Celebrate Mardis Gras with a Sazerac

February 4, 2008

sazerac.jpgTomorrow the “greatest free street show in the world” will come to an end for another year as New Orleans marks Mardis Gras Day, the final day of 2008’s Carnival celebrations.

You’ve got to hand it to the residents of this recovering city. While the people living in every other North American berg were atoning with detox flushes and crash diets on January 6th for the excesses of a gluttonous festive season, NOLA residents were dancing the night away, splashing cocktails from shaker to glass and noshing on King Cakes at the private masked balls held to kick off Carnival.

The 2008 Carnival season has featured the traditional parades and parties — complete with enough shiny beads and sequined masks to make a Vegas show girl envious. Although attendance numbers won’t be in until after the party ends tomorrow night, predictions for the 2008 Carnival season are encouraging.

With a new and dynamic governor promoting tourism and renewal projects spearheaded by celebrities (such as the one supported by Brad Pitt) bringing attention to the long-term needs of the city’s residents, 2008 promises to be a better year all around for this historical and culinary destination.

Also on the comeback trail is the Sazerac, NOLA’s signature cocktail. Sazerac cocktails contain absinthe, an alcoholic beverage that was — from 1912 until very recently — illegal to sell in North American liquor stores. Now reformulated to remove harmful ingredients, absinthe is making a comeback with North American spirits connoisseurs and that, in turn, has allowed Sazerac enthusiasts to enjoy this classic cocktail again, too.

Although it’s likely too late for Canadians reading these words to make it to NOLA for Mardis Gras Day tomorrow, you can toast New Orleans on its renewal and hopeful future with a homemade Sazerac cocktail:

Sazerac Cocktail
Invented early in the 1800s by Antoine Amedee Peychaud and then perfected later in the century, the Sazerac was named and became the eponymous drink of the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans. Similar in taste (and potency) to a Manhattan, pernod or herbsaint can be used in place of absinthe to make this drink.

I tested Sazerac cocktails made with blood orange bitters as well as the traditional Peychaud’s bitters. Both made a drinkable concoction; however, the Peychaud’s bitters accented the herbal notes in the absinthe while the blood orange bitters enhanced the vanilla flavours in the whiskey.

1/2 tsp (5 mL) absinthe, herbsaint or pernod
3 oz (90 mL) rye whiskey
4 tsp (20 mL) simple syrup
1/4 tsp (1 mL) Peychaud’s bitters
Lemon twist

Place an old-fashioned glass in the freezer for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the absinthe to the glass; swish to coat the inside surface. Discard liquid.

Quickly add the rye, simple syrup and Peychaud’s bitters to an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake well. Strain into absinthe rinsed glass. Using a channeling knife, hold the lemon directly over the glass. Peel a long thin strip from the lemon, allowing the volatile oils that escape from the surface of the lemon to settle over the drink. Serve lemon twist on the side.

Check out a fun Carnival parade in Curacao at homemakers.com.