Every summer, in the brutal heat of mid-July, there is a celebration of cocktails in New Orleans. Tales of the Cocktail is a coming-together of bartenders and others employed in the beverage industry.
I couldn’t make it this year, but I perked up on the official start date when I got a message from a friend that a decent Sazerac was to be found at Leroy Fox.
Being the first day of Tales and the Sazerac being the official cocktail of New Orleans, it was my duty to go investigate.
The Sazerac is a magical drink that is deceptively simple and often ruined by those unable to properly wield its power. I met my source and we took seats at the bar, directly in front of the man who is known for making this potion, Ryan Hart. I watched intently as he followed the time-honored steps to making a Sazerac.
Once finished, I sipped and smiled with delight. Finally, a proper Sazerac in Charlotte that I didn’t have to make myself.
Let’s go through the steps and I’ll clarify and make suggestions for how you can swap out ingredients to make a drink that fits your palate.
First, you’ll need a sugar cube, 4 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters, 2 ounces of rye whiskey, absinthe and a thin strip of lemon peel. You’ll also need an old-fashioned glass, a bar spoon and a vegetable peeler.
Step 1: Place one cube of sugar in a short metal mixing cup or glass and cover with Peychaud’s bitters. Use a muddler to crush this into a fine pink paste. Hart uses white sugar cubes; I prefer demerara cubes, which can be found at some of the international markets or online.
A word on bitters: The official version uses Peychaud’s Bitters. But you can experiment here without getting too far from the original. I like the version from the New York club PDT, which uses 2 dashes Peychaud’s and 2 dashes of Angostura.
Step 2: Add rye whiskey and a cup or so of ice cubes. Stir until ice cold. This is why I prefer the metal mixing cup. The frost you create on the outside lets you know you are done.
Let’s discuss rye. Hart uses Bulleit Rye, a solid choice given the limited selection at our local ABC stores. If you like a more assertive flavor with more alcohol heat, try Rittenhouse. If you like an earthy pungent flavor, Old Overholdt is an excellent choice.
Step 3: Prepare your glass with absinthe. Most bartenders do this with an atomizer and merely put a couple of sprays in. Hart poured in a 1/4 ounce and swirled it around the glass, dumping out the excess. I like to use a bar-spoon’s worth and slowly pour it out while rotating the glass, getting it as high up on the glass as I can and letting it drip down the sides. I usually do this first, to let it coat the glass as I work. No need to worry about the brand of absinthe here; Hart had Absente on hand.
Step 4: Strain the drink into the serving glass and garnish with a lemon peel. Hart used a long, thin strip you get with a garnish peeler. You also can use a vegetable peeler to create a wider swath. What’s important is that you rub it around the rim of the glass to put the oils and scent on the glass before dropping it in.