A few days ago, I was trying in vain to clear some detritus from the kitchen cupboards when I unearthed a bottle of absinthe. It had been given to me a few years ago as a birthday present by some beloved friends who had procured it on a trip to France. Though I was delighted upon receipt and relished the boozy adventures that would no doubt ensue, when I accidentally spilled some on the hardwood floor and saw what it did to the varnish, my enthusiasm began to wane. But we were determined, and so a few weeks later, we sat down with our sugar cubes and began the lengthy preparations. Though the aromas were tantalizing and the ritual quite pleasing, the end results were, in a word, undrinkable. It has been in the cupboard ever since.
So I had basically decided to throw the absinthe out when I figured I should make at least one more attempt to find something to do with it. And to my great pleasure, I came across this article about a cocktail that in 2008 was named the official drink of New Orleans. It’s called the Sazerac.
According to the article, the cocktail was created sort of by accident when a pharmacist named Antoine Amédée Peychaud added a few drops of his eponymous bitters into a glass of cognac. A bar down the street called The Sazerac picked up on the tradition, and as they say, the rest is history. But history aside, what drew my attention to the Sazerac is the fact that the recipe calls for adding a measure of absinthe to a glass, swirling it around so that it coats the surface – or for purists, spritzing it onto the glass with an atomizer – and then dumping the remainder. This means that very little absinthe is actually consumed by the drinker, making this the ultimate cocktail solution.
Since we were planning to have some friends over for dinner last night, I decided that what better way to beat the early November blahs than to serve our guests their first Sazarecs. Through a perusal of various cocktail-related sites, I determined that the key ingredients, in addition to the absinthe, were rye whiskey, Peychaud’s bitters, lemon zest and simple syrup. Suspecting that nobody in my working class neighborhood would be selling Peychaud’s bitters, or even the less desirable but-will-do-in-a-pinch Angostura bitters, I decided to make my own.
Though many of the ingredients – quassia chips, powdered cinchona bark and gentian – were unknown to me, I decided to simply create something in the spirit of Peychaud. Since I had no sugar in the house, I decided to give it a decidely French-Canadian twist, with the addition of maple syrup. And, since I did not have 2 cups of vodka and a month to let the mixture sit, I added some fresh clementine juice, and put in the fridge for a half an hour.
What follows are the steps to produce an as yet unnamed cocktail that vaguely resembles New Orleans’ beloved Sazerac and is extremely delicious. The recipe makes six healthy drinks.
To make the bitters-esque accompaniment:
* zest three clementines, and squeeze their juice into a small saucepan
* add a glug of maple syrup
* toss in some caraway seeds and coriander seeds, about one teaspoon of each
* add the seeds of six cardamom pods
* bring to a boil and let simmer for 5-10 minutes
* cool, pour into bottle, seal and put in the fridge until the cocktail hour
To make the cocktail:
* add a glug of absinthe to a glass that feels good in your hand
* swirl the absinthe around so that it coats the sides, repeat with all six glasses
* divide the clementine mixture between the glasses
* fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add a few glugs of maple syrup
* add one and a half ounces of rye for each person to the shaker
* shake, and strain into the glasses
* ice cubes are optional
* garnish with a twist of lemon peel