The Brooklyn Growler

"Life is all skittles and beer." — Tom Lehrer

The Sazerac, God’s Drink of Choice

New Orleans, 1850 — The Sazerac Coffee House — Bartender Leon Lamothe adds absinthe to a brandy cocktail. The world changes, if only by a little. The cocktail Mr. Lamothe was making contained brandy, sugar, and Peychaud’s bitters. It was called the Sazerac, after the French Quarter coffee house where it was born. By the 1870s, the Sazerac’s recipe had changed. Rye whiskey replaced brandy. The world, thus changed, became somehow better.

A lot of people will tell you a lot of things about how to make a Sazerac. I’m one of them. I’ll tell ya one thing for nothin’, if it has crushed ice in it – it ain’t a proper Sazerac. My first was served in a tumbler filled with crushed ice. The sweetness of the Peychaud’s and the simple syrup made sucking the last of the rye cocktail through the crushed ice magnificent. I was in love. But, we grow and we change. Nowadays I like the ice when I’m giving it a stir or when I’m chilling a glass. By the time I’m pouring my cocktail, there’s no place for ice.

My preferred recipe is copped from Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology. You might recognize Mr. Regan from the label of a bottle of Orange Bitters No. 6. Tho’ he looks rather olde timey, he’s a right-now sorta guy. Mr. Regan suggests washing the glass in Herbsaint, which is an absinthe substitute from New Orleans. Geographically appropriate, yes. (There is another reason: When his mixology book was published, absinthe was not legal in the U.S. Today it kinda sorta is.) I use a bottle of Kübler Absinthe. This change is based exclusively on the contents of my liquor shelf. For rye, you can never go wrong with Old Overholt.

I highly recommend Mr. Regan’s glassware suggestion – a champagne flute or a cocktail glass. He has very compelling reasons for doing so and they’re in his book.

First step, wash the chilled champagne flute with absinthe. Just pour a drop and swirl it around and throw it out. If you’re smart, you’ll pour a little too much and then – after washing the interior of the flute – drink the absinthe. It’s only a drop, really. Also, I’m not a bartender and I only do this when it’s my cocktail. It’s more eco-friendly to drink the absinthe. I hear this green thing is going to be big. Let’s get with it. Meanwhile, in a mixing glass add and stir –

Three ounces straight rye whiskey

3/4 ounce simple syrup

Peychaud’s bitters to taste (which means dump a whole lot in there)

Once the ice has diluted, strain the liquid from your mixing glass into your drinking vessel. Be sure to stir your Sazerac. You can give it a good stir before tending to the absinthe wash. You want the melted ice to dilute the cocktail in a nice way. But strain, yes, and season the rim with a twist of lemon. Anything that happens afterwards – you’re on your own.

The Sazerac is my favorite cocktail. Be careful with it. One will put you right. Two – well, I hope you don’t have anywhere to be tomorrow. By three? Tho’ I’ve been there, I can’t recall the circumstances… Exactly.

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Bourbons for the Apocalypse

Yes, OK, I take umbrage with Philip Gourevitch’s Ten American Whiskeys That Made the World News in 2010 a Bit Less Unbearable over in that New Yorker rag.

It’s not because I disagree with pairing whiskey with politics. No. As 2010 closes, the U.S. Senate has done its level-best to make drinking compulsory in understanding its decisions. If not for it. At least for me. The GOP has long been a party of monsters. It is now unafraid to stand revealed.

I digress.

At first I was heartened by Mr. Gourevitch’s blog post. I saw Four Roses and was excited. An unopened bottle of Four Roses was in my home, awaiting its deployment in some Friday-night Manhattans.

Four Roses is one of those cheap-ish bourbons that are always welcome. Prior to its Kentucky distillery being bought out by Japan’s Kirin Brewery, Four Roses was known as being little more than amber-colored paint thinner.

Today, it’s a fine mix of sippin’ bourbon. Straight, it runs a little hot. But with an ice cube or two, Four Roses releases its flavors of oak and spices and gold kryptonite and rich mahogany… It’s nice.

Gourevitch’s list stops at nine, and I’m OK with that. I also can’t argue with his taste in American whiskeys. I wouldn’t turn down a glass of any of them. Still, I stumble.

The list, which includes Noah’s Mill and Pappy Van Winkle, 15 year, has the caveat – “None of them costs much more than a night of beers at most American bars.” If you’re drinking those two, you’re having a pretty good night at the bar – even in New York. I think Gourevitch is drinking with Paul Rudd at nine-dollar beer night, every night.

You can do well for under forty bucks (thirty bucks even). There’s another list that can be made. I assembled my own. These are some bourbons (and its buddies) that aren’t very expensive and hold their own both straight and on ice, as well as in cocktails.

  1. Buffalo Trace
  2. Four Roses
  3. Wild Turkey
  4. W.L. Weller, seven year
  5. Evan Williams
  6. Rittenhouse (rye)
  7. Famous Grouse (scotch whisky)
  8. Bulleit
  9. Old Overholt (rye)
  10. Rebel Yell

Make haste to your liquor store. We have 2011 and its political horrors and world upheavals to look forward to yet.

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