Drink of the Week: The Sazerac

Sazerac It might seem a bit odd, but it was current MSNBC political goddess and past Air America star Rachel Maddow whose radio “cocktail moments” largely propelled your loyal scribe’s fledgling interest in classic cocktails during the Bush II administration. Moreover, with an epic brohaha in Washington going on at the moment over the debt ceiling, it seems as good a time as any to pay tribute to her with this personal favorite.

The sazerac is the official drink of New Orleans — though we didn’t hear of it on three trips to that wondrous city. That’s likely because, though beloved by serious cocktail buffs, the great drink’s pop cultural fame is next to nil, though we understand a sazerac was recently thrown in the face of food critic Alan Richmond on an episode of “Treme.” We are therefore happy to try and correct this great drink’s relative obscurity; properly prepared it’s an ice cold sipping beverage that’s tasty as anything else produced in the great city of New Orleans. It’s preparation is a little complicated to explain but, trust us, it’s not hard once you get the steps straight in your head. It’s really just a slightly more elaborate variation on the old fashioned.

The Sazerac

2 ounces rye whiskey or brandy/cognac
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 ounce of water
3 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
1 teaspoon absinthe or Herbsaint
Lemon twist

Start by chilling an old fashioned, aka a “rocks” glass, either by filling it with ice or leaving in the freezer or, ideally, both. Meanwhile, purists insist on muddling a sugar cube, but it’s much more efficient to simply dissolve the superfine sugar by stirring it in a cocktail shaker or room temperature rocks glass with unchilled water, whiskey, and bitters. Once the sugar is dissolved, add plentiful ice.

Then, take the pre-chilled glass — if you’ve got ice in it and want to conserve precious water, consider adding it to the cocktail shaker/rocks glass with all the other ingredients — and add a teaspoonful of now legal but expensive absinthe or much cheaper Herbsaint (a very sweet but strongly anise flavored liqueur). Swirl the entire glass, coating it with the absinthe or Herbsaint. Then, turn the glass upside down over a sink, dumping out any remaining liquid.

Now, return to the shaker or rocks glass. If you’re an absolute purist who fetishizes clear beverages, simply stir and strain it into the chilled and coated rocks glass. If you’re a borderline barbarian like us, you may shake like crazy and then add it to the glass which will be a lovely, frothy shade of pinkish orange or orangish pink.

Then, take your lemon twist and coat the edge of the glass and twist the lemon peel over the beverage to magically deliver lemon oil to the drink. Some insist you must discard it without actually placing it in the drink. We and most others, however, drop it in. Sip immediately and toast the brave people of New Orleans, the great American city that just might have invented the cocktail.

***

A couple of words about ingredients. First of all, note that the sazerac — named for the brand of cognac it was originally made from — primarily uses Peychaud’s bitters. This brand may be the oldest type of bitters still on the market and it has a much lighter different flavor than the bitters you may know. Many sazerac makers, Rachel Maddow included, like to throw in a single dash of the better known and stronger tasting Angostura bitters to “open up” the flavor of the drink. On the other hand, especially if you’re making this with one of the stronger types of rye whisky — particularly a 100 proof brand like Rittenhouse Rye — it’s already one potent little beverage. It is, nevertheless, considered mandatory to use rye specifically if you’re making the whiskey version of the sazerac. You could make it with bourbon, we suppose, but it’s generally not done, possibly for a reason.

While rye whiskey remains by far the most popular main ingredient, we have to say a good word for going super-old school and using cognac or even an inexpensive brandy; we’ve had great luck with an very inexpensive brand called Raynal, technically not cognac but entirely sufficient — which is carried by Bev-Mo and Trader Joe’s in California and perhaps elsewhere. It’s a more accessible version of the drink that goes down surprisingly well with cocktail newbies while being more than complicated enough for more experienced drinkers.

  

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Starting the road trip to Dallas with the Chrysler 200

After a fun night hitting some of the legendary establishments in New Orleans, Bullz-Eye hit the road Thursday morning as part of the Game On Drive to Dallas for the Big Game. The morning started with some filming and logistical set up and we were ready to go. We left New Orleans around 9am for Houston in our 2011 Chrysler 200 with another media team in tow with Brad from SportsGrid.com and Heather from ILoveSportsGirl.com in the second car and we were rollin’ down Interstate 10 our new friends! The weather was of course cold and wet but that didn’t damper the excitement of driving the new Chrysler 200 en route to Dallas.

