Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Case of the Sweet Sazerac

I enjoyed a good many Sazeracs while in New Orleans attending "Tales of the Cocktail." I freely admit to never having experienced this drink until exactly one year ago (last year's TOTC). Still, in the 12 months since then, it has easily become my favorite cocktail. I love the fussy preparation that goes into the making of it, the rarity of some of the ingredients (most American bars are not equipped with Peychaud bitters, Herbsaint or even Rye), and find the layers of flavors to be profound. The drink lends itself simultaneously to rapturous enjoyment and deep contemplation.

Still, being I novice, I do not pretend to know everything about this cocktail's journey through time and space. And so—after imagining I was having the best Sazeracs in my life last week—I was surprised when a gentleman at the cocktail bloggers panel informed my that no less an authority than Robert "Drinkboy" Hess has been theorizing that bartenders have been erring on the sweet side regarding their Sazeracs, adding too much simple syrup.

My mouth dropped open. Had I been enjoying bastardized Sazeracs? Did I know a true Sazerac when I saw it? Hess' theory is that bartenders in New Orleans, catering to the louche crowd on Bourbon Street, have been tarting up their Sazeracs to appeal to infantile taste buds. Could be. Could be. My mind reeled. After that, all the Sazeracs I had drunk seemed insipid. Well, not insipid, just too sugary. Hess might have something there, I thought.

Still, upon further contemplation, I had to admit, I still thought the Sazeracs were damn enjoyable. Perhaps too sweet. In fact, definitely sweeter than the more academic Sazeracs I had had in New York, or even the ones I make at home. Gotham bartenders don't use simple syrup. They're such wonks, and so tied to theory, they muddle a sugar cube, and so the sweetness ratio remains unchanged from drink to drink.

But I enjoyed those Sazeracs, too! My conclusion? I just like Sazeracs. A little variation can't destroy the pleasures of this drink. Just make sure it's properly chilled, and don't feed me any fucking Bourbon.


camper said...

Your coverage of TOTC is pretty amazing. I got Tales fatigue just summarizing which talks I attended. Thanks for catching me up on many of the talks I missed!

Anonymous said...

don't feed me any fucking Bourbon

Amen, my brother.

I've definitely noticed a tendency among many NOLA bartenders to oversweeten a Sazerac, to the point where I often throw in "not to sweet, please" when I order.

I've also seen this with Old Fashioneds -- I was dining at the bar at a restaurant in town a couple of years ago and watched in horror as the bartender put what had to be a full inch of simple syrup in the bottom of my rocks glass to start off my Old Fashioned. Just a teaspoon is all ya need!

I have to confess I use simple syrup in my Sazeracs because we make them all the time, it's easier and because there's no undissolved sugar left in the drink. I'm finding myself challenged now by your mention that NYC bartenders insist on the time-honored method of using the sugar cube, and a bit ashamed as well. Maybe we need to give that a go.

Robert Simonson, "Our Man in the Liquor-Soaked Trenches"-New York Times. said...

Thanks for the feedback, Chuck. Sazerac lovers unite!

Anonymous said...

My favorite bottled liquor used to be Sazerac: it came labelled "Sazerac," and for a few years I could get it at a liquor store in Boston. Suddenly, though, in the late 60's, I think, it disappeared from the shelves, and I couldn't purchase it anywhere. I was led to believe the reason was "legal," so I gave up - and all the recipes for Sazerac I tried since then never measured up to what came from that bottle!

Robert Simonson, "Our Man in the Liquor-Soaked Trenches"-New York Times. said...

Polly, there's no such thing as bottle Sazerac. I suspect what you were drinking was Sazerac Rye, a brand of rye whiskey. It's a fine rye, indeed, but, to make it a Sazerac, you have to add absinthe, sugar, Angostura bitters and go through a lengthy mixing process. Sazerac Rye can still be found.