This drink appears in one of the most esteemed cocktail books of the last century. It’s terrible. Please don’t make it
Sometimes the most valuable public service we can render here at A Measured Spirit Global Headquarters is harm reduction.
Do. Not. Make. This. Drink.
Hell cocktail recipe
Into a mixing glass, do not add:
1 oz cognac
1 oz creme de menthe
Do not shake or stir with ice. Do not strain into a small snifter or shot glass. Do not garnish with red pepper flakes.
Like I said, don’t make it.
Hell cocktail tasting notes
This drink is just fu*king horrible.
The creme de menthe swamps the cognac. The mouthfeel is gummy.
The pepper flakes transmit no heat. They merely get caught in your teeth.
Using equal parts brandy and creme de menthe is like serving coq au vin with Hershey’s chocolate syrup gravy.
Welcome to Hell
People who are fans of John Cheever, the novelist who pulled back the curtain on life among the affluent suburbanites of mid-century Connecticut, may recognize this as a nitwit cousin of the Stinger.
That drink mixes the same two liquors, but it favors the base spirit in 2:1 or 3:1 ratios. The effect is of a brandy tamped down with mint candy — a favored nightcap for the coupon-clipper too timid for a martini.
But if forced, a reasonable person can drink one without harm or lasting loss of self-respect.
But this fresh Hell thing — not so much. Do. Not. Make. It.
The obscure Zazarac is not a misspelled Sazerac. It’s a drink unto itself. Its obscurity likely derives from the fact that nobody who makes it once is likely to do so again
One of the most obscure drinks I’ve blundered across is the Zazarac.
That may seem like a misspelling of the Sazerac, that otherworldly classic that comes to us via mid-19th century New Orleans. And some will argue that the Zazarac was the same drink, spelled differently as a litigation dodge.
But there are better reasons to believe that the Zazarac, as captured in certain editions of Harry Craddock’s definitive-for-its-time The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), is its own thing.
And what a peculiar thing it is.
Zazaracs: Not just a spelling difference
Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails, the definitive scholarly exhumation of defunct cocktails, mentions two versions of the Zazarac, which he found typed in a 1930s bartender’s pocket notebook.
I’ve lined them up below, adding what I’m calling #3, which appears in Harry Craddock’s book.
As you can see, the household comprises one perfect child and three black sheep.
The Sazerac and Zazaracs #s 2 and 3 all abide by the classic definition of a “cocktail”: Base spirit, sugar, and bitters. All share absinthe. But from there things get hairy.
Z1 omits bitters, flouting the “cocktail” definition. It adds sweet vermouth and Amer Picon [a dark, bittersweet, fragrant French apertif, a bit like Italy’s Averna]. It tosses in curacao, an orange liqueur similar to Cointreau or triple sec. So it goes in pretty deep with orange.
Z2 uses Peychaud’s, sure enough, but then tosses in orange bitters and Amer Picon — again, an unusual commitment to orange.
Z3, explored below, adds white rum as a second base spirit [!], and anisette, a sweet licorice-flavored liqueur whose anis-y power essentially doubles down on the absinthe. It retains a hint of orange only via the bitters.
It seems unlikely to me that any of the Zazaracs were attempts to produce the Sazerac and avoid legal trouble with the New Orleans Sazerac House importer, the French maker of Sazerac cognac, or any number of taverns nationwide with the same name.
At best they are heavy-handed riffs, at worst original desecrations.
And since all versions add to rather than replace ingredients of the Sazerac [excepting the swap of bitters in #3], it seems unlikely that early American supply chain issues drove these variations.
Nope. These Zazaracs are not legal dances to stay out of court. For better or worse, but mainly worse, they are purposeful creations unto themselves.
The Sazerac and the Zazarac have as much in common as a lucid dream and your kitchen junk drawer.
The Zazarac recipe presented here is a modified version of what appears in Wikipedia.
I know that’s lame, but bear with me. There’s a lot of confusion here, and the Wikipedia one appears to hunker pretty closely to one in the Savoy book, which became the reference recipe going forward.
Anyhow: Let’s grab a pair of tins and shake things up.
Actually we should stir them up, but that’s another twist in this odd little tale.
Zazarac Cocktail recipe [via Craddock, I think]
1 oz rye
Or Canadian whiskey — Canadian Club if you want to get specific. Canadian whiskeys skew more rye-heavy, so this alternative makes sense.
.5 oz rum
I used Bacardi white, which aligns with several recipes I dug up.
.5 oz anisette
I used pastis, a French version of that family of licorice-flavored beverages. To be more historically and culinarily accurate —and I know how deeply important that is to you— you should use Sambuca or Ouzo. It’s a maceration vs. distillation thing, and an anis vs. licorice thing, for what it’s worth.
.5 rich simple syrup
“Rich” simple syrup mixes sugar to water 2:1. The original called for gum arabic, aka gomme syrup, an even sweeter elixir.
3 dashes absinthe
Yeah, I know. Absinthe + anisette. Anisette — pastis in particular — is often used in place of absinthe. Why use both in the same drink? Who knows? Worse: Many Craddock follow-ons call for .5 oz absinthe.
1 dash each Angostura and orange bitters
Shake, strain into an Old Fashioned glass, garnish with lemon peel.
The recipes all say to shake, though there’s no citrus in sight. Maybe that’s a relic of the days when gummy gomme was used, which may have needed more agitation. Beats me.
A sugared rim adds elegance, texture, and forward sweetness to the classic Sidecar — which is why you need to mess with the recipe.
Regular readers of this blog — both of them — may note that controlling sweetness is a sort of crusade of mine. A perfectly balanced drink rides that delicate edge where tart and sweet and booze all contribute equally, none getting too much attention.
Which brings me to the Sidecar, a pre- [or during-] Prohibition [-ish] drink that in mostcontemporaryrenditions is mixed 2:1:1 — 1.5 oz cognac, .75 oz lemon juice, .75 oz Cointreau.
Harry Braddock’s [him again] 1930 TheSavoy Cocktail Book has it at .5/.25/.25 [more evidence of the giantism that’s gallumphed into cocktaildom over the past few drinking generations.]
The Sidecar is a wonderful, and yes, perfectly balanced, drink — solid, simple, satisfying, the color of parchment. Classic, as they say.
Just add sugar…to the rim
Somewhere along the way — let’s call it 1934 just for sport — the drink picked up a sugared rim. The great Dale DeGroff, in his 2008 The Essential Cocktail, recommends the 2:1:1 ratio along with the sugar rim, explaining that the flourish is an adaptation of Jerry Thomas’ [him again] Brandy Crusta [page 52 of his Bartender’s Guide, for those following along via knockoff reprint].
And so with the contemporary Sidecar we have a classically balanced drink — with an added garnish that tips it, for me, into an unwholesome sweetness.
Short version: In 1860 the first Japanese diplomatic delegation to visit the U.S. was in New York, lodged not far from Jerry Thomas’ bar on Broadway. Thomas, America’s first celebrity barkeep and author of How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion (1862), may have served this drink to the delegates. Like most ancient cocktail history [Wondrich will be the first to admit], the story is built on rickety inference and hopeful attempts to associate long-disconnected dots.
Anyhow, the Japanese Cocktail is one of a few drinks in that seminal text that’s easy to make from contemporary ingredients.