This Sazerac cocktail without absinthe skips the traditional anise-flavored spirit and swaps in three types of bitters (three!) to create a contemporary and slightly less, er, how shall we say this, hallucinogenic version of the classic. (With apologies to Baudelaire, Hemingway, van Gogh, Wilde, et al.)Angie Zoobkoff

A high ball glass partially filled with an amber Sazerac cocktail without absinthe and an oversized ice cube.

Sazerac Cocktail Without Absinthe

5 from 1 vote
This Sazerac cocktail skips the traditional absinthe but still contains a little anise zip from anise bitters plus additional flavorings for a modern twist on a classic cocktail.
David Leite
Servings1 servings
Calories218 kcal
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time30 minutes


For the double-strength simple syrup

  • 2 cups Demerara or turbinado sugar
  • 1 cup cold water

For the Sazerac

  • 6 dashes anise bitters or anise extract
  • 1 1/2 ounces 100-proof rye
  • 1/2 ounce cognac
  • 1 teaspoon double-strength simple syrup
  • 4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 2 dashes aromatic bitters
  • 2 dashes lemon bitters, for garnish


Make the double-strength simple syrup

  • In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and stir until all of the sugar is wet.
  • Place over medium heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved, which should happen just before the syrup boils.
  • Let cool. Pour into a jar or covered container and refrigerate for up to 2 months.

Make the Sazerac

  • Coat the inside of an old-fashioned glass with the anise bitters or anise extract and dump out any excess.
  • Stir in all the remaining ingredients except for the lemon bitters. Add an oversize ice cube. Sprinkle with the lemon bitters.

Adapted From

Bitterman’s Field Guide to Bitters & Amari

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Serving: 1 servingCalories: 218 kcalCarbohydrates: 37 gProtein: 6 gFat: 1 gSaturated Fat: 0.1 gMonounsaturated Fat: 0.1 gSodium: 5 mgFiber: 10 gSugar: 6 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2015 Mark Bitterman. Photo © 2015 Clare Barboza and Mark Bitterman. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

If you were the oddball kid who preferred the black licorice over the red ropes, this is the cocktail for you! Others at my happy hour were very happy with the cocktail when I prepared it as written. This recipe was a hit and I now believe a good Sazerac can be made without the Absinthe, take that Baudelaire and Rimbaud! #proudtobeplebian

This drink is most certainly anise forward but this could be due to a substitution I made. Regardless, the amalgam of bitters and the velvety syrup added floral notes and balanced the drink to form a well composed cocktail.

The hunt for anise bitters was real. After several hours, several stores, several phone calls, and 2 tired kids whining at my back, anise bitters were nowhere to be found in my fair burg. We live in a bustling, commerce-heavy, foodie friendly city north of Dallas with a population of nearly 200,000. There is nothing we can’t get here, or so I thought. I found anise bitters available on Amazon but happy hour was quickly approaching, and it wouldn’t arrive in time. Google said I could substitute anise extract and so I did.

If I would alter this drink in any way, it would be to double the simple syrup and double the lemon bitters. I wanted a bit more sweet and sour on my palate to balance the anise, but that’s personal preference.

I used Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey 100 proof.

This is a lovely and complex tasting cocktail even though it goes together very easily. I think there are several ways you could go without using actual absinthe, from a really simple anisette or single-note bitters to something a bit more complex, closer to actual absinthe or like a Pastis.

Since anise bitters were hard to find locally, I used a homemade infusion and was pleased with the results after a short time. Side by side compared to a traditional Sazerac made with Absinthe, I thought this was quite good.

The cocktail recipe as written is just a shade sweet, and I found I liked it better when I made it with half the syrup (1/2 teaspoon). I think this is a terrific drink, and worth planning ahead to find or make the anise bitters—the one hard-to-find ingredient. I will make a point of preparing some extra large ice cubes for the future, since this is such a keeper.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    We loved this! In a hurry, we didn’t have everything on hand so we substituted Agave syrup for the double simple syrup, Anisette liquor for the anise bitters rinse, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, floated, for the lemon bitters. We will be ordering the special bitters to make this again!