Whenever I'm in a giddy, just-had- a-Brazilian wax, Ellen Gilchrist heroine sort of mood, I know I must go to Brennan's of Houston (3300 Smith Street, 713-522-9711) and have a Sazerac. No one in Houston can make "America's first cocktail" as well as Reid McGaffin, lead bartender for the venerable restaurant where refined Southern living lays its Big Easy head. The drink, according to legend, was invented in the 1830s by a New Orleans apothecary named Antoine Peychaud who created his own bitters and mixed them with brandy and absinthe. Years later, a Crescent City coffeehouse set the standard by which all Sazeracs would be measured: The owner began importing Sazerac de Forge et Fils brandy to use exclusively in his cocktail. One sip of McGaffin's 21st-century interpretation, and I'm back in New Orleans, under the oaks along St. Charles Avenue, wondering which cousin to marry.
Brennan's Sazerac cocktail: McGaffin's rubicund, bittersweet nectar compares to the best Sazeracs the Big Easy has to offer. Little wonder. The man's an artist, and a demanding one at that. "Brown liquors should never be shaken, only stirred," McGaffin instructs. "Shaking ruins the taste."
Two shots Old Overholt rye whiskey
Two teaspoons white sugar
Put ice in a cocktail shaker and pour in the rye. Then add the sugar and the two varieties of bitters (about two seconds' worth of Peychaud's and two shakes of Angostura). Dribble the Pernod (the modern equivalent of the now-banned absinthe) into an old fashioned glass, making sure to coat the sides. Stir the contents of the shaker and strain into the glass. Garnish with lemon rind.