Sazerac Cocktail

New OrleansCocktailWhiskey

The Sazerac is considered by many to be America's oldest cocktail! Made with rye whiskey, Peychaud's bitters, absinthe, sugar, and a lemon peel, it's a true classic. Try it!

Photography Credit: Andy Christensen

The Sazerac may very well be America’s oldest cocktail. It’s also the official cocktail of New Orleans—a fitting designation, since it was invented there in 1838!

So, what is a Sazerac? This classic whiskey cocktail is akin to an Old Fashioned, but with a few distinct differences: It’s made with Peychaud’s bitters instead of Angostura, and it contains a bit of absinthe or Herbsaint (an anise-flavored liqueur).

When made properly, it’s a superbly balanced drink and definitely one worth knowing!

A bottle of herbsaint, Peychaud bitters and Sazerac rye whiskey on a wooden table for sazerac recipe.

A Brief History of Sazerac Ingredients

In the 1830s, Antoine Peychaud, a New Orleans apothecary, invented what would later become known as the Sazerac.

Peychaud’s family recipe for an aromatic elixir (known as “Peychaud’s bitters,” both then and now!) was a key component in the brandy toddies he mixed for friends. That toddy drink became so popular that by 1850, Peychaud’s brandy toddy had a new name—the Sazerac—thanks to its recently-acquired status as the official cocktail of the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans.

Later iterations of the Sazerac dropped the brandy in favor of American rye whiskey and added in a touch of absinthe.

Nowadays, a classic Sazerac is made with five ingredients:

  1. Sugar
  2. Peychaud’s bitters
  3. Rye whiskey
  4. Absinthe or one of its anise-flavored substitutes
  5. A lemon twist

Sazerac drink in a whiskey glass with a lemon peel. A partially peeled lemon and sazerac ingredients are in the background.

A Bit More About Absinthe

Absinthe was banned in 1912 due to the belief that it contained hallucinogenic ingredients that could make you “crazy and criminal,” as one temperance petition stated in 1907. It wasn’t made legal in the US again until 2007, which means that for most of the 20th century, Sazeracs were made with Herbsaint, an anise-flavored absinthe substitute developed in the 1930s.

QUESTION: But now that absinthe is legal again (and no, it won’t make you crazy or criminal!), should you make a Sazerac with absinthe or Herbsaint?

ANSWER: The answer is … either! But Herbsaint is the most commonly used option at this point. (A 60-year habit is hard to break.)

You can also try another pastis like Pernod or Ricard. Keep in mind that you only need a tiny amount of the stuff to rinse the glass, so you get a very subtle flavor.

The Best Whiskey for a Sazerac

What does a Sazerac taste like? Well, it tastes like whiskey! That, and a little bit of sweetness from the sugar mixed with a few herbal, bitter notes from the Peychaud’s and the Herbsaint.

But really, this is a very whiskey-forward drink, so a good rye is essential to get it right. If you want the real thing, your best bet is Sazerac Rye. (It’s in the name, people!) But try whatever rye you favor!

You’ll taste subtle differences in the final drink depending on the rye you choose—sweeter, smoother, spicier—so experiment to see what you like best.

Vertical picture of sazarec drink on a round wooden table with a lemon peel on the edge of the glass.

Do’s and Don’ts for a Terrific Sazerac

  • Do use two rocks glasses to make your Sazerac: one for the Herbsaint rinse, and one for mixing the other ingredients.
  • Do try a dash of Angostura bitters to enhance the flavors, if you want. No, it’s not traditional, but it’s also not uncommon now to see a dash or two included alongside the traditional Peychaud’s.
  • Do add another dash or two of Peychaud’s if you find you love the flavor.
  • Do use either a muddled sugar cube or its equivalent: 1 teaspoon simple syrup
  • Don’t skip the twisted lemon peel at the end! The lemon oil is essential to the drink.
  • Don’t stir too fast, and definitely don’t shake the drink.
  • Do give the Sazerac a try, because it’s a true classic.

More Whiskey Cocktails

Sazerac Cocktail Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cocktail

Ingredients

  • Ice cubes, enough to fill a rocks glass
  • Herbsaint, Pernod, Ricard, or absinthe, just enough to coat a glass
  • 1 sugar cube or 1 teaspoon simple syrup
  • 3-5 dashes Peychaud's bitters
  • 2 ounces rye whiskey (I used Sazerac Rye)
  • One large ice cube
  • 1 lemon peel

Special equipment:

Method

1 Rinse a rocks glass with Herbsaint: Fill the first rocks glass with ice cubes. Set aside to chill. Once cold, empty the ice and pour a small amount of Herbsaint into the glass. Swirl it around until it has coated the inside of the glass, then pour it out. Set aside.

2 Muddle the sugar and bitters: Add the sugar cube and bitters to another, second rocks glass and muddle. Add 1/2 ounce cold water to help break the sugar cube down, if needed. Alternatively, combine simple syrup and bitters in the glass (no muddling required).

3 Add rye and large ice cube: Add 2 ounces rye and one large ice cube. Stir slowly until chilled.

4 Strain and serve: Strain the mix into the Herbsaint-rinsed rocks glass. Twist the lemon peel above the cocktail to release the oils, then run it along the edge of the glass. Discard the lemon peel if you're a Sazerac purist; leave it on the edge of the glass if you're not.

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Cambria Bold

Cambria Bold is the Product and Lifestyle Director for Simply Recipes. She has almost a decade's worth of online editorial experience and know-how, first as the Managing Editor for Apartment Therapy's green living site Re-Nest (RIP) and later as the Design and Lifestyle Editor for The Kitchn. She lives in the Twin Cities with her husband and their two little girls. And, yes, this is her real name.

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