I have always considered myself a proponent of the classics. I firmly believe that if Rome had figured out how to make plastic, we’d all still be speaking Latin.
I seek out drinks with the same level of progressiveness. When I order a martini, I want it near painfully dry and with a good British gin, two olives, served up. No frills, no “pizzazz,” just a good solid drink the way it was originally intended to be made.
The Sazerac is a drink that is perfectly suited to my agenda. An age-old cocktail that has a standard, largely unaltered recipe, the Sazerac is the Rome of my favorite cocktails. All roads lead to it, and I am unashamed to consider it a bastion of Western civilization.
Due to the Sazerac’s stable nature, differentiating between what should be considered a good or bad example is largely dependant on the liquors used and the person making it. At the hands of a skillful mixologist, rye, herbsaint, absinthe, and bitters can create what can only be equated to an explosion of delight on the tip of your tongue. In the hands of an airport bartender in D.C., drinking a Sazerac can be likened to a year-old pit bull: strong, clumsy, and extremely misguided.
Luckily for all those who enjoy this fabled beverage, New Orleans has many of the finest mixologists in the land, many quite capable of creating an exemplary Sazerac. One such mixologist presides over the bar in the restaurant Coquette at the corner of Washington and Magazine.
Ali Mills, the bar manager at Coquette, has only been tending bar for three years, and though I would put her in her mid 20s, she shows a composure and skill beyond her years. Using a simple and classic Sazerac recipe of Sazerac brand rye, Pernod Absinthe, Herbsaint, and Peychaud Bitters, Mills was able to serve up what can only be described as the cleanest Sazerac I have yet consumed. It had the same effect of chewing ginger after a bite of sushi, a complete cleansing of the palate.
I usually consider a Sazerac to be a powerful drink, a drink that, two or three glasses in, will powerfully alter the course of my night. Mill’s drink certainly had a degree of potency to it, but never once throughout my experience did I feel as though I would be in danger of losing my wits. After a sip, I felt as though I had not even had a drink, but rather, a breath of fresh icy air.
The atmosphere of Coquette goes well with Mill’s Sazerac. Coquette is a small, quaint little wine bistro featuring no more than 10 tables downstairs and an additional 16 or so tables upstairs, which is open only on weekends. The fine wood bar gives off a vibe of quiet confidence. The limited seating provides an intimate atmosphere and makes sitting at the bar a necessity during busy time slots.
There is no pretentiousness about the place, which suited the Sazerac I had there just right. This wasn’t a drink that was into itself, but rather a drink that knew that it was good, knew that it was a done right, and nothing more.
A humble but excellent drink, classic in every way.
This is the first in a series of stories on the search for the city’s best Sazerac, a mission undertaken with great fortitude by Joh Sedtal, who writes about bars and cocktails for NolaVie.