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Sazerac Cocktail Recipe

The Sazerac may be one of the oldest cocktails in America but the classic New Orleans drink is as relevant today as ever. Follow our Sazerac cocktail recipe and craft the sophisticated sipper at home.

Classic Sazerac Cocktail with Black Background

A complex cocktail that’s simultaneously strong, spicy and sweet, the Sazerac is more than a popular cocktail invented in New Orleans. According to the Louisiana legislature, it’s also the city’s official cocktail.

That accolade is a big deal. After all, NOLA is the country’s unofficial cocktail capital and the home of the annual Tales of the Cocktail festival. But is the honor merited worthy considering other cocktail candidates that include the Absinthe Frappe, Hurricane, Ramos Gin Fizz and Vieux Carré?

Discover the most iconic New Orleans cocktails as well as the city’s most iconic bars. Then explore the best Mardi gras cocktails.

Sazerac Cocktail with Red Background
The Sazerac isn’t just any cocktail in New Orleans. It’s the city’s official cocktail.

We say yes.

Not only does the Sazerac cocktail sip like a dream but, with ingredients that include absinthe and Peychaud’s bitters, it also tastes like New Orleans in a glass.

What Is a Sazerac Cocktail?

Sazerac at Herbsaint in New Orleans
We drank this Sazerac crafted with Herbsaint (the liqueur) at Herbsaint (the restaurant) in New Orleans.

The Sazerac really isn’t all that different from another classic cocktail, the Old Fashioned. Both cocktails are boozy sippers made with a dark liquor, bitters and a sugar cube.

However, while a typical Old Fashioned is made with bourbon and Angostura bitters, the Sazerac replaces those ingredients with rye and Peychaud bitters and adds an absinthe (or pastis or Herbsaint) rinse for good measure.

But make no mistake. The Sazerac is not an Old Fashioned rip-off. How could it be? The Sazerac cocktail was invented in New Orleans decades before anybody ever sipped an Old Fashioned anywhere.

History of the Sazerac Cocktail

Sazerac House Memorabilia in New Orleans
We explored the Sazarac cocktail’s rich history at the Sazerac House in New Orleans.

The Sazerac’s history dates back to the 19th century when the (now closed) Sazerac Coffee House first served the cocktail that Antoine Peychaud allegedly created at his French Quarter apothecary. His recipe included Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils cognac, absinthe and a secret blend of bitters. Almost a century later, Peychaud’s signature blend remains a key ingredient in any proper Sazerac. The other ingredients, not so much.

While we use absinthe in our Sazerac recipe, other recipes replace the potent anise-flavored spirit with France’s pastis or New Orleans’ Herbsaint. The reason for this recipe alteration goes back to 1912 when the US banned the sale of absinthe due to a concern that La Fee Verte (i.e. The Green Lady) caused hallucinations.

Although that hallucinogenic concern was disproved and absinthe eventually returned to the American marketplace with reduced thujone (found in wormwood) levels in 2007, not everybody in New Orleans got the memo. They continue to craft Sazeracs with Herbsaint, a local favorite, instead of absinthe.

Buy a copy of Tim McNally’s The Sazerac if you want to dig deeper into the classic cocktail’s past.

Sazerac House Cocktail in New Orleans
Sampling a Sazerac cocktail is a bonus for those who visit the Sazerac House.

Perhaps the Sazerac would have achieved more widespread popularity had absinthe not been banned for almost a century. We’ll never know for sure. But we do know that the boozy beverage never lost its luster in its home city.

In 2008, the Louisiana’s senate made the Sazerac’s the state’s official cocktail. More recently, in 2019, the Sazerac House opened a multi-floor exhibition celebrating the cocktail’s history and offering Sazerac samples to all who take a free tour.

Make an appointment to tour the Sazerac House.

Sazerac Cocktail Ingredients

Sazerac Liquors
The ingredients in our classic Sazerac recipe include rye whiskey, absinthe, Peychaud’s bitters, a sugar cube and lemon peel. It also includes ice cubes that were chilling in the freezer.

The Sazerac’s ingredient is relatively short considering the cocktail’s big flavor. Here’s everything you need to craft a classic Sazerac at home:

  • Rye Whiskey
  • Absinthe or Herbsaint
  • Peychaud’s Bitters
  • Sugar Cube
  • Lemon Peel (garnish)
  • Ice Cubes
Bottle of Rittenhouse Rye
Rittenhouse straight rye whiskey is our rye of choice for this and other cocktail recipes.

Rye whiskey is the dominant ingredient in the Sazerac so you’ll want to use a good one. A solid choice would be to use Sazerac Rye produced by Buffalo Trace; however, we don’t have easy access to that particular American rye where we live.

We bought a bottle of Rittenhouse Rye with a 51% ABV for this and other recipes. Although it’s distilled in Kentucky, the liquor has a Philadelphia connection just like us. Its name was inspired by Rittenhouse Square located in the center of the city of brotherly love.

Buy a bottle of Rittenhouse rye from Drizly or Total Wine if you live in the US.

Peychauds Bitters Bottle
Antoine Peychaud created a unique bitters blend almost two centuries ago. It remains a key Sazerac ingredient to this day.

While you have flexibility in choosing the rye, this is not the case with the bitters. Peyhaud’s is the one and only bitters choice when crafting a proper Sazerac cocktail.

Not only was Peychaud’s bitters an original Sazerac ingredient all those years ago, but the ruby red bitters has a spicy blend that works well in this cocktail. Similar to Sazerac Rye, Peychaud’s is currently produced by Buffalo Trace in Kentucky. It has a 35% ABV.

