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ThinkingBartender

The Sazerac Cocktail

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This is obviously bigger news for me than for anybody else, but I made myself a Sazerac last night. The reason it's such big news for me is that this is really the first real cocktail I've ever crafted. (I mean, things like gin and tonics don't really count.)

I have to say that it was amazingly delicious. As someone (or ones) said above, coating the glass with absinthe before pouring in the rye/sugar/bitters mixture permits the absinthe to permeate the drink in a way that's really unique -- and gives the drink a bouquet such as I've never experienced before.

OTOH, even with the small amount of absinthe used, I still got the same weird and unpleasant hangover I get whenever I drink absinthe. That's a pity.

(Not that anyone cares, but next I'm going to try a Negroni.)


Edited by Sneakeater (log)

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OTOH, even with the small amount of absinthe used, I still got the same weird and unpleasant hangover I get whenever I drink absinthe.  That's a pity.

That is odd.

I've never had Absinthe; but, the headache thing isn't a problem I've had with Sazeracs made with various brands of Pastis or even on the occasion of drinking fairly large amounts of Pastis diluted with water.

Maybe you're mildly allergic to one of the herbs or spices used in your particular Absinthe? It's not home made "Absinthe", is it? Usually that stuff is macerated, not distilled, and can be kind of nasty.

A well made Sazerac is truly a magical elixir. It was the first cocktail that really hooked me, as well.

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Maybe I am mildly allergic to some ingredient. It's Ted Breaux's "Nouvelle Orleans." Anyone else have any kind of reaction? (It's not so much a headache as extreme listlessness combined with a feeling my head is stuffed with something unpleasant.)


Edited by Sneakeater (log)

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Sounds like an allergy to me. Even if you're talking about rotgut homemade infused "absinthe" I can't imagine that a typical Sazerac contains enough absinthe to contribite to a hangover as we commonly understand it.

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Okay, last night I had what was -- to me -- a paradigm-defining Sazerac: a few ounces of Red Hook Rye (LeNell's unfiltered 136 proof 23 year old rye), a teaspoon of rich demarara syrup, 3 dashes of Peychaud's plus 1 short dash of Angustura, a rinse of Nouvelle-Orléans absinthe and a fat twist of lemon. Froze the glass, stirred the rye, syrup and bitters with plenty of cracked ice (and even then it came out plenty strong). Heaven in a glass.

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I like the original (pre-1880 poor grape harvest) cognac version.

When did they begin washing the glass with absinthe? (it is not technically in the cocktail)

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In "Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix 'Em" Clisby Arthur says they started the Absinthe rinse at about the same time Handy switched from Cognac to Rye. I believe at separate establishments.

I do wonder if the Absinthe rinse was done originally in places that didn't have the benefit of the slightly anise flavored Peychaud Bitters.

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The "poor grape harvest" was actually a continent-wide devastation of vineyards wrought by the accidentally introduced Phylloxera bug, which eat the roots of grapevines. The problem actually began in the 1860s when the insect was introduced to Europe and very nearly wiped out European wine (and hence brandy) production completely. Incidentally, this had several side effects, such as the switch to rye whiskey in cocktails of the period, most notably the Sazerac, and the rise in popularity of Absinthe in France, which had previously been a wine culture. In fact I have read that the hysteria and subsequent ban of absinthe was instigated and inflamed by the wine and brandy "lobby," who, even with the recovery of their industry, still weren't selling at pre-Phylloxera levels. People just loved that Absinthe.

Supposedly European wines and brandies have never tasted the same after the epidemic. The problems were solved, or at least mitigated, by grafting European grape varieties onto American roots, which were naturally resistant to the bug. Some say that this changed the character of the grapes and thus of their byproducts, but I rather doubt I'd be able to tell the difference.

Wikipedia on Phylloxera

-Andy

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ah...I remember the phylloxera thing but didn't put two and two together with the cognac/rye switch -- makes sense time period wise.

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Okay, last night I had what was -- to me -- a paradigm-defining Sazerac:  a few ounces of Red Hook Rye (LeNell's unfiltered 136 proof 23 year old rye), a teaspoon of rich demarara syrup, 3 dashes of Peychaud's plus 1 short dash of Angustura, a rinse of Nouvelle-Orléans absinthe and a fat twist of lemon.  Froze the glass, stirred the rye, syrup and bitters with plenty of cracked ice (and even then it came out plenty strong).  Heaven in a glass.

I'm glad you found a good use for the Red Hook! I still haven't been able to drink it in any form (my first thought was a hack at a, well, Red Hook using it, but it was waayyy too oomphy for my tastes).

Whence cometh the Nouvelle-Orleans absinthe? Is that something the fine folks at LeNell's are stocking these days?

Personally, having traditionally used the Henri Bardouin to make sazeracs (cdh has a case at home that I got him one summer), I actually find the herbsaint a superior option... at least with the ryes I use. It's a bit lighter and fruitier than the HB, so it's a nice complement to the Sazerac baby or the Rittenhouse I usually have lying around. Pernod I'm not so fond of, mainly because I find it somewhat aggressively lemony, and I like being able to drink a cocktail with minimal citrus overtones given how many of them depend on that flavor element.

