The earliest American cocktails, or most of them, cobblers, old-fashioneds, juleps, sazeracs — all dating to some time prior to the Civil War — combine a base spirit, often brandy or whiskey, a bit of sweetener in the form of simple syrup or a sugar cube, herbal bitters, and more or less garnish.
3 oz rye whiskey, a sugar cube soaked with angostura bitters, muddled with a bit of fruit, built with enough additional ice so that it no longer floats, and you have an classic old-fashioned.
With a copious fruit garnish, you have a cobbler.
Drop the fruit garnish, substitute fresh mint for bitters, serve on crushed ice and you have a julep.
Take your drink down the Ohio and Mississippi from Louisville to New Orleans, discard the crushed ice, substitute anisette for mint, and add a few dashes of Peychaud’s, and you have a sazerac.
All of these antiquated tipples are at heart Southern cocktails, perfect for April and May, when it is just a little too early for a changeover from winter to summer, from brown spirits to white spirits — and by substituting cognac for whiskey in any of these drinks (in the case of the Sazerac returning the cocktail to its earliest incarnation) you can readily lighten the drink and extend the season.
An Original Sazerac Cocktail
- 2 oz Cognac
- 1/2 oz Absinthe
- 1/2 oz Simple syrup
- 3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
- A lemon twist
Chill a cocktail glass with ice. Discarding the ice, add absinthe and gently roll the glass to coat. Discard any extra, and set the glass aside.
Garnish with a lemon twist.
A note on ingredients and substitutions: A dry cognac like Hennessy is ideal for this drink, but a cheaper Spanish Lustau or other dry brandy would be fine. Any absinthe or anisette works well, we use a somewhat austere absinthe ordinaire here, but Ricard, Herbsaint and Pernod — all more or less dry — work well. Peychaud’s is the classic ingredient for a Sazerac, but other bitters are fine. Really just tweak the sweetness to balance the subsitution.