The Sazerac

Proposed by: David-1

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Okay, I probably should have known that when my college-age son suggests a drink, it will knock me on my ass. A beer drinker usually, I’m unaccustomed to anything as potent as a Sazerac. Mind you, I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, just that the Mad Men generation must be much more inured to inebriation and much more accustomed to the fundamental shift in attitude accompanying such a drink.

The recipe is simple, easy enough to describe:

2 oz. Rye

dash Angostura bitters

dash Peychaud’s bitters

Absinthe (or anise substitute)

simple syrup (or sugar cube)

lemon twist

Prepare two highball glasses. Chill the first (one recipe suggested filling it with ice water in preparation). In the second highball glass, muddle a sugar cube with a little water or add simple syrup, then combine the ice with rye and bitters. Take the chilled glass and, pouring out the ice water (if that was your method) swirl the absinthe to coat the glass. Discard excess. Rub the lemon peel on the edge of the absinthe glass and add it to the bottom. Then strain the contents of the rye glass into the absinthed glass, leaving ice behind.

The end result is lovely, golden and inviting. I added a sugar cube to the bottom of the glass, perhaps gilding the lily, but the added sweetness seemed much welcomed, especially with the edgy taste of the 95% rye I chose. Something exotic lies behind this drink, a licorice undertone that marks it as celebratory, colorful. I enjoyed it.

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

It’s been my experience that when something is considered a “classic” there’s good reason for it. Suggesting that it might, in fact, be the first true cocktail gives this drink a lot of reputation to which it must live up. I probably added a bit of importance by making the taste testing a group affair at a gathering of four couples. We are long-time friends and had gotten together to celebrate each couple being married in 1988 and marking (or will be) a 25th anniversary this year.

The four men in the group are made up of two predominant beer drinkers and two Scotch drinkers. The Sazerac is a strong drink the bite of which is not lessened by the addition of simple syrup (I used a brown sugar simple syrup for this drink) or the twist of lemon. The Scotch drinkers were more inclined to the taste even if the distilled grain of choice was rye instead of barley, and decided, as long as I was in charge of the making, they would be happy to do the drinking. The beer drinkers (like David, that would describe me) sipped on their drinks much longer. That could be a sign that we were discriminating and savoring, but it also could be interpreted that this one may be too sophisticated for us. I don’t want to give our wives short shrift. They tried the drink also, but there was no great clamor for me whip up some more for them.

Two things to add about Absinthe. Considering the addition to the drink is just a swirl in a cold glass and then pouring the rest out, it is very distinctive. The other is that, now that I have a whole bottle of the stuff, I would welcome suggestions as to what I should do with the rest. Okay three things really: celebrating multiple 25th anniversaries leaves the pun “absinthe makes the heart grow fonder” impossible to leave unsaid.

Jonathan’s take: I will try it again, if for no other reason than to use the absinthe, but, unless I find myself in New Orleans, probably would never order it.

David’s take: I’m not sure I’d order this drink too often. As much as I enjoyed the Sazerac, it’s a little like a martini to me, too much for the humble mind of this cocktailian.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

Someone has to end the brown liquor theme and I am going to do it. I’m also breaking from the classics theme and suggesting a variation on the Mojito. The Pink Mojito recipe I have found falls squarely into the trendy category and seems like a good choice for the end of summer that Labor Day marks.

The Horse’s Neck

Horse's Neck

Beside the cocktail is a combination zester and channel knife

proposed by: Jonathan

reviewed by: David

This week’s drink is a Horse’s Neck, which dates back to the 1890s and was once popular in the British Royal Navy as a drink for officers. At Naval cocktail parties the stewards might offer pitchers of gin and tonic and Horse’s Neck and ask, “H-N or G&T, Sir?” The following recipe is included in the “Old Guard Cocktailschapter of Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All:

1 lemon

2 ounces bourbon

3 dashes Angostura bitters

Ginger Ale

Carefully peel the zest from the lemon in one continuous spiral with a channel knife.  Coil the zest around a bar spoon or chopstick to encourage a bouncy spiral.  Place the lemon zest in the bottom of a chilled high ball glass, hanging the end of the coiled garnish over the side of the glass.  Fill the glass with ice.  Add the bourbon and bitters and top off with ginger ale.

