Why It Works
- Thoroughly chilling the glass in the freezer helps the absinthe or Herbsaint coat the interior surface (as well as keep the cocktail cold as you sip it).
- Rinsing the glass with absinthe or Herbsaint and then pouring out the excess—a novel cocktail mixing technique when the sazerac was first created—increases the olfactory perception of the anise-flavored liqueur without overwhelming the rye and bitters.
- Stirring the cocktail with an ample amount of ice for 30 seconds results in a well-chilled drink at the perfect level of dilution.
In 1934, just after the end of prohibition, a New Orleans pharmacist named J.M. Legendre introduced a product designed to appeal to that city's residents' long-time taste for the anise-flavored absinthe, which had been banned in 1912.
Dubbed "Legendre Absinthe," the spirit—which, contrary to the label, was not an actual absinthe, but rather a wormwood-free substitute—quickly drew the attention of a disapproving federal government, who required him to change the name. Re-released as Herbsaint, the potent spirit has been produced ever since.
Except, as Florence Fabricant once recounted in the New York Times, a few things have changed over the years. A favorite in cocktails such as the sazerac, Herbsaint was sold to the Sazerac company (makers of Peychaud's bitters and other spirits) in 1949, and its formula was adjusted, making the product a lower 90-proof and the flavor a heavier hit of oily star anise.
The return of absinthe to the market has renewed interest in the early Herbsaint, and with assistance from Houston-based Herbsaint collector Jay Hendrickson (profiled by Robert Simonson for Imbibe), Sazerac released a version of Herbsaint made from the 1930s formula, complete with a label based on the original.
The vintage-styled Herbsaint, however, has a more gentle, floral anise flavor mixed with an herbaceous complexity.
I had a taste of this new-but-old formula and came away impressed. Like other absinthe substitutes such as Pernod and Ricard, the 1949 version of Herbsaint had a flavor heavy with star anise (which closely resembles black licorice), but also a sharp, crisp finish, which made it a useful cocktail ingredient.
The vintage-styled Herbsaint, however, has a more gentle, floral anise flavor mixed with an herbaceous complexity, and bottled at 100 proof, it offers a more potent delivery of flavor that could prove especially useful in New Orleans classics such as a cocktail à la Louisiane. Absinthe is now a staple in my liquor cabinet for many such drinks, but with a flavor that's strikingly similar to classic absinthes and reasonably priced, this Herbsaint replica has earned a spot at the bar. I especially like the old-timey version in a sazerac.
Credited as being among the first true cocktails, the sazerac is a New Orleans original. As stiff as they come, it combines rye, absinthe, and Peychaud's bitters, served, unusually, in a rocks glass without ice. One sip of its hazy, lusty character tells you everything you need to know about living the good life.
1 teaspoon sugar
3 or 4 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
A few drops water
2 ounces rye whiskey (such as Sazerac Rye)
1 teaspoon Herbsaint, Pernod, pastis, or absinthe
Chill an old fashioned glass or small tumbler in your freezer.
In a mixing glass, combine sugar, Peychaud’s Bitters, and a few drops of water. Mix until sugar is dissolved, and add rye. Add plenty of ice, and stir for about 30 seconds.
Pour Herbsaint, pastis, or absinthe into your chilled glass, and rotate glass until the inside is well coated; discard the excess. Strain the liquid from your mixing glass into the serving glass. Twist a piece of lemon peel over the drink. Indulge.
Mixing glass, cocktail strainer
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0g||0%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrate 5g||2%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||2%|
|Total Sugars 5g|
|Vitamin C 6mg||32%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|