The Sazerac. The classic New Orleans cocktail. Fortunately, you don't have to go all the way to NOLA to find a well made one. The recently re-vamped restaurant at Harvard Square's Sheraton Commander, Nubar, has made it their house specialty. Nubar's GM Richard Mann and barman Don were kind enough to take us through their fine execution of this strong cocktail of bourbon, bitters, sugar, and absinthe.
Although the Sazerac's origins are as muddled as the sugar cubes that go into it, the Sazerac goes all the way back to 19th Century New Orleans, where it was (and is) one of the original American cocktails. It's traditionally made with rye, but Nubar mixes theirs with Corner Creek bourbon, which makes for a slightly sweeter and softer cocktail.
If you're new to the Sazerac, the absinthe probably caught your eye. No, a Sazerac won't induce psychedelic hallucinations and have you seeing like Van Gogh or thinking like Rimbaud, because absinthe doesn't do anything except give you a nice buzz. And in the case of the case of the Sazerac, the absinthe is only there to subtly flavor the whiskey. Proper preparations call for an absinthe rinse, where a small amount of absinthe is poured into an empty old fashioned glass, swirled around until the glass's inside surface is coated, and then discarded.
Absinthe was banned in the U.S. in 1912. And it wasn't until 2007 that real absinthe started to (legally) appear stateside, when the French brand Lucid became the first to be approved by the feds. So barkeeps got used to using anise flavored absinthe substitutes like Herbisaint. Some still do, but Nubar stocks Lucid.
If you prefer screwdrivers and other cocktails where you "can't even taste the liquor" to whiskey, the Sazerac isn't for you. But, if you like your drinks strong and with long finishes that pass through your taste-buds into your whole body, warming you from the inside out, you'll love Nubar's Sazerac. Corner Creek bourbon is wonderfully fragrant and complex and pairs well with the Sazerac's subtle lemon and absinthe flavors and light sweetness.
- 2 1/4 oz Corner Creek bourbon
- 3 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
- Enough Lucid absinthe to coat an old fashioned glass
- 1 large sugar cube
- 1 lemon
- An ample supply of ice
- Start with two glasses; a highball for mixing and an old fashioned for serving. Choose your old fashioned carefully. The Sazerac is best served in something with some shape to it, like the Schott Zwiesel Pure whiskey glass.
- Fill the old fashioned glass with ice and leave it to chill.
- Add a large sugar cube (or two small ones) and three dashes of Peychaud's Bitters to the highball. Let the ingredients sit for a few beats (no need to rush a drink that's best enjoyed slowly), so the sugar cubes soften. Then muddle until the sugar and bitters form a paste.
- Add ice and about 2 1/4 oz of bourbon and shake in a cocktail shaker. Don "boxes" it, meaning he pours the liquid back and forth from the shaker to the glass. This technique helps to pull the flavors from the sugar and bitters into the bourbon.
- Take the old fashioned glass you've been chilling, discard the ice, and pour in a small amount of absinthe. Swish it around to coat the glass and pour what's left down the sink.
- Strain the bourbon into the absinthe-coated serving glass and rub a freshly cut slice of lemon peel along the rim. At Nubar, Don puts the lemon peel into the glass. This doesn't happen everywhere, but Nubar knows what they're doing, and you can't argue with the results.
Visit Nubar at the Sheraton Commander, 16 Garden St., Cambridge. And if you're there, I highly encourage you to try another house specialty, the Taleggio Polenta; a slice of polenta topped with spinach and a lightly fried panko-crusted poached egg.