There is quite a bit (pun intended) of conjecture and speculation about the origins of The Horse’s Neck, but what seems to be true is that the original Horse’s Neck was just ginger ale, a few dashes of bitters, and the long garnish of lemon rind for which the drink is named. The addition of bourbon or brandy made it a “Horse’s Neck with a kick.” There are other versions made with specified bourbons and many of those have their own name. The use of a true Kentucky Bourbon, for instance, is called a Kentucky Gentleman.

I decided to use a form of brandy instead of bourbon since last week’s cocktail was bourbon based. I went with Laird’s Applejack thinking that apple and ginger was a good combination. I also have the good fortune of living in an area with an excellent regional ginger ale – Blenheim. Blenheim comes in a standard but still spicy version and the even more spicy hot version. I went with the standard which had plenty of kick to complement the Applejack kick.

Here’s David’s review:HN.David.cropt

Perhaps it’s too early in my relationship with cocktails to say I’m in love, but a Horse’s Neck is the sort of drink I could see ordering all the time—uncomplicated, distinctive, and refreshing. I shared the drink with my wife and mother-in-law during a visit to Louisville after a hot day wandering around the Kentucky State Fair, and it seemed the perfect relaxer after all the parking hassles and crowd weaving. I even made a non-alcoholic version for my daughter that substituted ice tea for bourbon, and she seemed to enjoy it.

I’m a bitter person but not a bitter drinker, so I’d never tasted Angostura. The balance just a few drops added to the sweet spiciness of the ginger ale surprised me. For me, it really made the cocktail. Jonathan’s version sounds much more exciting than mine—I created the drink with Kentucky bourbon and regular Canada Dry—but I’d serve this cocktail to guests even in a pedestrian version. It’s a great balance between the familiar and new.

The lemon strip presents an exotic touch, but I’m not sure its purpose extends beyond aesthetics. Perhaps if you added a twist of lemon or kinked the string tightly before placing it in the glass—I wrapped mine loosely around a wooden spoon handle—it might influence the flavor profile of the drink, but I don’t think so. That said, creating one string from cutting around and around the lemon provided a great pre-drinking challenge. I wouldn’t want to handle a channel knife afterward.

pork rindsMy mother-in-law suggested pork rinds as the snack of choice to accompany our libations—she even hung one on the edge of my glass—and, oddly enough, their saltiness seemed a contrasting but chummy complement. And, wouldn’t it be fun to serve pork rinds in a genteel setting and make people eat them?

David’s verdict: Someday a Horse’s Neck might become my signature drink. At my funeral, someone might say, “And he would always order those damn Horse Necks and explain exactly how he wanted them”… in an endearing way, of course.

Jonathan’s verdict: Already predisposed to like Blenheim Ginger Ale, I thought the addition of bitters, lemon and Applejack offered a noticeable complexity. This is a pre-meal type of cocktail so forget the food pairing.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Besides being the state cocktail of Louisiana (since 2008) and described by Wikipedia as “perhaps the oldest American cocktail,” the Sazerac is my son’s consistent cocktail choice and quite popular in fancy restaurants these days. Everywhere we go together seems to prepare its own variation using exotic bitters and different anisette substitutions for the original Absinthe. I’m going to try it with Pernod (or Herbsainte, if I can find it) and Peychaud bitters, named after Antoine Amédée Peychaud, a Creole Apothecary who created it around 1830 in Haiti. Like Angostura, it’s also a gentian-based bitter, but sources describe it as lighter, sweeter, and more floral.

By choosing a rye-based drink, I know I’m not straying far from the brandy-cognac-bourbon theme of the last two weeks, but part of the appeal to me is the drink’s history—if it IS the original American cocktail, don’t we have to try it? Also, it’s jealousy. When my son orders a Sazerac, I wish I were so savvy. My fancy beer suddenly looks gauche.

So next week, it’s a Sazerac.

