Drink of the week

Drink of the Week: The Sazerac at Sambar

Sample the oldest of cocktails at Ballard’s smallest bar.

August 20, 2009

Sambar’s twistless Sazerac

Order a Sazerac, and you’ll be served a cocktail about three fingers high made from rye whisky and Peychaud’s bitters, plus absinthe or some other anise-flavored liquor (Pastis, Herbsaint, Pernod). Sazeracs typically arrive topped with a twist, though the one in this picture—our Drink of the Week—came without.

The Sazerac’s origins can be traced to an antebellum apothecary shop in the French Quarter of New Orleans, where the manager, Antoine Peychaud, began concocting restorative brandy toddies enhanced with his own bitters, a recipe made from gentian, the indigo-petaled flower thought to have healing properties.

Locals quickly learned to imbibe with abandon, and the popular cocktail came to be associated with the French Quarter’s Sazerac “Coffee House” (a New Orleans euphemism that actually described a saloon). According to the Sazerac Company, it was around 1873 that barmen started replacing the brandy with rye whiskey and adding a dash of absinthe (later tenders would switch to Herbsaint, a delicately flavored substitute made in New Orleans).

Nowadays, Sazerac concocting begins with a bartender muddling a sugar cube with Peychaud’s and a little water, then pouring in the rye and a couple of ice cubes. The mixer then grabs a second glass, chilled, and pours in a little bit of the absinthe or substitute, swirls it around to coat the glass and discards the excess. Next he/she strains the drink from the first glass into the anise-coated one and tops with a twist. Order one at Sun Liquor and bartender Erik Chapman will ask whether you prefer bourbon to rye. Tini Bigs’ Jamie Boudreau, however, always serves Sazeracs with rye—Rittenhouse 100 proof if available. The Sazerac on the menu at Liberty calls for Jim Beam Straight Rye and Pernod, which has a caramely flavor on top of the anise.

At Sambar, Kuehner uses Sazerac rye, which is made for the Sazerac company by the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky. Complex and smooth, with layers that unfold gently through to the finish, Kuhner’s is a sipping Sazerac—just the thing when you’re taking in an afternoon inside Sambar’s wee garden courtyard, surrounded by comely metaphytes and extremely well-wrought mixed drinks.

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