Sazerac Variations: the Cooper Union Cocktail

In abstract terms, you could think of the Sazerac as an Old-Fashioned with a strongly aromatic rinse on the glass. Typically, it’s made with rye whiskey or cognac, but Phil Ward’s Cooper Union cocktail, though it looks like a Sazerac, is all about malt whiskey.

I had seen the formula in the “Sazerac Variations” section of David Kaplan’s Death & Co. bar book, but had forgotten about it until Cold Glass reader Jacob Hooker reminded me of it a few days ago.

The Cooper Union combines Irish whiskey, smoky Scotch, and St. Germain to make a truly alternative, and unusual, Sazerac.

The Cooper Union Cocktail, photo © 2016 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Cooper Union Cocktail

Making the Cooper Union

The typical Sazerac includes rye whiskey or cognac, sugar or simple syrup, Peychaud’s bitters, and absinthe for the wash. The Cooper Union fits the model structurally, but uses an Irish whiskey base instead of rye, a liqueur for the sweetener, orange bitters in place of the hallmark Peychaud’s, and the peaty, nose-filling Laphroaig Scotch to rinse the glass.

It looks like this:

The Cooper Union Cocktail
Phil Ward, Death & Co., 2008

  • 2 oz Redbreast Irish Whiskey
  • ½ oz St. Germain Elderflower liqueur
  • 1 dash orange bitters*
  • Laphroaig 10-year Scotch
  • 1 lemon twist (garnish)

Rinse a double rocks glass with the Laphroaig and dump. Stir the Irish, St. Germain, and bitters with ice until cold; strain into the rinsed glass. Squeeze the lemon twist over the surface, and discard. No garnish.

(Death & Co.’s orange bitters are a blend of equal parts Fee Bros. West Indian orange bitters, Regans’s orange bitters, and Angostura orange bitters.)


In this case, the peaty Laphroaig stands in for the absinthe. The goal of either rinse is the same: to coat the wall of the glass above the level of the drink, and provide a strong scent as you raise the glass—in this case, a waft of smoke and peat.

The St. Germain Elderflower is surprisingly compatible with the Redbreast Irish whiskey. Usually too floral for my tastes, in the Cooper Union the liqueur is subdued by the whiskey’s dryness, and by the Laphroaig’s smoky aggressiveness. The floral sweetness is still there, right up front in the first sip, but it’s balanced, and a pleasant counterpart for the whiskies.

Redbreast whiskey label (detail), photo © 2016 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.A traditional rye- or cognac-based Sazerac calls for Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters, but Scotch and Irish whiskies are incredibly well-matched to citrus, and the orange bitters are an excellent substitute here. I didn’t try to duplicate Death and Co.’s three-brand orange bitters; I’ve made the Cooper Union with Fee’s, with Bitter Truth, and with Bittercube orange bitters, and each worked well. (Fee’s seems to add more sweetness than the others.)

Along the same lines, while the lemon twist is a matter of preference in more traditional Sazeracs, in the Cooper Union it adds a pleasant offset to Laphroaig’s smoke and peat. I recommend it.

In the end, the Cooper Union is one of my favorite Scotch/Irish based cocktails. The initial smoky, peaty nose, the sweet initial taste, and then the long run of the Irish whisky on the swallow make it a complex and enjoyable drink. The length of the aftertaste makes it a slow sipper.

And when it’s gone, you can still enjoy the smoke in that empty glass.


6 thoughts on “Sazerac Variations: the Cooper Union Cocktail

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  1. Glad you liked the Cooper Union. That Death and Co. book can be a little overwhelming to absorb…and the absurdly specific recipes usually mean that I have to pick a recipe that looks good and shop with it in mind. In this case, I didn’t have the exact ingredients when I made the drink, so I substituted the Laphroaig with Ardbeg 10 Year, which was substantially less pungent. But I also substituted the Redbreast with Connemara, which has a little smoke of its own, and I like to think that that sort of evened out the effect. If I end up picking up those two whiskies called for, I very much look forward to trying the correct ingredients.

    1. “Absurdly specific,” yes, that’s a good term for it.

      I like the idea of making Cooper Union with Connemara, I’ll try that (Alas! no Connemara in the pantry right now.) Thanks for the idea.

      1. All right, finally got around to making a Cooper Union with (almost) all the correct ingredients. The only difference between mine and the book’s is that I ended up getting cask-strength Redbreast 12 Year; it was less than $5 more in the store! And maybe with that 57% whiskey I can finally understand all the fuss about Irish Coffee. Anyway, I’m glad I did, because in spite of the fiery proof and the peaty Scotch, it was still the St. Germain that threatened to overwhelm. I’ve found that dropping the lemon garnish from the drink helps balance it more, to my taste, and the Laphroaig gives plenty of smell anyway. Also, I’ve experimented with reducing St. Germain into a syrup with an equal amount of sugar, and substituting a quarter ounce of that elderflower syrup really helps the overall balance of the drink, though that may be too sweet for your tastes (but that syrup, on top of crepes, rolled with some diced kiwi, that’s a pretty great idea my lady friend had). Anyway, an interesting drink. Very much an homage to the Sazerac method, but you wouldn’t know it from a blind tasting.

  2. Thanks again for pointing me to a beautiful recipe. This is a perfect preamble for the dinner tonight. As Jacob said I too substituted and went with Lagavulin for the rinse. I think it was an admirable substitute.

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