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Whence cometh the Nouvelle-Orleans absinthe? Is that something the fine folks at LeNell's are stocking these days?

It's one of those Ted Breaux absinthes that you order from these guys:

http://www.absintheonline.com/acatalog/Jade.html

I don't think LeNell's (or anyone else in the US) could legally stock it.

FWIW, I, too think it's great in Sazeracs (although I use the more plebian Sazerac 18 for the rye).

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Okay all of you experts, I have two questions:

1) Why the swirling of the Herbesaint/Pastis and then dumping, instead of just adding the appropriate amount (whatever that may be) in the first place?  Is it some sort of Sazerac mystique or does it really make a difference?

If you're familiar with wine, basically what you're doing here is seasoning the glassware. Just many recipes forget to add the rest in between adding the pastis and the rest of the ingredients.

Have you ever smelled a glass that once held pastis? It's really a very pleasant aroma. By coating the inside of the glass with pastis and allowing it to dry, you can add an interesting aroma component to the drink, providing that you leave a healthy rim on the glass.

This technique, of swirling pastis then pouring it out, is quite wasteful; however, if your bar made a lot of these kinds of drink, you could just pour the excess pastis into the next glass to be used.

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In "Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix 'Em" Clisby Arthur says they started the Absinthe rinse at about the same time Handy switched from Cognac to Rye.  I believe at separate establishments.

I do wonder if the Absinthe rinse was done originally in places that didn't have the benefit of the slightly anise flavored Peychaud Bitters.

Eje: Could you share the Clisby Arthur quote?

The prevalence of the absinthe rinse is interesting, especially with your idea of the availability of peychauds's bitters. It could be.

The Sazerac is just a brandy cocktail after all. Sazerac Brandy Cocktail to be exact.

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In "Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix 'Em" Clisby Arthur says they started the Absinthe rinse at about the same time Handy switched from Cognac to Rye.  I believe at separate establishments.

I do wonder if the Absinthe rinse was done originally in places that didn't have the benefit of the slightly anise flavored Peychaud Bitters.

Eje: Could you share the Clisby Arthur quote?

The prevalence of the absinthe rinse is interesting, especially with your idea of the availability of peychauds's bitters. It could be.

The Sazerac is just a brandy cocktail after all. Sazerac Brandy Cocktail to be exact.

"Schiller's brandy cocktails became the drink of the day and his business flourished, surviving even the War Between the States. In 1870 Thomas H. Handy, his bookkeeper, succeeded as proprietor and changed the name to "Sazerac House". An alteration in the mixture also took place. Peychaud's Bitters was still used to add the right fillip, but American rye whiskey was substituted for the cognac to please the tastes of Americans who preferred the "red likker" to any pale-faced brandy.

Thus brandy vanished from the Sazerac cocktail to be replaced by whiskey (Handy always used Maryland Club Rye, if you are interested in brand names), and the dash of absinthe was added. Precisely when whiskey replaced brandy are moot questions. The absinthe innovation has been credited to Leon Lamothe who in 1858 was a bartender for Emile Seignouret, Charles Cavaroc & Co,. a wine importing firm located in the old Seignouret mansion still standing at 520 Royal street. More likely it was about 1870, when Lamothe was employed at Pina's restaurant in Burgundy street that he experimented with absinthe and made the Sazerac what it is today."

myers, channeling for Stanley Clisby Arthur

PS--It doesnt seem likely to me that Absinthe was used as a Peychaud substitute. New Orleans was America's absinthe swilling capital, and a little dash here or there, (maybe a little on your corn flakes, even) wouldn't have been out of place. And while there is pity in my heart for locales that suffer from an unavailability of Peychaud's, I don't think New Orleans ever suffered such a drought.

myers, channeling noone in particular, save his own cock-a-mamie self.

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It should be borne in mind in all this that nothing was so common, in the 1870s and 1880s, as a dash of absinthe in a Cocktail (it went into plain Cocktails, Manhattan Cocktails, whatever). See, for example, this bit from the Brooklyn Eagle in 1884:

“Come to think of it,” said the bartender, “I’ll tell you what has become a great drink.”

“What’s that?”

“Absinthe.”

“Who drinks it?”

“Well, it used only to be regular topers who wanted to ‘brace up’ after a night’s spree, but now we have a score of customers for it. They say it’s as bad as the opium habit, and I shouldn’t wonder if it is. There are young men who come in here early in the morning, and their hands tremble so before they get it that they can hardly lift the glass to their lips; but almost immediately after getting it down they appear all right. Some take a few drops of it in whisky, but others want a cocktail of it. I make it as follows: three or four dashes of gum syrup, a dash of Angostura bitters, a dash of anisette, a quarter of a wine glass of water and the same amount of absinthe. The charge is twenty cents. I tell you it is a bad habit, and the appetite for it increases wonderfully. One young man I know used occasionally to take a drop or two in his whisky, then he wanted several drops, and after a while he came in one morning with bloodshot eyes and called for an absinthe cocktail. He had been out all night, he said, and wanted a ‘bracer.’ I made him the cocktail, although I told him he had better not take it. The next morning he wanted another. That was about three months ago. One morning last week he came in shaking as if with the ague and ordered absinthe plain. I put water through it, however, without letting him see me.”

