A Celebration of Spirits
Another month, another cocktail. (Well, in reality it’s pretty much another evening, another cocktail, but beginnings of the month are special. So it’s time for a special cocktail).
It’s November 1st, a very special day. In Ireland, the land of my heritage, it’s the end of Samhain (and the start of the Celtic new year). It is the division between the lighter half of the year and the darker half. Time begins in darkness, and so begins a new year for the Celts. In Mexico, it is the start of Dia de los Muertos, a celebration of the Day of the Dead. Today is the day when families feast and celebrate with those who they have lost that are most intimate to them; tomorrow, they will eat and drink and share love and stories with the souls of the more broadly departed.
For both cultures, this is the time of year when the gap between the worlds is its thinnest, when the bounds of our terrestrial existence becomes more permeable and we are closer and more accessible to the spirits and faeries of the other world.
A Spirit To Celebrate
You may be celebrating those you have lost. You maybe embracing the new year and the new you to come. You may be doing both. These are significant events, and they require a special kind of cocktail. One that encourages you to reflect. One that aspires you to renew. Acknowledging where you have been and tipping a glass and raising a toast to where you are going.
In recognition of moving into the darker part of the year, we again want something warm. Comforting. Flavourful. Deep. Cool on your tongue, and warm down your throat. A drink that invites itself in and makes itself cozy, encouraging you to have another one.
A Drink With A Past
We all have a past, don’t we? This drink has one that stretches a little longer than most. Depending on who you believe, it originated as early as the 1830s and possibly as late as the 1880s. Its origins are once again the Big Easy. New Orleans featured as the origin city of our last month’s cocktail. Given that we’ve already got Peychaud’s bitters on hand (you do have those, right?) and a really good rye whiskey, I thought it a shame not to press them back into service.
If you have a nice cognac on hand, you could go there as well. In fact, cognac was the original spirit used to make this cocktail, and that fact helps us to put its date of origin a little more precisely.
Our drink for November is… the Sazerac.
The Sazerac is one of the earliest New Orleans cocktails. It is also, since 2008, the official cocktail of the city. And really, what city couldn’t do with its own official cocktail?
The reason that some argue the Sazerac dates back to the 1830s is because that’s when Antoine Peychaud started his pharmacy, and created the bitters we use in this recipe. The more likely origin is sometime in the 1850s, when Sewell Taylor became the local agent for a French cognac company, Sazerac-du-Forges et Fils. Taylor previously owned a bar, the Exchange Coffee House, where the cocktail was first mixed. After the phyloxxera epidemic in France nearly wiped out grape production, cognac became hard to find, leading to the substitution of rye whiskey.
Depending upon your leanings, you can use the original cognac. Go for the modern and very serviceable rye whiskey. I won’t look askance should you want to use some bourbon, I promise. (I’m an accommodating and easy-going bear). You could even do a half-and-half of cognac and rye. Given that this is a simple drink, though, please make sure you use the good stuff.
What You’ll Need
Two rocks glasses (one for mixing, and one for sipping; for best results, freeze the serving one first)
A strainer (because once again, we are stirring, not shaking)
(makes one cocktail)
- 2 oz. Rye whiskey (most recipes want 1.5 oz., but I’m calling them out on this)
- 1 sugar cube
- 3-4 drops Peychaud’s bitters
- A teensy bit of absinthe for swirling
- lemon peel
Take the cold serving glass out of the freezer, and rinse it with the absinthe (you don’t need a lot, just swirl to coat the glass and discard what you can still pour out).
In the other old fashioned glass (or a mixing tin) add the sugar cube and bitters, and muddle them (fancy term for smushing the ever-living-bejeesus out of them).
Fill with ice, pour in the whiskey, and stir until well chilled (a good 30 seconds or so)
Strain into the serving glass, twist the lemon peel over the lemon to release its essence (about as firm a twist as pinching a nipple). Discard the peel (please don’t put it in the drink, lest we sour a little too much on something that is herbaciously awesome) and enjoy!