Classic Sazerac Cocktail


The Spruce / Claire Cohen

  • Total: 3 mins
  • Prep: 3 mins
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Serving: 1 serving
  • Yield: 1 cocktail

The Sazerac is ​a timeless cocktail from New Orleans that was created in the 1800s. It is a simple recipe and a nice way to doctor up rye whiskey.

The recipe requires just four ingredients: rye whiskey, a sugar cube, Peychaud's Bitters, and anise liqueur. It is one of the best examples of a well-balanced drink that you will find, with the anise, bitters, and sugar accenting a spicy rye perfectly.

As is the case with many popular drinks, there are varying opinions regarding how to make it. Some drinkers prefer to use their favorite bitters, some a specific rye, and many have a preference for the anise liqueur. Even the technique is disputed, though every element is a matter of personal preference. The official (and trademarked) Sazerac recipe from the Sazerac Company specifically uses Sazerac Rye Whiskey, Herbsaint for the anise liqueur, and Peychaud's Bitters.


Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for sazerac cocktail
    The Spruce Eats/Anfisa Strizh
  2. Chill an old-fashioned glass by filling it with ice. Let it sit while you prepare the rest of the drink.

    Chill a glass
    The Spruce Eats/Anfisa Strizh
  3. In a mixing glass, soak the sugar cube with the bitters and muddle to crush the cube.

    In a mixing glass, soak sugar with bitters
    The Spruce Eats/Anfisa Strizh
  4. Add the rye whiskey and stir.

    Add rye whiskey
    The Spruce Eats/Anfisa Strizh
  5. Discard the ice in the chilled glass. Rinse it with absinthe: Pour a small amount into the glass, swirl it around, then discard the liquid.

    Discard the ice
    The Spruce Eats/Anfisa Strizh
  6. Pour the whiskey mixture into the absinthe-rinsed glass.

    Pour whiskey into glass
    The Spruce Eats/Anfisa Strizh 
  7. Gently squeeze the lemon twist over the drink to release its essence. Traditionalists typically discard it and rarely dropped into the glass; lay it on the rim as a garnish if you like.

    Garnish with a lemon
    The Spruce Eats/Anfisa Strizh
  8. Serve and enjoy!

    The Spruce Eats/Anfisa Strizh


Where Was the Sazerac Invented?

The story of the Sazerac cocktail began in 1838 when Antoine Amedie Peychaud, a New Orleans apothecary, mixed cognac with his proprietary Peychaud's Bitters. In the 1850s, this "toddy" (not a hot toddy, but an early name for a cocktail) was the signature drink of the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans. That's where it received its name and became the first "branded" cocktail. In 1869, bartender, Thomas H. Handy purchased the bar from Sewell Taylor. A few years later, he added Peychaud's Bitters to the portfolio of his growing liquor business, which would become the Sazerac Company.

By the 1890s, rye whiskey took over for the brandy and Handy was selling bottled Sazeracs. In the 1940s, Herbsaint became the anise liqueur of choice, primarily due to the ban of absinthe in the U.S. Today, Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey is a very pricy bottle; Sazerac Rye Whiskey is reasonably priced for the average drinker.

Recipe Variations

With nearly two centuries of history, it's understandable that the Sazerac recipe has been mixed in various ways over the years. Even the official cocktail has undergone a number of revisions. It's interesting to explore these to taste the impact that even the slightest change can make.

  • Sazerac recommends a 1 1/2-ounce pour of whiskey, though many drinkers prefer to pour between 2 and 3 ounces.
  • Split the rye whiskey with an equal part of cognac. Typically, each is a 1 1/4-ounce pour.
  • Muddle the sugar cube with a splash of water, then add the bitters to the whiskey.
  • Use a combination of bitters.
  • For a bit of dilution, stir the whiskey mix with a few small ice cubes then strain into the rinsed glass.
  • Use 1 teaspoon of rich (2:1) simple syrup instead of a sugar cube. Add it to the mix of rye whiskey and bitters with ice, stir, and strain.
  • At one point, the official recipe recommended bourbon as an alternative to rye whiskey. Following suit, you may want to experiment with bourbons, though this will not be the traditional Sazerac and you'll miss the spicy profile of rye.
  • If the flavor of anise is not your thing, try another liqueur for the rinse. Of course, it will not be a true Sazerac, but can be just as interesting. For instance, a blood orange Sazerac uses orange liqueur for the rinse, rye for the whiskey, and orange bitters.

What Should You Avoid When Making a Sazerac?

Despite all the variations, many bartenders will tell you that there are a few things to avoid when making a Sazerac. To prevent a Sazerac faux pas, follow these customs:

  • Never shake this cocktail.
  • Do not serve it on the rocks or in a cocktail glass. It needs an oversized old-fashioned glass in which you can swirl the drink.
  • Don't let the lemon peel touch the drink. Express the oils and hang it on the rim for decoration if you like, or simply discard it.

How Strong Is the Sazerac?

Sazerac Rye Whiskey is a 90-proof liquor. Even if you dilute it slightly by stirring it with ice, the Sazerac cocktail is really no different than drinking the whiskey straight—it's merely enhanced. This means that the Sazerac is in the 45 percent ABV (90 proof) range and is one of the strongest mixed drinks you can make.