As an equal opportunity drinker with a penchant for variety, I don’t often play favorites. But the Sazerac, which brings me back to my formative days of cocktail appreciation in New Orleans, will always have a special pull on my speakeasy heart. There’s just something about its swirling combination of aromatic anise, whiskey heat, and citrusy bitters that, with just the right kiss of sweetness, slows down time in a tumbler for me. It’s a historic drink dating to at least 1899 in the Crescent City. But its essential elements have also always been open for creative interpretations, usually with subtle variations in the source of its anise liquor rinse, commonly Herbsaint in New Orleans, but updated more recently to its original pre-Prohibition spirit with a fresh wave of modern-day absinthes.
Bartender Douglas Fitz takes his variation even farther afield at tapas-centric Jamonera with the Xazerac, lending it an exotic Moorish mood with an anise spritz of Kefraya Arak from Lebanon. But the real Spanish twist here, and the inspiration for the X-factor in its name, comes from the Pedro Ximénez dessert sherry from El Maestro Sierra that replaces the traditional dose of simple syrup with an almost raisiny amber sweetness to counter the whiskey, which in this case is Bud’s Best Bourbon made by Pittsburgh’s Wigle Distillery for Jamonera’s sibling restaurant, Bud & Marilyn’s. So, I guess that makes this a Spanish-Lebanese-Pennyslvania twist on my favorite New Orleans drink? The great cocktails will endure time and travel. And this one was so well-balanced in the glass that time slowed just enough so I could still recognize the Sazerac’s blueprint with every sip.
– Craig LaBan
Xazerac, $13, Jamonera, 105 S. 13th St., 215-922-6061; jamonerarestaurant.com