Owen Gibler, head bartender at Employees Only, tells us about his adoration of a good Sazerac.
I love this drink in all its iterations. When I worked at cocktail monastery The Violet Hour in Chicago, I had a solid month of training from the head bartender at the time, Robbie Haynes. The sazerac was the 16th drink we practiced and we spent hours on it. We went through the origin story and talked about the changes in tastes over the decades. We tasted it with multiple cognacs, ryes, and blends of the two. Those sessions hugely affected my understanding of balance, structure, and range in a drink.
The cocktail came out of the still French administered New Orleans in the early 19th century. Naturally, it was made with cognac. After the territory became part of the United States, it became increasingly difficult to get cognac, so the drink moved from being a mix of cognac and rye to full rye. The shift of base spirits is what makes the variations fairly broadly acceptable. I think it’s the confined structure that makes a sazerac such an interesting drink to play with.
While I love a super aggressive straight rye sazerac, some people who order one occasionally suffer a predication to proving imaginary masculinity. I love a straight cognac sazerac for its elegance but I sometimes miss its evil rye twin. The middle ground, the mix, probably created just before the American Civil War, is what I make at Employees Only Hong Kong. I provide options for spirits because they all work and I hate holding flags for anyone.