I was on my own for a night in New York a few weeks ago and ate at Quality Meats. Waiting for my table to open up, I asked the bartender if he could do a Sazerac. He said he couldn't. "Don't have any rye." In a restaurant paneled with wood recovered from the Mississippi, there wasn't a single rye whiskey. Still, I had to appreciate his commitment to orthodoxy.
The history of the Sazerac cocktail is rich with speculation, old New Orleans establishments and family names, and an evolving ingredient list that sees French colonial influence giving way to American rusticism in the wake of the phylloxera epidemic that struck France in the late 1800s. Cognac replaced with Rye whiskey.
Other folks have outlined that territory more credibly than I can, even if everybody leans heavily on Wikipedia's Sazerac article for their narrative arc. With two trips to New Orleans under my belt, I didn't have my first Sazerac until last year at San Jose's Fairmont hotel. What I've been mixing up since last fall ignores a lot of Sazerac orthodoxy anyhow.
I've settled on a version of Esquire's recipe using Old Overholt Rye, a simple sugar made with Dark Muscovado, Peychaud Bitters, and St. George's Absinthe. I was looking forward to trying this with the Corsair Rye (Corsair's product page, K&L's product page or blog) we picked up a couple of weeks ago, but it was a non-starter. The flavor a mis-match. You can make the drink with any old bourbon in a pinch. You can use Angostoura bitters. In either variation it will be tasty, but it will not be a Sazerac.