The Tallulah

proposed by: Davidcok-whiskey-peanut

reviewed by: Jonathan


If you are from the south (and of a certain age), you might remember old men at the local gas station funneling salted peanuts through their fists into the neck of their coca colas. The idea was simple—to combine sweet with earthy and salty.

This recipe comes from a Birmingham, Alabama, gastropub called Ollie Irene. The drink is named after a co-owner’s aunt, apparently quite a bourbon lover.

I proposed it because—like most humans I guess—I like sugar and salt. But I especially like them together, and this cocktail gave me a chance to do that intriguing thing only old men seemed to be allowed to do.

The Tallulah combines bourbon with a sugary mixture of coke and an orgeat (OR-zjhot) of peanuts, sugar, vodka or brandy, and a teaspoon of orange blossom water.

1.75 oz. Jack Daniel’s
1 oz. peanut orgeat*

The most laborious portion of the recipe is creating the orgeat, which involves boiling unsalted peanuts in a simple syrup then allowing the mixture to sit. When you strain the peanuts from the liquid with cheese cloth, it’s a mess.

Peanut orgeat
makes 1 ¼ cups

2 cups roasted, unsalted peanuts
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ¼ cups water
1 tsp. orange flower water
1 oz. brandy or vodka

Pulverize peanuts in a food processor. Meanwhile, combine sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Allow mixture to boil for three minutes, then add peanuts. Lower heat, allowing mixture to simmer for several more minutes, then gradually increase the temperature. When mixture is about to boil, remove from heat, and cover.

Let mixture sit for at least six hours. Then strain it through cheesecloth, discarding peanuts. Add orange flower water and brandy or vodka. Keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

The toughest ingredient to find is proportionally the smallest, the orange water. Jonathan found alternatives, but the description of orange water on Serious Eats intrigued me:

To the uninitiated, orange blossom water’s flavor is a surprise. It transports the clean brightness of orange groves to a field of wildflowers on a muggy day. The finish on the tongue is pleasantly bitter, much like chewing on orange peel. Okay, so it kind of smells like old lady perfume. But those blue-hairs are on to something. A wee dash of it gives food (and cocktails) an almost otherworldly quality.

Otherworldly? I don’t know. Blue hair? Absolutely… and now I have a lifetime supply.

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

The only time I tried mixing salty peanuts with Coke, despite a lifetime in the south, was during a college break summer spent as a septic tank inspector. My partner in the internship tried to convince me that RC Cola and peanuts was a delicacy. I’m not sure whether it was the situation or the oddity of the mix but it never caught on with me.

This drink achieves the peanut part with a peanut syrup that was an adventure to make. I had to substitute orange liqueur and an orange rind for the orange blossom water, but I think I got the concept right. The other challenge was filtering the peanut syrup which despite some sticky effort ended up a little chewy. The end result worked in the drink and would probably be tasty over ice cream which I will certainly test since I have some left.

The Tallulah itself was excellent even without a nostalgic tug. I fact, it made me wonder if bourbon wouldn’t have made septic tank inspection a little more fun. I did end up adding more Coke and salted peanut garnish after drinking half of it and thought it was better that way.

The last thing I will add is that I am always looking for food and drink combos. This drink seemed to be most appropriately combined with something classic so I had it with barbecue chicken, or more accurately while I barbecued the chicken.

David’s verdict: I’d have another another year from now.

Jonathan’s verdict: The Tallulah was a nice change, but I prefer sweet mint to adulterate my bourbon over peanut syrup.

Next Week (proposed by Jonathan):
You may not be able to tell a book by its cover but a great cover can sure be an attraction. I kept coming across Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All by Brad Thomas Parsons while I was looking for something new to read. Each time I saw it the cover pulled me in, even though I had never had any interest in bitters (probably from the negative reaction to a really bitter Manhattan years ago). The book is a great compilation of history, instruction, recipes and how-to for those who want to make their own.
Next week, we’ll continue with the bourbon theme and try a Horse’s Neck, a drink made with bourbon, lemon, ginger ale, and Angostura bitters. You’ll need a channel knife.