When it comes to rejiggering classic cocktails, it’s possible to deviate so severely from the original that the “riff” ends up bearing little resemblance to the recipe that inspired it. That’s the dynamic at play in the curious case of the Creole-Rum Sazerac, a Disco-era concoction with dubious connections to New Orleans’ most famous drink.
Rye (or Cognac), Peychaud’s bitters and sugar in an Herbsaint-rinsed glass, the Sazerac is an expression of cocktail culture at its most unvarnished and elemental. So it’s altogether uncouth to invoke its name in describing a drink featuring Pernod, two types of rum, Angostura bitters, lemon juice and a hit of bottled hot sauce.
Drew Pompa, of Takoi in Detroit, first discovered the cursed concoction in an appropriately unconventional place: the Two-in-One International Recipe Card Collection for Mixed Drinks and Hors D’Oeuvre, a compact folio of flashcards instructing users on the finer points of more than 500 cocktails, paired with recipes for thematic snacks.
Pompa received the thrift store relic, released by Random House in 1977, from a friend who thought he might get a kick out of it. An avid vinyl head, the beverage director immediately identified some parallels between his musical passions and this alternative brand of crate-digging. “Part of the thrill of record collecting is searching for B-sides and rarities,” he says. While well-known drinking texts, like Mr. Boston or The Savoy Cocktail Book, are mainstream albums, a rare bird like Two-in-One stands in for those finds “no one knows about or talks about, but imbue a certain level of intrigue in the listener.”
Organizing the cards into sections by base spirit, author Michael Dorn—not to be confused with the actor of the same name—covers a tremendous amount of ground. Two-in-One chronicles canon entries, like the Clover Club, Daiquiri and Singapore Sling, as well as deeper cuts like the Champs-Élysées or Alaska. But Dorn, a prolific food editor from Minnesota who developed similar recipe-card sets for brands like Betty Crocker, McCall’s and Weight Watchers, also ropes in ingredients reflecting the consumptive trends of the late ’70s, like blue Curaçao, green crème de menthe and Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial. Then there are some altogether bizarre offerings, like the Hot Schotsie—vodka, kirsch, hot beef broth and hot sauerkraut juice.
Where exactly the Creole-Rum Sazerac came from, and where it should lie along this continuum, is unclear, but Pompa is confident making one blanket declaration: “It is not a Sazerac in the slightest.” Still, it intrigued him. “The major attraction with this drink was the mystery around how it came to be,” he says. Also piquing his interest was the fact that it seemed to splice together DNA from several distinct cocktail traditions that Pompa happens to love.
There is a contemporary precedent for Sazeracs made with cane spirit: The 2014 book Death & Co.: Modern Classic Cocktails lists Joaquín Simó’s Creole Saz, featuring a split base of Cognac and Haitian rum, for example. The Two-in-One recipe’s exclusive reliance on rum and its fiery qualities, however, evoked several other heavily riffed-upon templates, in Pompa’s eyes. “It takes the spirituous, tart qualities of a Daiquiri, the spicy, savory qualities of a Margarita, and the herbal qualities of a Sazerac, and smashes them together in an oddly synchronized way,” he says.
To maximize and calibrate these disparate traits, Pompa developed a Creole-Rum Sazerac build for today’s palates. For the duo of rums, he paired up two aged products: El Dorado 3-Year from Guyana and Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry from Jamaica. “El Dorado is sweet and fruity, with notes of coconut and vanilla,” he explains. “The [Xaymaca] provides a slightly richer note, but it’s also much drier on the finish,” he says. Marrying the two was key to crafting a well-rounded base.
Pompa carried over the lemon, sugar and anise from the existing spec, but also saw an opportunity to pull his update a little closer to the OG Sazerac’s NOLA roots. Replacing the called-for Angostura bitters with Peychaud’s was an easy tweak. And as for the hot sauce, by far Dorn’s strangest move, Pompa went with Crystal, the revered Louisiana staple. “It’s the only hot sauce in my fridge,” he says. “It’s brighter than Tabasco, and has more depth of pepper flavor than Frank’s. It strikes that perfect balance.”
Even with the modern tuneup, does labeling this drink a “Sazerac” qualify as sacrilegious? Maybe, but Pompa isn’t overly worried about violating ancient cocktail dogma. “The Sazerac is a very serious drink,” he admits. But “flipping it, twisting it, and doing a total, all-out fuckup of the original … resulted in a very delicious cocktail I would be proud to serve to any guest.”