Here’s how to make a Sazerac, the official cocktail of New Orleans! Cognac, whiskey and absinthe make up this famous drink that tastes like no other.

Sazerac

Here’s a boozy classic cocktail that’s one of the greats: the Sazerac! If you love spirit-forward drinks like the Old Fashioned, this one’s for you. Instead of just whiskey and sugar, this one’s got a surprise element: absinthe gives a black licorice finish to each sip! This outlawed liquor is now back in good graces (since 2007, at least), a reason to try this famous slow sipper. It’s the official drink of New Orleans and one of the oldest cocktails there is.

What’s a Sazerac?

The Sazerac is a low ball cocktail made with Cognac or rye whiskey, absinthe, and Peychaud’s bitters. The exact history of the drink is murky, but it was invented in New Orleans in the mid-1800’s. Some sources state the Sazerac was invented as early as 1838 by apothecary Antoine Peychaud. Others claim that the owner of the Sazerac Coffee House, Aaron Bird, created the drink in the 1850’s. The name comes from the type of Cognac it was originally made with, Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils. Later rye whiskey was used in place of the Cognac, and cocktails today use either or both.

This cocktail is on the list of International Bartender Association’s IBA official cocktails, meaning that it has an “official” definition. The ingredients in a Sazerac are:

  • Cognac
  • Rye whiskey
  • Absinthe
  • Sugar cube
  • Peychaud’s bitters
Sazerac cocktail

Make it with Cognac, rye whiskey, or both

The first Sazerac cocktails were made with Cognac: a brand name called Sazerac. Around the 1870’s, rye whiskey replaced the Cognac because of a pest that devastated vineyards in France. Today it can be made with either liquor: or both! The official IBA cocktail version uses rye whiskey, but many sources claim it should be made with Cognac.

For the best flavor, use both! We had Cognac on hand from making the Sidecar and other Cognac cocktails, and we love the flavor combined with the spicy rye whiskey. (Plus, Cognac is the most traditional.) But if all you have is rye whiskey, just substitute it for the Cognac! You can also use bourbon to make a Bourbon Sazerac.

Absinthe
Absinthe was illegal in the US from 1912 to 2007

Was absinthe illegal? Is it worth buying today?

So…absinthe. It’s got a bit of a history. In fact, it was illegal in the US for almost 100 years! Famous painters like Degas, Manet and Picasso have even immortalized it in their paintings. But don’t worry: today, scientists have determined that absinthe is perfectly safe consumed in moderation. Bartenders in New Orleans used substitutes during the ban, but today you can make the Sazerac with the real thing. Here’s what to know about this special spirit:

  • Absinthe is a green anise-flavored spirit made from botanicals: wormwood, anise, fennel and other herbs. It was illegal in the US from 1912 to 2007. Why? Keep reading…
  • What does absinthe taste like? It tastes herbal, with a strong black licorice finish. A little goes a long way, so don’t be heavy handed.
  • Is absinthe hallucinogenic? No! But this is why it was illegal in Europe and the US for almost 100 years. It became very popular in the 1840s, but soon started to be unfairly associated with violent crimes. Some claim this was made up by people backing the temperance movement. Whatever the case, people started to believe it: and bans ensued. Modern research has confirmed absinthe is no more harmful than any other alcohol. Read more about absinthe myths here!
  • Is it worth buying? Yes, if you’re an adventurous cocktail drinker! It’s in several classic absinthe cocktails like Death in the Afternoon, La Louisiane and Corpse Reviver.
  • Don’t have absinthe? Pastis or Pernod make a good substitute.

What are Peychaud’s bitters?

Another specialty ingredient you need for the Sazerac; Peychaud bitters! Bitters are liquors made with herbs and spices. They add intrigue and complexity to cocktails. Peychaud bitters are the “secret” recipe that was originally used to make a Sazerac…and they’re still made today! Here’s a bit more about this ingredient:

  • Peychaud’s bitters are unique but they’re worth finding for the Sazerac. The flavor is a little sweeter than Angostura bitters, the most popular type of bitters you might already have on hand. The flavor has hints of anise and mint.
  • Can you substitute Angostura bitters in a Sazerac? Purists claim the Sazerac must be made with Peychaud’s bitters. But if all you have is Angostura, you can use that too. Some people like to use both Peychaud’s and Angostura (like in a Vieux Carre).
Peychauds bitters

How to make a Sazerac cocktail

Most bartenders make the Sazerac in a special way: with 2 chilled low ball glasses. They swirl the absinthe in a chilled glass, and then use the other glass to mix and chill the remaining ingredients that they strain back into the absinthe glass. After extensive taste testing, we found that for the home bartender, this isn’t really necessary. While a purist might insist on it, we found it was just as good simply stirred with absinthe in a mixing glass. Here’s what to do:

  • Stir together all ingredients in a cocktail mixing glass. Why not a shaker like most cocktails? Shaking in a cocktail shaker dilutes the drink: and for this one, you want it to be straight booze.
  • Don’t have one? Use any glass or container you like to mix the drink, then strain it into the serving glass. If you want to look like someone who knows their cocktails, grab yourself a cocktail mixing glass.
How to make a Sazerac

The Sazerac is the official New Orleans cocktail, according to a decision by the Louisiana Legislature in 2008. But there are plenty of other famous drinks associated with this city! Here are a few more New Orleans cocktails you should try, and the first two are related drinks to the Sazerac:

  • La Louisiane An improvement on the Sazerac (we think)! Absinthe, rye whiskey and vermouth make this spirit-forward cocktail a stunner.
  • Vieux Carre A 1930’s classic from New Orleans! It’s strong and sippable, featuring rye whiskey, Cognac and vermouth.
  • Milk Punch A brandy cocktail made with milk and sugar! It’s cold and creamy, and works for brunch or evening (it’s popular at brunch in New Orleans).
  • Pimm’s Cup This bright and bubbly drink comes from London, but it’s also popular in New Orleans.

When to serve a Sazerac

The Sazerac is a boozy cocktail that’s great for Cognac, rye, and Old Fashioned lovers. It’s perfect for sipping as a:

  • Happy hour drink
  • Dinner party drink
  • Late night drinks drink
  • Guys or girls night drink
  • Cocktail hour drink

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Sazerac

THE Sazerac Cocktail


  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 drink 1x
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

Here’s how to make a Sazerac, the official cocktail of New Orleans! Cognac, whiskey and absinthe make up this famous drink that tastes like no other.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 34 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 1 teaspoon absinthe
  • 1 ½ ounces (3 tablespoons) Cognac
  • 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) rye whiskey
  • Lemon twist

Instructions

  1. In a mixing glass, add the sugar cube and coat it with the bitters. Muddle the sugar cube with a cocktail muddler or wooden spoon until mostly dissolved. Add the Cognac, rye whiskey and absinthe and fill the mixing glass with a handful of ice.
  2. Stir until cold. Strain the drink into a chilled low ball glass.
  3. Use a knife to remove a 1″ wide strip of the lemon peel. Squeeze the lemon peel into the drink to release the oils. Gently run the peel around the edge of the glass, then place it in the glass and serve.
  • Category: Drink
  • Method: Stirred
  • Cuisine: Cocktails

Keywords: Sazerac, Sazerac cocktail

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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