Hard day? Wash away your worries with one of the booziest drinks in American history. Born around 1850 in a New Orleans pharmacy, the sazerac got its start as a medicinal elixir. The original recipe by Creole druggist Antoine-Amédée Peychaud called for cognac, his family’s cure-all bitters and a little sugar to help the medicine go down. That basic recipe has seen changes over the years—mainly the addition of an absinthe rinse and rye instead of cognac. But the principle has remained the same: For any ailments, drink a sazerac and you’ll feel better in no time. Found in some of LA's best cocktail bars and hotel bars, these renditions are the top sazeracs in the city.
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Where to find the best sazeracs in LA
This award-winning drinking den housed inside a refurbished storage room is a stickler on classic recipes. There are many ways to ruin a sazerac; with four ingredients, the drink is simple to build, but could lean too bitter, be overwhelmed by the aromatic absinthe or, in general manager Max Seaman’s opinion, be bereft of cognac. His rendition, served neat in a large rocks glass, is as smooth as it gets. As you sip it, the layers unfold: first the sweet cognac balanced with the herbaceous bite of Peychaud’s Bitters, then the subtle notes of black licorice and ending on a hint of citrus from the twisted lemon garnish.
Watching general manager Raul Yrastorza (formerly at Las Perlas) craft a sazerac—his favorite cocktail, by the way—is like watching performance art. He begins by lighting his absinthe rinse and sugar cube on fire, which he gingerly extinguishes before moving onto the second step in his theatrical routine. Next, he vigorously stirs all of the ingredients in a separate glass until the liquid is very cold. The drink is then poured back into a warmed old-fashioned glass. It’s worth noting that Yrastorza doesn’t have a preference between cognac and rye—he's happy to make the sazerac with either spirit. What matters, he says, is that the cocktail is consistent.
This mid-century bar lodged in the ground floor of a Hollywood Best Western makes the booziest sazerac in town. General manager Jeremy Allen crafts MiniBar’s version with 101-proof Wild Turkey rye whiskey, upping the cocktail’s already potent ABV to a serious level. This drink is served straight up in a chilled coupe glass to get that fragrant aroma right in your face. But as potent as it smells, MiniBar's sazerac is well balanced as well. It’s not for the faint of heart—or liver, but we thoroughly encourage anyone confident enough in their imbibing abilities to give this kick-in-the-mouth cocktail a try. You won’t know what hit you.
Those who are new to the sazerac should start at the Thirsty Crow. The sazerac was the first cocktail general manager Rahad Coulter-Stevenson learned how to make; since he’s crafted the venerable concoction more times than he can remember, he’s come to perfect his own variation. He uses the standard Peychaud’s Bitters, plus a few dashes of Angostura to mellow the acidity. As for the rye, Coulter-Stevenson is a big fan of Michter’s whiskey from Kentucky. By itself, Michter’s tastes as sweet as honey. That caramel-vanilla aroma also happens to mingle beautifully with the candied licorice flavor of the absinthe, making it particularly hospitable to novice sazerac drinkers.
Ryan Wainwright, director of bar programs at this Downtown restaurant and lounge, will tell you: “Sazerac with an ‘s’ is a cognac drink. There’s no discussion.” His sazerac is made with Pierre Ferrand, an expression modeled on a cognac from the year 1840. He adds a splash of 101 rye for “some backbone” and Bitter Truth Creole Bitters instead of Peychaud’s. These particular bitters smell like a kitchen in the French Quarter—a sweet and spicy combo of cayenne pepper, anise and fennel—that pairs well with a swirl of absinthe. There’s a lot going on in this glass, but the ingredients meld in perfect harmony.
Lead mixologist Gia St. George (formerly at Ebanos Crossing, Tacoteca) turns up the heat at this verdant oasis smack in the middle of the Sunset Strip. Her variation, dubbed the Wicked Gypsy, is made with peppery Rittenhouse Rye and both Angostura and Peychaud’s Bitters, but takes a wilder turn with a mezcal rinse and ghost pepper simple syrup. Yowza. Don’t worry, those ghost peppers are tempered with cinnamon and sugar. The taste is generally sweet—you just might feel a little warmth in the back of your throat. Laphroaig 10-year Scotch was St. George’s first choice for the rinse, but it wasn’t around, so mezcal it was. And voilà, her “bastard child” was born.
Ordering a sazerac at this whiskey-lover’s paradise is a given. The dark and moody Downtown den tends to get packed just about every night of the week, but the good news is that the bartenders here have a knack for whipping this classic up in no time. It’s not about the show at Seven Grand; it’s about the quality of the drink. What you can expect is an expertly-prepared sazerac, made with Wild Turkey 81 to give it a punch, Angostura bitters, simple syrup and a Pernod rinse. FYI, the cocktail comes in a heavy-bottomed rocks glass that you’re going to want to rest on the bar in-between sips. Snag a stool ASAP.
This faux hunting lodge in the middle of Culver City makes one helluva sazerac, with George Dickel Rye, simple syrup, Peychaud’s and Angostura Bitters and a Lucid Absinthe rinse. Unlike the other bars on this list that like to leave a lot of room in the glass, this particular sazerac comes filled to the top. Of course, the glass itself is a tad smaller than most. The best part? You can get one for just $5 during happy hour, from 5pm to 9pm, seven days a week.