Buy a bottle of Peychaud’s Bitters from Drizly or Total Wine if you live in the US.

Bottle of French Absente 55 Absinthe
A rinse of absinthe goes a long way when crafting a Sazerac cocktail.

Although absinthe plays a supporting role in the Sazerac recipe, it’s absolutely integral to the cocktail’s final flavor. Sure, you could use Herbsaint or pastis to get that hint of anise but we choose to use Absinthe as did Antoine Peychaud.

We purchased a bottle of Absente 55 Absinthe for this and other recipes. Produced in France and as its name suggests, the green liqueur has a relatively low ABV of 55%.

Buy a bottle of Absente 55 Absinthe from Drizly or Total Wine if you live in the US.

How to Craft a Sazerac Cocktail

Sazerac Mise en Place
A classic Sazerac cocktail is easy to craft at home once you assemble the necessary ingredients and bar tools.

As is the case with most classic pre-prohibition cocktails, the Sazerac doesn’t require any unusual bar tools. We used the following tools when crafting our Sazerac:

You can improvise if you’re missing any of these two bar tools. For example, you can use a small angled measuring cup instead of a jigger. Also, using a cocktail strainer is optional.

Discover 10 necessary bar tools for lazy mixologists.

Dashing Bitters into a Sazerac Recipe
There’s no need for a shaker or mixing glass in our Sazerac recipe.

Before you start crafting a Sazerac, you’ll want to fill a lowball glass (also known as an old fashioned glass) with ice cubes and set it aside.

The first step is to drop a sugar cube into a second low ball glass and add four dashes of Peychaud’s bitters.

Muddling Sugar and Bitters for a Sazerac Recipe
We muddled a sugar cube and Peychaud’s bitters in this lowball glass.

Muddle the sugar and bitters to create a sludge.

Measuring Rye for a Sazerac Recipe
We always use a Japanese jigger to measure liquor for cocktail recipes.

Measure the rye whiskey in a jigger. We use a Japanese jigger to ensure an accurate measurement and avoid spillage.

Buy a Japanese jigger from Amazon if you don’t have a jigger or fancy an inexpensive upgrade.

Pouring Rye into a Sazerac Recipe
The rye whiskey also goes directly into the glass.

Immediately pour the rye whiskey into the second lowball glass with the sugar-bitters sludge.

Stirring a Sazerac Recipe
Stirring the ingredients creates a smoother cocktail.

Gently stir to integrate the ingredients. Briefly set this lowball glass aside.

Swishing Absinthe for a Sazerac Recipe
We carefully swirled the absinthe in this lowball glass before discarding the green liqueur.

Empty the ice from the first lowball glass.

Measure and pour a half ounce of absinthe and pour it into the chilled glass. Swirl the glass so that the absinthe coats the glass’s interior.

Sipping Absinthe
Sipping the discarded absinthe is a bonus for the mixologist.

The next step is to discard the absinthe. While you could hypothetically pour the absinthe down the drain, the better option is to drink the green liqueur.

Straining a Sazerac Cocktail
We used a strainer when we transferred the Sazerac into this chilled, absinthe-coated glass. You can go either way in regards to this bar tool.

Strain or pour the liquid from the second lowball glass into the chilled, absinthe-coated lowball glass.

Expressing Lemon Peel for Sazerac Recipe
Expressing a lemon peel releases the citrus fruit’s fragrant oils.

The final step is to express the glass by rubbing the lemon peel around the rim before dropping it into the glass. Be sure to express the glass that you’ll be sipping!

Sazerac Cocktail Alternatives

Crafted Sazerac Cocktail with Bottles
Once you craft your first Sazerac cocktail, it likely won’t be your last time crafting the classic cocktail.

The Sazerac cocktail is a beloved classic in New Orleans and beyond. However, we won’t judge you if you prefer crafting one of the following alternatives:

  • Craft an Absinthe Frappe if you want to imbibe a cocktail in which absinthe plays a starring role.
  • Craft a Vieux Carré if you want to imbibe a more potent cocktail featuring rye whiskey and Peychaud’s bitters as well as cognac, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine and Angostura bitters.
  • Craft an Old Fashioned with bourbon and Angostura bitters if you don’t have rye whiskey, absinthe or Peychaud’s bitters in your liquor cabinet.

Sazerac Recipe

Sazerac Cocktail

Sazerac Cocktail

Yield: 1
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

The Sazerac packs a wallop with just a handful of ingredients. Follow our step-by-step recipe and craft a classic Sazerac cocktail at home in just five minutes.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 1/4 ounce absinthe
  • 4 dashes Peychaud's bitters
  • 1 sugar cube
  • lemon peel
  • ice cubes

Instructions

    1. Fill a lowball glass with ice and set it aside.
    2. Drop sugar cube into a second lowball glass. Add bitters and muddle until the sugar and bitters are fully integrated.
    3. Add rye whiskey and gently stir.
    4. Empty ice from the first glass. Pour absinthe into the empty glass and swirl around so that the inside of the glass develops a light absinthe coating. Discard the absinthe.
    5. Pour the liquid from the second glass into the first glass.
    6. Express the glass with the lemon peel before adding it as garnish.

Notes

  • Feel free to drink the discarded absinthe.
  • You can replace the absinthe with either pastis or herbsaint if you can't find absinthe where you live.
  • You can alternatively use a coupe glass instead of a lowball glass.

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About the Authors

About the Authors

Daryl & Mindi Hirsch

Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Disclosure

We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

Original Publication Date: February 13, 2022

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