Classic Sazerac Cocktail Recipe

The Sazerac is one of those old-timey 19th century cocktails that was revived in the 21st century. One thing spurring the drink's revival is the fact that a critical ingredients only became legal to purchase in 2007. According to recipe developer Christina Musgrave, rinsing the cocktail glass out with absinthe "is what makes a Sazerac a Sazerac." Absinthe substitutes had to be employed back when absinthe was banned (and still may be today, since the stuff ain't cheap).

Many feel that the Sazerac recipe is sacrosanct, meaning that you absolutely must make it in a very specific way. As Musgrave explains, "cocktail lovers like keeping the Sazerac classic." Well, as it turns out, even the classics can be reinterpreted, since although today's Sazeracs are typically made with rye, the original drink included cognac. Should you wish to make any alterations of your own, such as using bourbon in place of rye or subbing in a different type of bitters, you're not really committing any kind of unpardonable sacrilege. Bartenders, it seems, have been tweaking this drink since it was first created.

Gather the ingredients for the Sazerac

You'll just need four ingredients for the Sazerac. The main ingredient is typically rye (but bourbon's good, too, or you can always go back to using the original cognac). The absinthe is only used for a glass rinse, so you just need a tiny bit, but if you can't find it or don't want to invest so heavily in a bottle, you could substitute Pernod, anisette, or ouzo. The bitters that are used for a classic Sazerac are Peychaud's. It's not quite the same flavor profile as Angostura bitters, which Musgrave describes as more of an "all-purpose" bar staple that's a bit more spice-forward.

One other ingredient that's typically used to make this drink is a sugar cube. As Musgrave explains, "the sugar cube is the perfect amount of sugar and what was used for the classic cocktail." As it happens, though, a sugar cube is equivalent to a teaspoon of sugar, so using that amount of granulated sugar won't make much (if any) difference to the finished drink.

Muddle the sugar and bitters

Put the sugar in a glass — not a cocktail glass at this point, but a mixing glass. You could use a shaker (though you won't be doing any shaking), you could use a plastic cup, or you could actually use a cocktail glass, but you'll be mixing the drink in one glass and then pouring it into another.

Add the bitters to the sugar, then muddle it around until the sugar is more or less dissolved.

Add the booze

Put a few ice cubes in the mixing glass, then pour the rye over the ice. Using the stirring implement of your choice, stir the drink a few times to combine all of the ingredients.

Rinse the serving glass with absinthe

At this point, get out whatever type of cocktail glass you wish to serve the Sazerac in — a shorty, chunky, Old Fashioned-type glass will work quite well. Pour the absinthe into the glass and swish it around to coat the insides. After you've done so, Musgrave says to discard the absinthe, but if that seems wasteful, you're welcome to pour it right into your mouth, instead. We won't tell.

Strain the drink into the absinthe-rinsed glass, then your Sazerac is ready. If you feel it needs a garnish, a twist of lemon peel will do quite nicely (and is traditional, to boot).

Classic Sazerac Cocktail Recipe
5 from 51 ratings
Fragrant and complex in flavor, this timeless rye whiskey cocktail recipe isn't for the faint of heart. Not when there's absinthe involved.
Prep Time
Cook Time
sazerac with lemon peel garnish
Total time: 5 minutes
  • ¼ ounce (1 ½ teaspoons) absinthe
  • 1 sugar cube or 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 ounces rye
  • 4 dashes Peychaud's bitters
Optional Ingredients
  • lemon peel, for garnish
  1. Muddle the sugar with the bitters in a mixing glass.
  2. Put a few ice cubes in the mixing glass, then stir in the rye.
  3. Pour the absinthe into a cocktail glass, then rinse it around the inside and pour it out.
  4. Strain the rye mixture into the cocktail glass.
  5. Use a twist of lemon peel as a garnish, if desired.
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