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Toast Mardi Gras with a New Orleans Original

By Roger Kamholz in Food on Mar 8, 2011 7:00PM

2013_3_Sazerac.jpg We at Chicagoist bid you a very happy Mardi Gras. Which, of course, is French for "Booze Tuesday." For many, with the hammer of self-sacrifice aiming to strike, Mardi Gras represents a splendid last chance to indulge. But how to celebrate? Well, America looks to New Orleans for direction on this one - and NOLA doesn't disappoint. We're not talking test tube shots and hurricanes. She's given us a much more precious gift to savor; we're talking about the Sazerac.

The Sazerac has a long and winding history. Originating in the mid-1800s, it's often cited as the very first cocktail (a "cocktail" being a category of alcoholic drink just like the julep, the fizz, the smash and so on). It's regained a cult status among cocktail nerds lately, with one historian of the subject lovingly describing it as the "Connoisseur's Choice." Although the initial concoction was made with French Cognac (specifically Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils - hence the drink's name), today a proper Sazerac features a far more American bar staple, rye whiskey.

Typically, cocktail recipes call for a spirit, a sweetener, bitters and water. The Sazerac goes a step further, adding a "rinse" of absinthe to coat the drinking glass. It even calls for its own special kind of bitters, Peychaud's, yet another New Orleans contribution to cocktail lore (supposedly first crafted by local a pharmacist whose shop was near the bar where the Sazerac was invented). While the rye, absinthe and Peychaud's are gospel, how to sweeten a Sazerac is up for debate. Some bartenders reach for simple syrup, others use the more molasses-like demerara syrup, and a third camp says a sugar cube - doused with bitters and water and pulverized with a muddler - is the way to go. The right method is, of course, the one you can do with what you've got on hand.

Once executed, bring the glass to your nose; be greeted by that gentle perfume of anise and orange. The first taste should be sweet, rich and round. And don't be surprised by the saucy pat on the behind from the rye. It's Mardi Gras, after all.

Sazerac Cocktail

2 ounces rye whiskey (we use Hudson Manhattan Rye)
1/2 ounce simple syrup
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
Splash absinthe (we use Leopold Bros., but Herbsaint also works well)
Lemon peel

Chill an old-fashioned glass with ice and set aside. In another, combine syrup, bitters and rye. Fill with ice and stir for about 15 seconds. Toss out ice from first glass, then add absinthe. Holding glass horizontally, turn it to completely coat the interior with absinthe. Pour out the excess. Strain the contents of the second glass into first. Twist the lemon peel over the drink and add as garnish.