Classic Sazerac Cocktail

Sazerac cocktail with a lemon twist

The Spruce / Claire Cohen

Prep: 3 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Total: 3 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 cocktail that you will encounter, with the anise, bitters, and sugar perfectly accenting a spicy rye.

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. Often, the glass is rinsed with absinthe, and that's what is used here. But 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.

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, never shake it. Don't serve it on the rocks or in a cocktail glass, but instead, serve it in an oversize old-fashioned glass. And don't let the lemon peel touch the drink. Express the oils over the glass, and hang the peel on the rim if you like, or discard.

Ingredients

  • 1 cube sugar
  • 3 dashes Peychaud's Bitters 
  • 1 1/2 to 3 ounces rye whiskey (to taste)
  • 1/4 ounce ​anise liqueur (to rinse)
  • Garnish: lemon twist

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for making a sazerac cocktail

    The Spruce / Anfisa Strizh

  2. Chill an old-fashioned glass by filling it with ice. Let it sit while you prepare the rest of the drink.

    Glass with ice cubes for chilling

    The Spruce / Anfisa Strizh

  3. In a mixing glass, soak the sugar cube with the bitters and muddle to crush the cube.

    Sugar soaked with bitters and muddled

    The Spruce / Anfisa Strizh

  4. Add the rye whiskey and stir.

    Stir rye whiskey into the glass

    The Spruce / 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.

    Swirl absinthe in the glass and discard

    The Spruce / Anfisa Strizh

  6. Pour the whiskey mixture into the absinthe-rinsed glass.

    Whiskey poured into the absinthe-rinsed glass

    The Spruce / Anfisa Strizh 

  7. Gently squeeze the lemon twist over the drink to release its essence. Traditionalists typically discard it and rarely drop it into the glass; lay it on the rim as a garnish if you like.

    Garnish the Sazerac with a lemon twist

    The Spruce / Anfisa Strizh

  8. Serve and enjoy.

    Sazerac cocktail with a lemon twist

    The Spruce / 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 longtime 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.

What's the Difference Between an Old-Fashioned and a Sazerac?

There are similar elements to these drinks, as both contain bitters and a citrus twist, but the base spirit is different.

  • The old-fashioned's base is bourbon, whereas the Sazerac's base is rye whiskey.
  • The old-fashioned typically uses Angostura bitters, but the Sazerac favors Peychaud's.
  • The old-fashioned's garnish is typically orange; the Sazerac tends toward lemon.

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. Explore these variations 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. You may want to experiment with bourbons, although this will not be traditional Sazerac, without the spicy profile of rye.
  • If you don't care for the flavor of anise, try another liqueur besides absinthe for the rinse. Of course, it will not be a true Sazerac, but it can be just as interesting. A blood orange Sazerac uses orange liqueur for the rinse, rye for the whiskey, and orange bitters.

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 the Sazerac is in the 45 percent ABV (90 proof) range and is one of the strongest mixed drinks you can make.