The Sazerac at Branch Water Tavern

Closing your eyes and pointing to something on a cocktail menu can have amazing results. Such was the case at Branch Water Tavern a few weeks ago when I stumbled upon my new "favorite" mixed drink: the Sazerac. Before sitting down I had already enjoyed a cosmopolitan (icy cold and pale pink--just the way I like it) on Branch Water's patio and planned to just order a glass of wine with dinner. However, right in the middle of issuing my drink request, I caught a glimpse at some of the luminous liquids coming out of the bar area and felt rather bored with the idea of sipping shiraz all night.

"Um, actually, no wine....dah....I'll have that," I said rather ungracefully, tapping the entry for the Sazerac on the clipboard menu.

It was only afterward that I read the description: a straight up mixture of rye, bitters, and simple syrup. I was relieved not to see the words "Bombay Sapphire" or "Tanqueray" (gin and I do not get along).

Copper in color, the Sazerac gleamed under the warm lights of the dining room. A lemon peel floated lazily in the center of the glass; I considered removing it but ultimately let it be, trusting that Branchwater's mixologists would not include superfluous fruit. In my first sip, I tasted burnt wood and vanilla (actually a lovely combination); second and third sips yielded subtler flavors of caramel and spice and citrus (ah, the lemon). Served at room temperature, the drink brought a soothing warmth to my lips. Perhaps it was more appropriate for a blustery winter New England night than a balmy Texas spring evening.

Still I kept drinking in between bites of my appetizer and our shared plate of charcuterie. The food was wonderful, but the Sazerac was better, rivaling my diverse courses (briny softshell crab, sanguine steak, creamy gnocchi, peppery prosciutto) with its own complex mixture of flavors.

I had two Sazeracs that night and would have had a third if someone else was driving me home. Apparently New Orleans is the birthplace of my new beloved cocktail, so a road trip for some "research" may be in order...

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Joanna O'Leary