America's Oldest Cocktail
America's oldest cocktail: Mapping the 9 best Sazeracs in town
There comes a time in every man's life when he must set aside the trappings of youth and embark on a journey of self discovery. Sometimes the quest is laid before him by family, other times by the a longing to better understand the wonders of the world.
And sometimes he’s sitting by himself at Whisler's and decides there's no better way to find himself than to roam around Austin looking for the city's best Sazerac.
Sazerac preferences, as with most things in life, are all relative.
This journey will take us to nine of Austin’s best cocktail bars and restaurants. It is by no means a comprehensive list, and not presented in any order other than chronologically. Sazerac preferences, as with most things in life, are relative.
A little background before we begin. The Sazerac is a variation on an old fashioned, with its origins in pre-Civil War New Orleans. It is named for its original prime ingredient, Sazerac de Forge et Fils cognac, and is widely regarded as the oldest American cocktail. As with most classic cocktails, the recipe is well established, but varies widely depending on the available ingredients, as well as the bartender’s particular style.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and in this case it just required stepping up to the bar. With Whisler's quickly becoming the de facto spot for craft cocktails on the east side, this submission did not disappoint. Citrusy and clean, it set the bar high for our quest.
Just a quick saunter down the block and you've arrived at Weather Up. After it opened, this place became one of my favorite haunts, mainly because it is impossible to leave without a grin on your face. That could be because you’re snockered on high-end booze and, despite it being a weeknight, are probably heading over to The White Horse to meet your friends. For this Sazerac, bartender Fidel Campbell put together a crisp cocktail with a very nice bite at the end.
Leaving the east side, I headed downtown to Peche. A pre-Prohibition style absinthe bar across the street from Austin’s most famous gay club… what could possibly go wrong? No disrespect to all the other submissions, but Peche had my favorite. The absinthe gave it a strong anise flavor which made it distinctly different from the rest of the crowd. It was smoky and delicious and by far the most traditional preparation. Oil Can Harry’s was left for another night.
Vince Young Steakhouse
A hop, skip and stumble from Peche, Vince Young Steakhouse served up the least traditional presentation of the cocktail. It was served in a giant martini glass (Sazeracs are usually served in an old fashioned tumbler). This Sazerac was classic and delicious. Insider tip: Make sure you ask for Nick.
Post-opera cocktails are the classiest of them all — especially after three hours of taking pulls from the flask of Johnny Walker Black you snuck into the Long Center. After a rousing presentation of Tosca, we popped over to Swift’s Attic for dinner and drinks. Swift's Bar Manager Jeff Hammlett put together a sweet and spicy night cap that ended the evening in style.
Some say Austin's favorite pastime is talking about how great Austin is. With little gems like Paggi House, that is completely understandable. Enjoyed al fresco in the crisp night air, this cocktail was as clean and classic as our locale. We ate, talked, and, quite frankly, resembled productive and well-adjusted members of society for an evening. That facade was quickly demolished as the evening spiraled wildly out of control at, you guessed it, The White Horse. But, hey, it was fun while it lasted — and the Sazerac was perfect.
The Sazerac search also marked my first visit to Drink.Well, North Loop's popular cocktail bar. Bartender Anya put together a mild and refreshing version of this cocktail, a great introduction to Sazeracs if you want to ease into them.
East Side Show Room
After milling around Central Austin, I decided to end my journey where it began: East Austin. I'm not going to lie to you. I was three sheets to the wind for this one. After sitting at Shangri-La for a few hours, I was whisked across the street for what I can only imagine was a delicious cocktail. Quite frankly, I have no idea. An Instagram photo is my only memory of the evening. But East Side Show Room rarely — if ever — disappoints, so I'm sure it was great.
Qui is no stranger to praise, and let me tell you, any and all praise for the bar here is well deserved. This was the first Sazerac I had with a lemon twist rather than orange, a distinct touch that worked marvelously. Qui's Justin Elliott was able to coax a complexity out of the drink that I’d yet to experience.