It’s the absinthe that makes the Sazerac something sublime. Dubbed “the green fairy,” the licorice-flavored liqueur was banned for nearly 100 years. Until 2007, in fact. But it is this demon liquor that makes New Orleans’ legendary cocktail, the Sazerac, more than a glass of rye and bitters.
You don’t notice the absinthe at first. But as you sip — and this is a drink you absolutely must sip — you begin to notice those dark, magic flavors.
During our recent visit to New Orleans, we had to reacquaint ourselves with the Sazerac. It tastes better in the Big Easy. I’ve made them at home and while they taste the same, they just aren’t the same without the swelter of a NOLA summer, the sound of a trumpet on the lazy breeze, the anticipation of a Creole-inspired dinner. Others can tout the joys of the Hurricane or sing the praises of the Ramos Gin Fizz or rave about the French 75. All of them are New Orleans natives, too. But for me, the Sazerac contains the essence of New Orleans — its Old World style, its mix of cultures, its appreciation for beauty and good taste.
The Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel is an elegant stopping place for what may be the world’s oldest cocktail recipe. An Art Deco bar with murals from a distant era serves as the focal point for this elegant spot. But you don’t have to stop here for this classic cocktail. Knowledgeable bartenders all over New Orleans know how to drip a little absinthe in the bottom of the class to coat it just right, how to mix the rye and the Peychaud’s bitters (named for the cocktail’s creator) and then add that little twist of citrus for a final fresh note.
ⓒ Photos and text Mary K. Tilghman