I think it was the general trendiness of the ingredient, rather than anything peculiar to New orleans, that made the Sazerac start putting absinthe in their Cocktails.

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I could do for one of those Absinthe decoctions right about now, myself, as I seem to be suffering from a little nativity inspired bottle fatigue. It appears to be in an advanced stage because I can't get the melody of "Oh Holy Night" outta my head.

While not troubling on the face of it, the accompanying lyrics are "Danny Boy"!

The ubiquity of absinthe is indeed a consideration, and not to be taken lightly, but New Orleans strikes me as oddly insular. Not in a bad way, mind you, but kind of like a gastronomic Galapagos; influences tend to get shielded and then mutate unmolested, providing a certain immunity to novelty and faddishness.

I'm thinking the addition of absinthe in the Sazerac is more borne from an actual sincere embrace and fondness for the "green fairy" than anything else. Some latent Franc-ishness is probably also at play here.

And don't you find it a little strange that "Jerry Thomas" published the Crusta (as a category, no less) and Santina's Pousse Cafe yet neglects to mention the venerable Sazerac?

myers, off to get his Nativity on

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"Schiller's brandy cocktails became the drink of the day and his business flourished, surviving even the War Between the States. In 1870 Thomas H. Handy, his bookkeeper, succeeded as proprietor and changed the name to "Sazerac House". An alteration in the mixture also took place. Peychaud's Bitters was still used to add the right fillip, but American rye whiskey was substituted for the cognac to please the tastes of Americans who preferred the "red likker" to any pale-faced brandy...."

And a merry xmess to you Mr. Myers.

When I read this passage, I always think it is funny that Clisby Arthur attributes the change to rye to the American taste for Whiskey.

Handy, a bookkeeper, now owned The Sazerac House. Due to Phylloxera, brandy suddenly became much more expensive.

I suspect the reason for the change had less to do with the public taste for Rye and more to do with the bottom line of Mr. Handy's ledgers.

Had a couple of good Wild Turkey Bourbon Manhattans at the El Tovar bar the other day; but, things have been pretty dry since then. Hope to rectify that situation soon.

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And don't you find it a little strange that "Jerry Thomas" published the Crusta (as a category, no less) and Santina's Pousse Cafe yet neglects to mention the venerable Sazerac?

Here's the thing. There are two ways of parsing "Sazerac Cocktail."

One, it's a Cocktail made with Sazerac de Forge-brand cognac (this is how it appears in the 1908 version of Boothby's World Drinks, the earliest actual recipe I've found for it). Since Thomas doesn't brand his drinks, there'd be no reason to make special room for such a thing.

Two, it's a Cocktail as made at the Sazerac House. When Thomas was in New Orleans, in the mid-1850s, the Sazerac House was anything but an institution--it was simply one of the many bars there, and by no means the most famous one (that one was probably the one at the St. Charles Hotel, and you'll not that there is a St. Charles Punch in his book).

The Sazerac Cocktail didn't become a phenomenon or institution until 1900 or thereabouts, a good fifteen years after Thomas' death, at which point everybody outside of New Orleans had switched to Manhattans, Martinis and Bronxes, and a whiskey Cocktail with a dash of absinthe was something of a novelty.

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A comment and a question with respect to this thread.

First, the comment: what a wonderful source of historical insight and context this forum is! I am a bourbon and rye junkie, and I read several forums regularly related to those two beverages, but this is the most history and information I've ever found about Thomas Handy, the Sazerac cocktail, etc.

For what it's worth, while I like a Sazerac made with straight rye (and I like younger whiskey for this cocktail: Van Winkle and the Saz 18 are almost too refined for the drink IMHO), my preferred version is the one discussed upthread: cognac and rye split 50/50. Marvelous complexity and some enhancement of the fruity character in the drink.

Now, the question: is there anyone who lives in a state where individuals cannot import spirits who has had success ordering from Jade Edouard? In other words, you live where you can't buy whiskey online from, say, California, but you've been able to buy absinthe from overseas? PM or respond in this thread if you have any input.

Thanks.

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Jade will courier anywhere in the U.S. if the bottles get seized at customs (which can happen)...they'll replace them.

my understanding is:

importation from Jade isn't legal. but it's not a criminal offense. so Customs can impound their products if they examine them...which happens rarely. and Jade's exportation is legal under French law.

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Good information, Nathan.

Just what I wanted to know (and what my checkbook feared).

Thanks.


Edited by TBoner (log)

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Ordering spirits and wine from out of state is legal in Texas at any rate though, just a heads-up. I had no problem getting three bottles of absinthe and one of creme de violette from Liqueurs de France.

-Andy

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