One of the minor regrets of Louisiana visits in my youth was that I traveled there with the double-edged whammy of a college student’s budget and a decidedly “quantity over quality” attitude (at least where cocktails were concerned). While attending undergrad in Memphis I had the great fortune of forging friendships with folks hailing from New Orleans and the nearby Delta country of Mississippi and Alabama. Visiting their home stomping grounds, we left no gas station food stand untried (one of the true joys of deep-South eats), no red-dye-syruped Hurricane unfinished at the bar, and no band worth its salt enjoyed without a boot-scootin' two-step.
to the delight of my tastebuds if not my wallet...
I was shortly thereafter introduced to the charms of a well-built Sazerac, NOLA’s signature cocktail. Booze-forward and fragrant, the slight anise edge of this drink anchors whiskey’s bite, soothingly balanced with sugar and a generous titch of bitters. What the Hurricane is to the “girls gone wild” Mardi Gras debauchery of one’s youth, a Sazerac heralds a more “break out the vintage stemware for porch cocktail party” vibe...all while packing the same amount of sass in the glass.
Most booze historians place the Sazerac as one the earliest recorded bar concoctions, with its name apocryphally derived from the original spirit base, Sazerac de Forge et Fils brand cognac. It’s also indelibly linked to a New Orleans apothecary and Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) immigrant named Antoine Amédée Peychaud, creator of brilliantly hued Peychaud’s bitters in the 1830s. Common in The Big Easy by the 1850s, Sazerac variations were mixed using cognac, rye whiskey, bourbon, French brandy, or even aged rum, and served in heavy tumblers with a few cubes of ice or strained into chilled stemmed glasses. Closer to home, you’ll find lovely versions of this libation served at plenty of SLC’s better bars and restaurants, taking all pandemic precautions required, pretty please. Or make your own at home using local ingredients without revisiting the memory of those pesky public indecency charges. Your call.
laissez les bons temps rouler!
Sazerac (makes one)
- 1 sugar cube
- 6 dashes Honest John NOLA bitters or Peychaud's bitters
- 2 -3 dashes Holystone Absinthe Verte, absinthe, or Herbsaint
- 1/2 ounce cognac
- 1 1/2 ounces Sugarhouse Distillery Rye or High West Double Rye whiskey
Method: Drop the sugar cube into a stirring glass and dash the bitters on top of the sugar. Smash the sugar a bit with a bar spoon. To the stirring glass add the cognac, rye whiskey and a generous scoop of fresh ice. Stir until well-chilled and most of the sugar is dissolved (about 30 seconds). To a chilled coupe glass add the absinthe and swirl to coat the inside of the glass. Strain the stirred cocktail into the coupe glass. Express the oil from a lemon zest swath onto the surface of the cocktail and drop in the swath for garnish.
Raising our glasses to all who are having a tough time of it right now, from those on the Gulf Coast hit by Hurricane Laura to our struggling hospitality industry right here in the Beehive. Stay safe, stay well, and if you have the means to do so, consider donating to The American Red Cross, the US Bartenders’ Guild Covid-19 relief fund, or any one of several Utah organizations supporting local bars and restaurants.