Small Change, Big Taste — Thoughts On The Sazerac

Late last summer I spent a few hours at Blue Smoke, enjoying the service, the look of the place, and the air of professionalism that permeates it. I didn’t particularly enjoy the food, but maybe I am too picky. What I did take tremendous pleasure in was the Sazerac that the waiter claimed was made by a bartender who had just returned from a stint in New Orleans, learning the recipe and technique from a Santaria priestess. Or something like that. I had read about the Sazerac, and had even tasted a few, but nothing prepared me for one that was well made. It was a great drink; boldly flavored, but without any of the ingredients dominating. And that puzzled me, because one of the ingredients is absinthe, which, aside from being a neurotoxin (at least they used to think so), is a powerfully flavored licorice liquor. And the other stuff? Bitters! Nothing subtle there.

So I climbed onto Rocinante and rode off to make the perfect Sazerac, or at least a serious contender for the title. I discovered along the way, somewhat to my chagrin, that it is a very difficult drink to make. All of those boldly flavored ingredients clamor to be noticed, and if you aren’t very careful, they will be! Even the lemon peel, with that lovely lemon oil, can be overwhelming. What amazed me was the difference that an extra drop of bitters made, or the profound influence that an additional few drops of Absinthe had on the drink. Now, most of these attempts were excellent, and nothing was unpleasant, but the variation was stunning. Even my lovely wife, whose bar tending prowess is legendary, shied away from attempting a Sazerac.

Yes, this is a tough drink to make, and yes, the odds are good that your attempts, at least at first, will be less than perfect. But don’t let fear of failure dissuade you from trying this drink at home. All of my attempts have been better than anything I have had in bars, with the notable exception of that marvelous example at Blue Smoke. And even they weren’t consistent. I ordered a Sazerac the next time I ate there, and while it was a nice drink, it didn’t come close to the drink that got me hooked. I wonder what the bartender put in that one?

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