Refreshingly crisp, intoxicatingly boozy, and adequately seasoned, the classic Sazerac is a mix of rye whiskey, Peychaud’s, Angostura bitters, simple syrup (occasionally a sugar cube), and a rinse of absinthe.

It is made in the Old-Fashioned style with roots in the Creole-influenced southern city of New Orleans — the city where the cocktail was effectively born and popularized in the 19th century. The eye-opener of a tipple didn’t rise to popularity until the 1890s, and has regained its place in drink culture through the contemporary cocktail renaissance.

Many believe the original cocktail was made with Cognac as opposed to rye whiskey because of Phylloxera’s decimation of the European grape vines needed to make Cognac in the 1800s which, in turn, left Americans with a depleted supply of the fashionable French brandy. That tale has proved to be false, and the classic whiskey cocktail has always used rye—the common whiskey of the time—although many bartenders opt for a split-base of the two spirits.

It is a temperamental cocktail that calls for the perfect balance of temperature, dilution, and ingredients used, but is the perfect revitalizing spirit-forward tipple when executed perfectly. In its original form, it is bone dry with the use of spicy rye whiskey, and the tannic qualities of the bitters used; but modern bartenders have taken to blending the traditional rye whiskey base with a bit of Cognac—a welcomed innovation by many.

bartender spraying a sazerac cocktail

Sazerac

Before even thinking about your mix, you’ll want to make sure that you have a chilled rocks glass ready to go. Without a chilled glass, consider your Sazerac unsatisfactory. Seriously, the temperature of the glass is vital. Once that box is checked, you’ll want to make sure you have all of your spirituous ingredients ready to go.

While the Sazerac is still an impressive cocktail with rye whiskey as the only base, you’d be remiss to not split the base with Cognac as it makes for a more balanced cocktail with some welcomed depth of dried fruit character and a richer mouthfeel that steers the cocktail away from being too astringent (a common characteristic that is undesirable to many). The split should be 1 1/2 ounces of rye whiskey, and ½ ounce of Cognac.

For the rye whiskey, you’ll want something of quality and of bonded strength (100 proof); and for the Cognac, it is preferable to find something higher than 80 proof—its standard proof—such as Pierre Ferrand 1840 Grand Champagne, this will make the world of a difference texturally.

Next, you’ll want to consider your sweetener. Some bartenders reach for demerara syrup in their Sazerac, but this sugar tends to lend a flavor of its own to the mix which can take away from the base spirits. Cane syrup (2:1 sugar to water ratio) is the preference for this drink as it’s subtler in flavor, but still marries the ingredients well.

Lastly, in terms of ingredients, you’ll need Peychaud’s and Angostura Bitters to serve as the seasonings for your cocktail, and an atomizer to give your ice cold glass a rinse with an absinthe, such as Pernod for some anise-adjacent flavor.

To prepare the drink, take your ice cold glass and rinse it with the absinthe. If you have an atomizer, 3 sprays will do the trick to coat the glass; otherwise, pour ¼ ounce of absinthe into the glass, roll it along the inside, and discard. Next, add the sweetener, bitters, and spirits to a mixing glass, add ice, and stir until properly chilled. With ice cubes that aren’t wet, you should achieve your ideal dilution within 35 rotations (stirs), but you should taste along the way to ensure you’re still tasting the complexity of the spirits. Once stirred, strain the mix into your chilled rocks glass; then, express a lemon peel from a few inches above the glass, and discard. If you execute well, the result should be a perfect Sazerac that is ready to be happily savored.

Sazerac cocktail with garnishes

Sazerac

Sazerac

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 oz. Bonded rye whiskey
  • 1/2 oz. Cognac
  • 1/4 oz. cane syrup (2:1)
  • 4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Absinthe (to rinse)

Preparation: Rinse chilled rocks glass with absinthe. Add the rest of the ingredients to a mixing glass and stir until chilled, then strain into the prepared glass and express the oils of a lemon peel and discard for garnish.