Last year, I took a cruise over the holidays. As someone who makes a significant fraction of his income as a dog sitter, my timing could not have been worse. You can only imagine how many people I had to turn away. But while I on the cruise I spent a lot of time down in the cocktail bar. This was a high end place that specialized in craft cocktails.
It will surprise no one who knows me to find out that the Sazerac is my favorite cocktail. If I am trying a new rye whiskey in cocktails for a review, it’ll always be in a Sazerac. If I’m traveling, I will usually order one if it is on the menu. Now I’ve had some really bad Sazerac’s at bars throughout the country. One bar in Bardstown, KY did almost everything wrong to theirs. They used bourbon instead of rye, orange instead of lemon, and they left out the absinthe. It was basically a Bourbon Old Fashioned with Peychaud’s. It was terrible. I’ve also had some very good ones as I’ve traveled. Which brings me back to the cruise mentioned above.
I was sad, though not terribly surprised that there wasn’t a Sazerac on the menu, it was a Caribbean cruise after all. But after chatting with the bartender for a few days, I asked him if he had the stuff to make one. He was super excited to do so. I’m guessing making the same 10 cocktails night after night gets a little repetitive. When he gathered the ingredients, I was surprised to see him pull out a bottle of the Barrel-Aged version of Peychaud’s Bitters. It was something I’d always wanted to try, but never felt justified in spending two and a half times as much on it.
That was a really good Sazerac. But, I kind of thought that surroundings might have had more than a little to do with that so I still didn’t buy any of the Barrel-Aged upon returning home. Well, at least until last week. I had planned the “best rye ever…this week” post and one of the tests was, naturally, a Sazerac test. Unfortunately I was out of Peychaud’s and when I asked my wife to stop off at Total Wine to pick some up, Total Wine was out of the standard so she picked up the Barrel-Aged version since she’d rather spend $10 extra than make an extra stop at another liquor store on the day before Thanksgiving. And so I found myself with the opportunity to see if there was anything to it that would justify spending that kind of money on it.
I compared the two Peychaud’s three different ways. First, I weighed out exactly 4 grams of each one and added 225 grams of soda water to each (bitters and soda water is my go to non-alcoholic drink). After that, I made one Sazerac (minus bitters) and split it into two, being sure to weigh each one out so as to remove relative strength as a variable. I then added 1 gram of each bitters and continued to finish each as normal. Finally, I just tasted each of them. I’m glad I did this step last, I still taste the darn things and it has been over two hours since I took a sip of each. Here is what I found, starting with tasting each on it’s own.
Standard release Peychaud’s Bitters: Anise and celery notes.
Barrel-Aged Peychaud’s Bitters: Very similar with the addition of mint notes.
Standard release Peychaud’s Bitters: Follows the nose, but has more of a celery emphasis.
Barrel-Aged Peychaud’s Bitters: Sweeter then the standard with less of a celery emphasis (though it is still there), also has the anise and mint notes from the nose.
In Soda Water:
The Barrel-aged is smoother and richer and with added mint flavor. Not a huge difference between the two with this much dilution, but still noticeable.
In a Sazerac:
The one made with the Barrel-Aged bitters is definitely sweeter, rounder and has more of the Peychaud’s influence than the standard release. Barrel-aged made a better Sazerac.
I was surprised by a few things here. One, I honestly didn’t expect to find the celery notes in these when I tasted them on their own. Once I noticed it there, I was shocked that I didn’t notice it anywhere else. Not even in the soda water where there was no other flavor competition. I was also shocked at how much of a difference there really was between these two. I expected it to be subtle, but when tasted side-by-side it was anything but. Is there a reason to spend two and a half times on the Barrel-aged? Maybe. I’d guess that it depends on how often you buy Peychaud’s. If you only buy it every year or more, it really is better. If you buy it for use in bitters and soda water like I do and go through a bottle every couple months, it might be best to keep both on hand. One for soda and one for cocktails.