Perfect Sazerac Cocktail Recipe

By Timo Torner / Last updated on April 6, 2023

The Sazerac cocktail is the official drink of New Orleans. It's a boozy combination of Rye Whiskey, Absinthe, bitters, and sugar.
Sazerac cocktail with lemon twist on table

The city of New Orleans is famous for various recipes beyond the Sazerac. Classic cocktail recipes like the Ramos Gin Fizz, Vieux Carré, and the Brandy Crusta all originated in New Orleans.

However, the most famous of them still is the Sazerac cocktail. It is not only popular among bar patrons, but it also has an interesting history; -or actually, two histories.

As with many cocktails, the origin is somewhat unclear. However, in the case of the Sazerac, a variant of the story is largely invented. Learn more about New Orleans's official cocktail and how it really came to life.

Ingredients

  • Rye Whiskey - Bartenders everywhere tweaked and twisted the recipe pairing Rye with Cognac or Bourbon. But straight Rye Whiskey is the traditional way to serve the Sazerac cocktail New Orleans style. Our recommendation would be a spirit of the same name - Sazerac Rye Whiskey produced by the Sazerac Company. 
  • Absinthe - The Absinthe rinse of the glass is an integral part of the recipe. 
  • Sugar cube - Like in the traditional way of making an Old Fashioned, the Sazerac is sweetened with a sugar cube. That requires a little more skill and technique in the preparation but gives the cocktail a touch of class. 
  • Peychaud's bitters - The original recipe likely called for another bitters brand. Yet, over time, a popular bitters brand from New Orleans took over - Peychaud's. A widespread legend even states that the inventor of the bitters also invented the Sazerac. However, this is demonstrably not the case. 
  • Lemon Twist - The standard way of garnishing the drink is a twisted lemon peel. Extract the peel before twisting it to add fragrant citrus notes to the cocktail.

How To Make a Sazerac

The preparation of this drink has its own name: the "Sazerac" style. That usually describes how the glass is rinsed with Absinthe before pouring the cocktail. But let's have a look at this step-by-step.

Step 1: Fill a rocks glass with ice cubes and set it aside.

Step 2: Add sugar cube to mixing glass and muddle with bitters and half a teaspoon of water.

Step 3: Add ice cubes together with Sazerac Rye and stir the drink until well chilled.

Step 4: Discard the ice cubes from the rocks glass and pour in the Absinthe. Rinse the glass with it. Discard any excess Absinthe.

Step 5: Strain the drink into the rinsed glass and garnish with a lemon twist. 

Sazerac Cocktail next to strainer, jigger, and lemon twist

Variations

Over the years, the Sazerac cocktail has seen a few changes to the original recipe. So it is not surprising that today there are countless variations and riffs of the classic recipe.

  • Combining Rye & Cognac: this is one of the most common variations. The base is divided into 1 oz cognac and 1 oz Rye Whiskey. That gives the cocktail more depth and complexity and reduces the spicy notes.
  • Experiments with bitters - The original bitters used to make the cocktail were more or less Peychauds bitters knock-offs. Today, the real deal is the most common choice, but alternatively, you can also opt for Angostura bitters.
  • Bourbon instead of Rye - Bourbon and Rye are often interchanged in cocktail recipes to provide a cocktail with a new flavor note. That also works in a Sazerac, where Bourbon can create a significantly sweeter and rounder drink.
  • Another rinse - Using Absinthe to rinse a glass is the original way when making a Sazerac. But there are some other intriguing options like Herbsaint or Orange liqueur.
  • Smoky Mezcal Sazerac - Mezcal is an amazing spirit that often comes with pronounced smoky flavors. That can work extremely well in the Sazerac template. -Try it with Montelobos Esapdin.
Sazerac Cocktail with lemon peel twist next to lemon on wooden board

The fairy tale of the drink

There are many drinks with an unclear history. With the Sazerac, for a long time, historians thought the story was straightforward: A man named Stanley Clisby Arthur made the world believe that Antoine Amedée Peychaud, inventor of Peychaud bitters, also invented the Sazerac. 

