Stepping into the Sazerac House in New Orleans is all it takes to fully understand what makes this drink so special (psst — it’s not your average Old-Fashioned). Somehow all four floors of this corner building located on Canal Street feel just like a sazerac cocktail come to life. There’s the strong rye whiskey smell in the air, dark and moody lighting, vibrant wallpaper, and a free tasting and history tour to drive it all home.
Like many New Orleans dishes, the sazerac is an amalgamation of several cultural influences. A quick glance at the ingredients list is akin to taking a walk through defining moments in New Orleans history. There’s the rye whiskey, which gained popularity in New Orleans saloons over French brandy in the late 1800s after an insect epidemic wiped out many vineyards, and the lemon peel, which can be attributed to Italian immigrants in New Orleans (by the 1850s, Louisiana had the largest population of Italians in the U.S.).
Classic sazerac recipes often utilize techniques that are more amenable to a professional bar setup. Because of that, I’ve adapted the process to be more approachable for home bars. Here’s how to make the famous cocktail at home if you can’t make it to New Orleans.
What’s the Difference Between an Old-Fashioned and a Sazerac?
A sazerac is a floral, citrusy version of an Old-Fashioned, thanks to addition of Peychaud’s bitters. It also features anise liqueur, which gives it an added depth.
Key Ingredients in a Sazerac
Sugar: The cocktail was originally made with sugar cubes in the nineteenth century, but you can opt for granulated white sugar instead.
Peychaud’s bitters: Fruity with hints of spice, these bitters are essential to a sazerac. Peychaud’s was famously invented in the back room of an apothecary, and the secret recipe still remains closely guarded.
Herbsaint liqueur: Invented in 1933, this anise-flavored liqueur is a natural replacement for absinthe, which was banned in the U.S. in 1912. While absinthe is now legal, sazeracs are still more commonly made with Herbsaint liqueur.
How to Make a Sazerac
Chill a rocks glass. Classically the glasses are chilled with ice, but I find it’s simpler to chill the glass directly in the freezer for five minutes.
Dissolve sugar and bitters. In a separate mixing glass, add sugar, rye whiskey, and bitters. Then, stir until the sugar dissolves and the drink is thoroughly chilled.
Rinse the glass and strain the cocktail. Rinse the chilled rocks glass with Herbsaint or absinthe, swirl to coat, then discard. Strain sazerac mixture into rinsed rocks glass.
Garnish. Twist a lemon zest strip over the top to release oils, garnish with the zest strip, then serve.
One sip of this iconic cocktail will make you understand just how special it is.
Prep time 5 minutes
1 granulated sugar cube or 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 ounces rye whiskey
1/4 teaspoon Peychaud’s bitters (3 dashes)
1/4 teaspoon Herbsaint liqueur or absinthe
1 medium lemon
Refrigerate or freeze a rocks or old-fashioned glass for at least 5 minutes.
Place 1 granulated sugar cube or 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, 2 ounces rye whiskey, and 1/4 teaspoon Peychaud’s bitters in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add enough ice to fill the mixing glass halfway, and stir until thoroughly chilled, about 15 seconds.
Rinse the glass with Herbsaint or absinthe: Place 1/4 ounce in the chilled glass, swirl to coat the glass, then pour it out. Pour the cocktail through a strainer into the glass.
Peel a 3-inch-long strip of zest from 1 medium lemon with a vegetable peeler. Twist the zest into a spiral over the cocktail to release the oils. Garnish with the lemon twist.