Barcode: Sazerac Cocktail

Denver has amassed a small but significant number of bars and restaurants doing craft cocktails.  It’s not uncommon for the neighborhood local to have a few copper mugs behind the bar for a proper moscow mule, a few julep tins are even lurking in unexpected corners.  Unfortunately, Manhattans are still being shaken to death and garnished with nuclear cherries, sour mix creeps into margaritas and daiquiris, but cocktail offenses aside, Denver is learning to drink well again.

It’s well within the bounds to riff on the classics creating something within the house style.  One could have 15 different mojitos at 15 different bars and have all 15 of them be unique and delicious.  Some cocktails demand consistency, their simplicity in preparation and ingredients is what makes the drink work.  It’s arresting to see these cocktails listed on menus and see their preparation butchered and have people turned off from trying them forever.

Few cocktails have an understood spec like the Sazerac. To put it simply, there are Sazeracs, and there is everything else.

From the Savoy Cocktail book:

  • 1 lump of sugar
  • 1 dash Angostura or Peychana (sic) bitters
  • 1 glass rye or Canadian Club Whisky

Stir well and strain into another glass that has been cooled and rinsed with one dash of absinthe and squeeze lemon peel on top.

From David A. Embury’s “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks”

This is the Sazerac that we make at Colt & Gray

Fill a small Old-Fashiioned glasses with finely crushed ice and set aside to chill. Put into pre-chilled bar glass or pitcher for each drink:

  • 1 teaspoonful Sugar Syrup (we use 1/2t rich syrup)
  • 3 dashes Peychaud Bitters
  • 2 to 2.5 ounces Whisky (2oz Old Overholt, or rye whisky of choice. Cognac can also be substituted)

Stir with large ice cubes until thoroughly chilled. Empty the Old-Fashioned glasses. Put 1 dash of abisnthe in each glass and twirl glasses until the inside is thoroughly rinsed with the absinthe, throwing out any excess liquid. Strain liquor into the chilled and rinsed glasses. Twist of strip of lemon peel over each drink and drop into glass for decoration (we discard the peel after releasing the oils for aesthetic reasons). Serve with a glass of ice water on the side as a chaser.

This is a cocktail that brings ritual to a whole new level.  When made properly it’s glorious, when made callously it smells and tastes like the aborted step-child of Good & Plenty. The combination of sugar, bitters, and liquor puts it solidly in the Old-Fashioned camp of cocktail, the addition of absinthe could merit an “improved” distinction. Sazeracs are not served in cocktail glasses, and they aren’t served with ice.  The ritual of rinsing out the glass with the absinthe is what makes this a drink, a bartender should never take short-cuts such as just seasoning the chilling ice, or adding the absinthe to the cocktail, embrace the ritual and be rewarded with a drink that is one of the oldest in the classical cannon.

About Kevin Burke


Kevin is an occasional barman and fulltime practitioner of the Janitorial Arts at Colt & Gray.

  • http://www.denveroffthewagon.com/ Nick Nunns

    Gotta say the one you made me a couple of weeks ago was stellar. Cheers!

  • Scott S

    The best Sazerac I’ve had…so far…was at Green Russell. Although, I haven’t had Colt & Gray’s yet. Which recipe do they follow more closely at GR?

    • Kevin Burke

      From my understanding Green Russell is going to adhere closely to Embury’s spec, most likely they will use Wild Turkey 101Rye as it is their house rye whisky. They make a fine Sazerac there.

  • http://tewsdaybrewsday.blogspot.com CraftBeerDude

    You had me at “Moscow Mule.”

  • eldaveablo

    Weird, I had my first Sazerac this weekend at The Interstate Kitchen & Bar, and it was different from your description, yet it was tasty. They used Rye whiskey, Herbsaint, Peychaud’s Bitters, and was served on ice.

  • Drake Remoray

    eldaveablo…Herbsaint could be used as an abstinthe sub, but on the rocks is not right for that. Maybe with a single big ice cube if you were feeling like it was going to take you a while to drink it…

    • Kevin Burke

      Drake Remoray is absolutely correct. Herbsaint makes for a fine absinthe substitute, as it was formulated originally to replace the outlawed Green Fairy. When a Sazerac is served on ice it flirts with being a Weylin Cocktail or an Improved-Old-Fashioned as it deviates from the family. Very few cocktails have survived history with such rigid instructions as the Sazerac for its preparation.

  • Josh Rapp

    Beautiful, Sazerac is my favorite cocktail by far and my favorite one is made at Colt and Gray

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