We were very impressed with the vehicle. The interior of the new 200 was very comfortable and stylish with plush leather seats with exposed stitching and an elegant but practical dashboard. All of the controls were easy to use as we enjoyed the satellite radio while using the GPS. The V6 had some kick to it and that made the ride fun, and the car handled great on the wet roads.

After about 2 1/2 hours on the road we stopped for lunch at Fezzo’s outside of Lafayette and guess what – more oysters! The food and service was excellent and it gave us a chance to take a break before we hit the road again. After playing some football catch with Phil and the production team we jumped back in the Chrysler 200 and cranked up some Springsteen. The weather wasn’t much better when we crossed state lines into Texas and our side view mirrors had chunks of ice on them. This stuff isn’t supposed to happen in Texas! We made it to the Magnolia Hotel in Houston around 5pm and were met by strong winds and freezing rain. After more filming we chilled out for awhile and actually tried to get some work done as that stuff piles up when you’re on the road.

Now that we were in Texas, we naturally had to find some serious barbeque for dinner. We hit the jackpot at Beaver’s BBQ in Houston and the Bar Bar and smoked beef ribs were excellent and went down nicely with some beers. We’re looking forward to more delicious Texas cuisine as we roll into Dallas.

So far the Drive to Dallas is going great despite the chilly weather. The roads between Houston and Dallas are frozen but it’s supposed to warm up a little for the weekend so hopefully we’ll be back on the road soon. We have a huge party planned for the day of the Big Game so the buzz is building for the biggest spectacle on earth!

  

A big chill in The Big Easy

Despite a winter storm that shut down a large portion of the country, Bullz-Eye was able to arrive in New Orleans on time thanks to some great work by our airlines! One of the other members of the “Game On” team wasn’t able to fly out of New York on Tuesday so our Drive to Dallas has been altered a bit with the drive now Starting on Thursday.

Now make no mistake the weather is cold in the Big Easy but the accommodations at the Westin and the great food can temper even the coldest of days. The Camellia Grill was a great spot for breakfast and the Manhattan omelet with hash browns was off the charts. If our group didn’t already eat enough we stopped by Cafe Du Monde for beignets and some café au lait! Unreal and only in New Orleans.

Last night we kicked things off with an incredible dinner at Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. Fried oysters and seafood gumbo kicked off the meal, and tonight we’re hoping for some authentic New Orleans étouffée!

Bullz-Eye will hit the road in a 2011 Chrysler 200 tomorrow morning but first we’ll do some filming today so look out for plenty of content on our Drive to Dallas.

  

Escaping the “Anywhere, USA” phenomenon

In his latest cigar review for Partagas – Spanish Rosado, Bob Hritsko addressed an interesting topic in the introduction.

Whether you travel a little or a lot, you can’t help but notice the “Anywhere, USA” phenomenon. This is the term that I have for the incorporating and franchising of Americas cities, where no matter what city you are in, it is getting more difficult to find something original, especially restaurants, bars or even retail stores. Whether I am in Dallas, Charlotte, Las Vegas or anywhere, there they are — McDonalds, Starbucks, Applebee’s, Chili’s, etc. They can usually be found near the suburban malls with all the stores you know, right across the street from the Holiday Inn, Marriott Courtyard, etc.

Many of you know that I will often seek out cigar-friendly bars and establishments in the cities I visit. The draw of doing so is simply to escape the boring, repetitive convenience of traveling to Anywhere, USA, at least once in awhile. I have found the cigar-friendly establishments to be often unique venues in themselves; all the big chains have to be politically correct and ban any type of smoking, so they don’t upset their mainstream client base. The other advantage of a cigar-friendly joint is that it tends to be a little more social in nature, as a smoke is a commitment of a chunk of your time. If you are in a hurry and want to be left alone, a cigar lounge is not the place for you. Chatting with the folks in these establishments will usually provide you with the local information about other original places to experience in town.

I recently had the pleasure of doing so recently in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., visiting one of the original cigar bars in Florida, Macabi Cigar Bar on Las Olas Blvd. Once inside this dimly lit, quaint bar, I knew I stepped off the beaten path. The founder/owner, “Pat” Patel, was on hand to greet me. The plentiful selection of cigars was presented openly along the walls of the bar, a concern at first, as I wondered if the cigars could be properly cared for and maintained in this atmosphere. I was assured that the humidity and temperature were monitored. I selected a Partagas cigar and settled in for an excellent selection of beers on tap.

We’ve lost quite a bit over the years as our country has become dominated by suburbs and strip malls. Like Bob, many of us appreciate it when you can find a unique spot. That’s why cities like New York and New Orleans still have so much charm – you don’t have to look hard at all.

  

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