Sazerac variations

I was busy getting back to my coffee roots this weekend, but not so busy that I couldn’t put together a little something for this month’s Mixology Monday. Jimmy Patrick is hosting today, with the theme “Variations.”

After the absinthe tasting from a couple of weeks ago, I decided to keep playing around with the Sazerac. Here’s a traditional formula:

2 oz. rye whiskey
several dashes Peychaud’s bitters
rinse of absinthe
sugar cube
lemon zest rubbed on the glass rim

Earlier recipes called for the use of brandy, the switch to rye taking effect when a phylloxera blight wiped out French grape crops in the late 1800s. So for this MxMo, I took another look at the older recipe using Hennessey VS. For comparison I also mixed up a new variation, keeping the brandy but substituting a rinse of Cynar for the absinthe. Cynar is a brown, bitter Italian aperitif distilled from artichokes and other herbs. Not an enticing description, but with a little thought it can add interesting depth to a cocktail.


I learned long ago the importance of tasting various coffees side-by-side, but it’s something I’ve done too little of with cocktails. Tasting these two Sazerac variations was an eye-opening experience. First of all, it really brought home how important that absinthe rinse is. Trying a version without it brings home just how much anise flavor is in the drink, something I hadn’t tasted with the same intensity before.

Second, it made me see what a wonderfully harmonious cocktail the Sazerac is. The brandy serves as a great vehicle for the absinthe, with neither overpowering the other, coming together like a perfectly struck chord. The Cynar version — call it a Cynarac — is instead a study in contrast. The nutty, herbal bitterness of the Cynar brings forward the fruit in the brandy, which then gives way to a pleasantly bitter aftertaste. Both drinks are good, but they work in completely different ways.

Kudos to Jimmy for putting forward this MxMo idea. Trying out these variations not only gave me a new cocktail to enjoy, but enhanced my appreciation for one of the classics.

Update 2/12/08: Jimmy’s posted the complete wrap-up here. Be sure to check the entry from Jamie Boudreau, who also takes on the Sazerac and comes up with a variation I’ll be trying out tonight.