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The Sazerac - perfected!

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Interesting take on this. From my own personal standpoint, I agree 100% with your post, except I like to leave a bit more absinthe in the glass. At the distillery we've been working (for quite a while now) on a line of cocktail bitters. We've come upon a historical recipe/process for a tropical style (think Creole or what Peychaud's was before artificial coloring), that IMHO, is superior to Peychauds. If you ever happen to visit the Seattle area (any of you), please feel free to meet up with me and I'll let you taste.

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Interesting take on this. From my own personal standpoint, I agree 100% with your post, except I like to leave a bit more absinthe in the glass.

And a lot of people do. If that's the way you like to drink it, that's how you should. This thread is about various people's ideas about perfection in this drink and I'm just putting my vision forward. And it's based firmly on what I believe the drink is trying to be.


If you take a surf through all the early recipes for this drink, most clearly state that the absinthe (however called for in volume) is applied as a rinse. The fact that the early recipes also all specify two ounces (which was the pre-prohibition standard) of rye whiskey or Cognac is further evidence that the absinthe wasn't considered to be part of the main body of the drink. Its function was as an accent or aromatic.


Depending on what is meant by "a bit more absinthe in the glass", I can see that. The only rub, though, if one wants to cleave to my understanding of this drink's identity, is that's when the arms race starts. If a bit more means as much as a teaspoon, then more bitters are probably necessary to maintain a balance. I've already discussed the difficulty with trying to express too much lemon oil, and the rye better be able to stand up to all of this. In great mixed drinks it's all about the desired balances and proportions. Traditionally, true cocktails are usually led by the base spirit.


And, BTW, best of success with the bitters. Can't wait to see those. I was just thinking about Voyager, as well, the other day. Sure would like to see that again around these parts.

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So anywho, once completed, I was satisfied with the final product which is my manifesto on the Sazerac Cocktail. I have to say, though, that it was, from time to time, real torture as I wrote it. That piece is the result of probably about three sittings totaling about four hours and several edits. Aside from this thread, it has been an idea of mine for some time now to do a series of articles on a handful of different types of mixed drinks, addressing them as I did this one with as many lessons built in to the text as are specific to the drink, but also ones that serve as the necessary general knowledge and skills in high quality mixed drink making. As I have re-read it a number of times, I'm amazed by how many considerations have become so unconscious. Fact is, if I were to get an order for this drink in a commercial environment, and had a chilled service and mix glass at the ready and nothing else to do right then, I could have the drink in front of someone in about a minute... far less time than it takes to read about it.


It all got me to thinking (there I go again!), what are the lessons? Read carefully, one might have picked up on the following:


Lessons Contained in Mr. Meyers Manifesto on The Sazerac Cocktail


To make a drink its best, you have to understand what it's trying to be.


The Sazerac, while not difficult to make, is one of the easiest drinks to screw up.


To make it successfully, requires fine-lined aesthetic senses, and a good command of technique.


The defining element that makes a drink old fashioned is the use of dry sugar, muddled into syrup a la minute (on the fly, or at the time).


The importance of a lemon peel garnish being fresh and of high quality cannot be overstated.


Chilled equipment is important, especially the service glass. With any drink served strained (no ice), the only thing that resists warming is the system of the drink itself and the chilled glass.


The purpose of stirring is to mix, chill, and dilute.


It is possible to over-do it with any ingredient... even the minor ones. Maybe especially the minor ones. Just think, if a drink calls for two dashes of bitters and you use three, you just increased that ingredient by 50%. That's huge. More isn't necessarily better. Sometimes more is just more.


The pre-prohibition standard for bitters in a true cocktail was one dash for each one ounce of total alcoholic ingredients.


All sweetness sources are not equally sweet. The amount of desired sweetener in a drink needs to be adjusted depending on the type of sweetener.


When gracing the rim of a glass with a citrus peel, you rub the rim with the peel side of the twist (the side the oils are on), not the pith side. You want the lingering impression of citrus oil once the expressed oils have been sucked off the drink, not the lingering impression of bitter pith.


Good quality ingredients, properly handled, result in good quality drinks, but you usually have choices. It happens, but there is rarely only a single best choice.


Sometimes a choice is made for only visual or textural reasons. Presentation counts.


Citrus that is slightly past peak can still be utilized successfully for juice, especially when combined with juice from some fresher stock. However, when it's gone, it's gone. Give it a decent burial and move on. Nobody uses brown lettuce in their salad.


The key to really nailing the Sazerac is to strike a successful balance of the aromatic ingredients, while getting the sweetness and mouthfeel into a good range.


Some elements of drink making can't be communicated in exact measurements. This is where experience and observation come into play. For instance, the expression of citrus oils... this is where your eyes and nose become tools.


Some water is a necessary component of any mixed drink. However, like any other ingredient, it can be overdone. Over diluted drinks are flat, washed out, and lacking the flavor intensity that make a properly diluted drink really pop.


To get a drink optimally cold without over diluting it requires cold mixing equipment, especially if the mixing vessel is glass.


A tin will chill a drink at much less expense of melted ice than glass, unless that glass has been chilled. Personally however, I like to see a drink, if possible, when I'm making it... something about employing every sense at my disposal.


The lower proof your original material is, the closer to over diluted you are from the get go. If you're starting with 80 proof spirits in a drink it becomes critical to have well chilled equipment.


Sweetness is not necessarily a bad thing. Sweetness in a drink is like fat in cooking... it helps deliver flavor (and mouthfeel). To short change a drink in this area for the sake of calories is just silly. There are 16 calories in .25 ounce of simple syrup. If, for instance, you eliminated all the sugar in a Sazerac, all you'd save is 16 calories.


The elemental composition of the Sazerac Cocktail is an old fashioned rye whiskey cocktail with a specialty combination of aromatics... nothing more, nothing less. However, skillfully executed, the best mixed drinks become greater than the sum of their parts.

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