He embellished the story, mentioned the secret bitters recipe that Antoine Peychaud's family brought from Haiti, and claimed that Antoine had invented not just any cocktail but the world's first.

He created a complete lore with countless details and additional information. For example, the cocktail is said to have found a home in John B. Schiller's bar, the Sazerac Coffee House. 

For decades, many believed the story to be true. In recent years, however, cocktail historians could prove that Stanley Clisby Arthur was merely trying to establish Peychaud's bitters as the original recipe of all bitters (which they aren't) while spinning a tale of why and how they came to be part of the Sazerac. [1

The real story behind the Sazerac cocktail

If you leave aside the invented history and solely rely on proven facts, the drink's history looks completely different.

The first thing that stands out is that the Sazerac cocktail was not at the beginning of Sazerac Coffee House's fame. There are many mentions of the coffee house between 1871 and 1885 without a single word about the Sazerac cocktail. [2]

In 1895, Vincent B. Miret and Billy Wilkinson (business partners and head bartenders at Sazerac House) filed a trademark application for their bottled cocktails. The first time the actual Sazerac cocktail appears in writing is in an Alpha Tau Omega Palm report from March 1899. 

As a funny side note, the Absinthe rinse, an integral and iconic part of the Sazerac recipe, wasn't that special at this time. Actually, the Absinthe-rines Sazerac was almost the same as the ubiquitous Absinthe dashed "Improved Whiskey Cocktail". [3] Even the addition of Thomas Handy's bitters, giving the drink a rosy hue, didn't help to distinguish the Sazerac from that drink.

So, back in the day, the recipe of the cocktail wasn't new and innovative but what stood out was the fact that Miret and Wilkinson put on a spectacular old-fashioned bartending show, the likes of which you could only experience at Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans.

Sadly, both inventors of the Sazerac died shortly after, which is one of the reasons why the origin of the Sazerac is not known. Miret died back in 1899, and Wilkinson shortly after in 1904. [4] [5]

Sazerac cocktail with lemon twist on table

Sazerac Cocktail

The official drink of New Orleans.
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: American
Keyword: absinthe, Cognac, whiskey
Servings: 1
Calories: 189kcal
Cost: $3.30

Ingredients

  • 0.5 oz Absinthe - for rinsing
  • 2 oz Sazerac Rye
  • 0.5 oz Simple syrup
  • 3 dashes Peychaud's bitters
  • 1 lemon peel - used as garnish

Instructions

  • Rinse a rocks glass with the Absinthe, fill it with plenty of ice, and put it aside.
    0.5 oz Absinthe
  • Add the other ingredients to a mixing glass with plenty of ice. Stir until the cocktail is well chilled.
    2 oz Sazerac Rye, 0.5 oz Simple syrup, 3 dashes Peychaud's bitters
  • Then take your Old Fashioned glass and remove the ice and all of the Absinthe. 
  • Strain the cocktail from the mixing glass into your Old Fashioned glass and garnish with a lemon twist. 
    1 lemon peel

Nutrition

Serving: 3ozCalories: 189kcalCarbohydrates: 12.6gFat: 0.01gSodium: 0.75mgPotassium: 35.85mgSugar: 11.1gCalcium: 17mgIron: 0.12mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

More Rye Whiskey Drink recipes to try

Rye is known for its spicy flavor profile, distinguishing the spirit from other Whiskeys like Bourbon, Scotch, or Irish Whiskey. Here are some popular cocktails you can make with Rye, except Rye Whiskey:

  • Classic Manhattan cocktail made with Rye, Sweet Vermouth, and Angostura bitters
  • Black Manhattan - the popular twist on the Manhattan uses Averna Amaro instead of Vermouth
  • Boulevardier - The Whiskey answer to the Negroni template made with Rye, Campari, and Vermouth
  • Vieux Carré - Another classic Rye cocktail from New Orleans

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