Inspiration in a Glass (or Store, or Bottle)

Robber Baron

1 oz Rye Whiskey [Rittenhouse]
1 oz American Single Malt Whiskey [Ryan and Wood]
1/4-1/2 oz Earl Gray Tea Syrup*
Few dashes DRAM Palo Santo bitters
Scant barspoon each of Ardbeg 10 (or other smoky scotch) and Absinthe

Rinse rocks glass with absinthe and scotch, set aside.  Combine everything else in a glass and stir with ice.  Strain into rinsed rocks glass, express oils from a lemon twist and discard.

* Earl Grey Tea Syrup – steep three Earl Grey Tea bags in 3/4 cup near boiling water for 5-10 mins. Remove tea bags, add 3/4 cup sugar and simmer until sugar is dissolved. Let cool and store in the fridge. A splash of vodka will extend the shelf life.

This past Tuesday was Mardi Gras, and I saw lots of people posting about Sazeracs (rightfully so).  It’s a wonderfully simple drink with a ton of flavor.  Booze, sugar, bitters. Doesn’t get much more spartan than that.  However, even in this constrained formula, there is room for variation.  Take a look at the original, for example.  Even then one could use cognac or rye whiskey.  Some have taken things a step further and done a split base approach with both spirits.  This week I’m going in the same direction, but with my own spin.

It all started last week when I stopped in at the new location of the Boston General Store that just opened in my neighborhood.  Along with kitchenware, artisan grooming products, and housewares, there is a well curated selection of barware and accouterments. I ended up walking out with some copper cocktail picks from Viski, the glass you see in this post, and a bottle of Dram Palo Santo Bitters.

They are made from the bark of the Palo Santo tree**.  Native to Paraguay, it’s sometimes referred to as “holy wood” and is believed to have medicinal qualities.  The resulting bitters are no joke.  Smoky, spicy, earthy with a touch of spice and vanilla.  I couldn’t wait to use them.  A few days later I was in the mood for a night cap, something stirred and spiritous.  I knew whatever I came up with would include those Palo Santo bitters.

Rummaging through the far reaches of my bar, I spotted a bottle of Ryan and Wood Single Malt Whiskey.  It’s an American single malt distilled in Gloucester, Ma using malted barley.  Unlike single malt scotches, this one works pretty well in cocktails as its on the lighter side.  I decided to pair it with Rittenhouse to give the Robberbaron a little more kick.

Now traditionally, a Sazerac gets an absinthe rinse in the glass before pouring.  I thought, if I’m already splitting bases, why not split the rinse too?  Knowing the smoky Palo Santo bitters were involved, I grabbed my bottle of Ardbeg 10 to pump up those flavors even more.

Last comes the sugar.  I’ve got to give a nod to Tenzin Samdo at Tavern Road in Boston for the inspiration here (if you’re not already following @bostonmixdrink on Instagram, you should).  In January I met some friends there for my birthday, where we pretty much drank though the entire menu.  Tea was a theme that ran through many of the drinks.  Infusions, syrups, actual tea as an ingredient, it came in all forms.  The next morning Mrs. Muddle and I discussed how much we enjoyed those flavors in cocktails.  Next thing I know she comes home with a box of Earl Gray tea, which I then made into a syrup.  And now it’s the sweet component in this drink.


So much happening on the nose on this one.  Smoke and malts are in the spotlight, but there are floral and spicy notes in the backdrop.  The tea syrup seems to pull these out from the bitters even more.  Anise in the bitters and absinthe team up as you go in for a sip.  The 100 proof Rittenhouse flexes its muscle, its alcohol standing up to everything swirling around in the glass.  Then the vanilla notes from the bitters and American single malt come through as they ride the sweetness of the tea syrup.  This is a fun one to drink because you can pull out different flavors on each sip.

After this, I can see myself playing around in the Sazerac template more.  Makes sense when you think about it.  Sometimes you are at your most creative when there are constraints to deal with.  Death and Co clearly recognized this, as they have an entire section of their book devoted to Sazerac variations.  Whether it’s some new bitters or bottle, or a night out at a bar, look for some inspiration and create a variation (or two) of your own!

** Fun fact – this isn’t the only place in the drinking world you can find Palo Santo.  Dogfishhead brews a brown ale that is then aged on this would.  And it’s delicious.

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