One of the earliest cocktails on record, the Sazerac hails from 19th century New Orleans. Its creator was reportedly Antoine Peychaud, a Creole pharmacist born in Haiti, whose eponymous bitters punctuate the drink. Originally a Cognac vehicle, today’s Sazeracs are often made with rye, riffing on the Old Fashioned’s whiskey-sugar-bitters rubric.
To determine the best ryes for Sazeracs, we blind-tasted 11 bottles, both on their own and within the cocktail. (It was a blurry afternoon at VinePair HQ.)
Afterward, we assessed the ryes according to taste (both within the cocktail and on their own), availability, and price. Such criteria eliminated one of our all-around favorites, E.H. Taylor Straight Rye: At $80 a bottle, we deemed it too precious to mix into a drink. At press time, it sits in a place of honor on our CEO’s desk.
Here are our seven favorite ryes for Sazeracs, ranked.
A buttery, 100 percent rye produced by a family-owned operation in Virginia, Roundstone Rye has light body with subtle spice. Easy-drinking and pleasantly honeyed on the nose, it’s a great option for those who prefer a slightly sweeter flavor profile. Average price: $45.
Brown spirits enthusiasts call this rye “approachable,” and our tasters agreed. George Dickel has a pale honey color and sweet, dessert-y nose followed by a sharp kick. It shines in the cocktail, where sugar and bitters mellow the slight burn we noticed when tasting it straight. Average price: $38.
This rye is light and dry on the tongue, with very little oak and an almost smoky finish. It didn’t overpower the Sazerac; instead, the drink brought out spicy notes that our tasters appreciated. Average price: $37.
4. Bulleit Rye
Accessible and almost instantly recognizable, Bulleit won cheers for its soft, round profile followed by a spirited kick. For those who prefer their drinks on the spicier side, it’s an excellent option for Sazeracs (or straight sipping). Average price: $40.
“It has to be Old Overholt,” Paul Gustings, bartender at New Orleans’ legendary Broussard’s, said of his Sazerac. Our panel agreed, noting this bottle’s smoothness and light spice. In a cocktail, Old Overholt’s subtle white pepper, cloves, and vanilla are an excellent foil for the bitters’ dry kick. Average price: $22.
An all-around crowd-pleaser, Hochstadter’s is medium-bodied and won tasters over with its smooth, balanced finish. Lovely on its own or in a Sazerac, this is an accessible, easy-drinking option. Average price: $44.
Our top-ranked bottle was Buffalo Trace’s Sazerac Rye, named for both the cocktail and its rumored cafe of origin. (Portland’s Jeffrey Morgenthaler is apparently also a fan.) Smooth, round, floral on the nose, and all-out delicious, this russet-colored rye had enough spice to stand up to the cocktail without overpowering any individual flavors. Average price: $38.