Glacier Distilling Company, Coram

Story & photography by Lido Vizzutti

The Sazerac is a simple cocktail in ingredients only.

Its popularity was born in the Big Easy and has since been embraced as the official cocktail of New Orleans.

Attempting a concise, comprehensive history of the Sazerac is a fool’s errand, quickly turning into a tangled net of legend and characters, with the name itself traced back to a cognac, a bar and a cocktail in 1800s New Orleans.

Most recipes mandate a sugar, Peychaud’s Bitters, an absinthe rinse, a good whiskey and a lemon twist. Made correctly, it offers a wonderfully sophisticated, intricate and balanced drinking experience.

“As a cocktail, it amplifies the spirit,” said Nic Lee, founder and head distiller of Glacier Distilling Company. “It’s taking that rye whiskey and working with the characteristics of it to bring out that range of flavors.”

Having grown up in North Carolina, Lee said his North Fork rye whiskey is a nod to Southern bourbon traditions and is fermented in open cypress tanks.

“It has hints of black pepper and spearmint in the background from the rye that really warms up with a malt sweetness,” Lee said. “There’s fairly strong caramel and some vanilla notes and a bold barrel finish. It does finish sweet even though it starts savory.”

Lee uses a mix of rye and malted rye instead of a malted barley in his mash, which aids in balancing the grassy, peppery, menthol-minty quality of the rye grain by rounding it out with roasted malt sweetness and chocolaty notes of the rye malt. An addition of corn sweetens the finish.

The whiskey is aged in new oak barrels for two years before being poured into a Solera system, in which certain spirits are aged by fractional blending. Lee first witnessed the Solera system in sherry production while visiting his wife’s home country of Spain. It involves a refilling process that, in theory, renders a product that “always has some of the original spirit.”

“That helps us create consistency throughout our batches,” Lee said.

A good whiskey is important, but to separate the Sazerac from, say, an Old Fashioned, one needs bitters and absinthe. While Glacier Distilling already made bitters, it lacked the final ingredient.

“So we started distilling our own absinthe,” Lee said. “We distill off the same base as our rye whiskey and redistill with wormwood, anise, fennel and a host of other botanicals. The (Trail of The Cedars absinthe) takes several pounds of herbs per bottle.”

Equally as important is Sazerac’s mindful preparation: dashes of bitters counted carefully into the sugar; the chilled glass that allows oils from the absinthe wash to stick; the lemon peel squeezed and rubbed around the rim; the whiskey poured down the middle instead of down the side.

“That’s the appeal of the process,” said Lee. “It’s just kind of polishing the whiskey that’s in the glass that’s in the bottle. I just love that kind of subtle yet complex style of cocktail, especially as it comes into winter.”

Glacier Distilling Company
Located at 10237 U.S. Highway 2 East, Coram, MT 59913. The North Fork rye whiskey and Trail of the Cedars absinthe are available at liquor stores, bars and restaurants around the state. For locations, availability or other information call (406) 387.9887 or visit www.glacierdistilling.com.

Awards

San Francisco World Spirits Competition

  • North Fork, Gold
  • Trail of the Cedars, Silver

2017 Craft Spirit Awards

  • North Fork, Silver
  • Trail of the Cedars, Bronze

Recipes

Sazerac
1 cube sugar
3 drops Angostura bitters
1 jigger rye whiskey
1 dash absinthe (or Herbsaint)
1 slice lemon peel
Pack an Old-Fashioned glass with ice. In a second glass, muddle sugar cube and add the bitters. Then add rye whiskey or bourbon, and mix. Empty ice from first glass, and rinse with absinthe. Stir and transfer the whiskey, bitters, and sugar mixture into first glass. Twist lemon peel into glass to release oils. Rub the peel around the rim of the glass. Garnish with lemon peel.

Glacier Distilling Sazerac
2 oz. North Fork Whiskey
Small scoop of brown sugar
6 drops aromatic bitters
Scoop of ice
Shake and strain into glass with Trail of Cedars absinthe rinse. Garnish with lemon twist

Fun Facts

The first printed reference to the Sazerac cocktail is in William T Boothby’s aka “Cocktail Bill” 1910 “The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them.”

Some historians contend that the Sazerac received its name from the imported French brandy, Sazerac-de-Forge et fils.

On June 23, 2008, the Sazerac became the official cocktail of New Orleans.

In 1800s New Orleans, Antoine Amedie Peychaud began mixing his bitters into brandy toddies as an herbal remedy. Many attest that Peychaud bitters are the definitive Sazerac ingredient.