Edible Landscape: Remix: The Sazerac Cocktail
Build Your Own Bitters
Willa Van Nostrand, Little Bitte Artisanal Cocktails, Providence
Invented in New Orleans in the mid-19th century, the Sazerac is considered one of the world’s first cocktails: Cognac, sugar, Peychaud’s Bitters, absinthe and lemon peel.
In the 1870s, a beastly little aphid called Phylloxera rolled through European vineyards and, over the course of 10 years, decimated much of its of grape, wine and Cognac production. Bartenders were quick on their feet and substituted American rye whiskey for the Cognac, resulting in a drier, zestier Sazerac. Peychaud’s Bitters plays a distinguishing role in the flavor profile of the Sazerac with spicy and floral tones of anise, cherry and clove. Like most bitters recipes, Peychaud’s is a “proprietary blend” (read: top secret) and serves as the inspiration for the Sazerac bitters recipe that I’ve devised in honor one of the world’s seminal cocktail recipes.
Bitters are to cocktails what salt and pepper are to cooking and consist of a strong infusion of fruit, spices, barks and bittering agents in alcohol or glycerin. I use 151 Everclear as a solvent to extract as much flavor from the ingredients as possible and I dilute the final batch with vodka and a touch of honey. Dandelion blossoms, lemon and orange peel are the aromatic bittering agents of the tincture. Fresh fennel placates the astringent bitterness of the citrus zest, adding rich buttery notes of licorice and anise. Fresh grated ginger adds a nearly tropical flare to the batch, a welcome discernible zing of heat. Use my Sazerac Bitters in place of Peychaud’s and Angostura Bitters in your favorite whiskey cocktails or to dress up soda water, ginger ale and fresh lemonade with a little punch of spice.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a flowering perennial herb with deliciously fragrant, feathery fronds with a taste akin to anise. Its starburst-style blossoms range from mustard yellow to a yellow chartreuse and are covered in a fine aromatic pollen that gives the blossoms their savory oomph. Fennel is an essential ingredient in absinthe and helps balance the acutely bitter ingredients of classic bitters recipes (gentian, cinchona bark, dandelion root). Florence fennel (the fennel commonly used for cooking) and its bulb work well in bitters tinctures but will yield a more meaty, less aromatic result.