New York bar consultant at You and Me Cocktails and author of Drink Lightly, likes her Sazerac with a split base of rye and Cognac. Even with her affection for aged spirits, however, David admits that the Crescent City’s signature cocktail can be “very broody and serious,” she says. “I wanted to create a luxurious version with a touch of whimsy.” David found the sweet spot by combining Cognac with banana liqueur, which gives her Bananarac “an almost caramelized profile,” she says. “It’s a perfect end-of-night treat.” Splitting the base with Old Overholt rye whiskey creates a more rounded profile. “It has lots of wonderful nutty notes, and reminds me of peanut butter,” says David. “I thought that would add another layer of playfulness to the banana.”

1 oz. Cognac (David uses Pierre Ferrand 1840)
1 oz. Old Overholt rye whiskey
1/2 oz. banana liqueur (David uses Giffard)
1/2 tsp. of rich demerara syrup (2:1)
1 dash The Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas Bitters

Tools: mixing glass, strainer
Glass: rocks
Garnish: Twist lemon peel over the drink and discard

To make the cocktail, in a mixing glass, add all the ingredients. Add ice and stir, then strain into a chilled, absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Twist a lemon peel over the drink and discard.

Natasha David, You and Me Cocktails, New York City

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