The Sazerac from Doug Berdie's "Damn Near Perfect Cocktails." Special to The Forum
FARGO – Through trial and error (and with a little professional advice), Doug Berdie and his wife, Elaine Hauff (Shanley Class of 1970), created a recipe for a "Damn Near Perfect" Sazerac, a classic New Orleans cocktail made with whiskey, bitters and simple syrup.
The retired couple started with a solid recipe, then a bartender on a cruise told them Jameson Irish Whiskey makes the difference. Later, a bartender in St. Paul served them the drink with an orange peel instead of the traditional lemon.
The Sazerac is one of 30 cocktails in their new recipe book, "Damn Near Perfect Cocktails," available on Amazon.com and in a couple shops in the Twin Cities, where they reside. Hauff grew up in Fargo and attended North Dakota State University before moving to Minnesota and meeting Berdie.
"It's kind of an evolving thing," he explains. "That's why we decided to call it 'Damn Near Perfect' because we know they're not perfect. We're certainly open to feedback from people who can help us move them just a little notch closer to perfection."
After returning from a trip to Antarctica, Chile, Brazil and Uruguay, Berdie and Hauff talked to The Forum about the two-year testing and retesting process that went into creating their "Damn Near Perfect Cocktails."
How have your travels influenced your recipes?
Berdie: It broadens our horizons tremendously. On our recent trip to Brazil, for example, we decided we wanted to try to perfect the caipirinha, which is their national drink. That's one of the things we really enjoy about traveling — if we're in a country, we're going to explore what they have to offer.
How did you choose which cocktails to include?
Berdie: We started with some all-time favorites — gin and tonic, martini, Mai Thai, etc. Then as we kept our eyes open, we saw a number of things that popped up in magazines and newspaper articles. We had a friend who said, "Be sure to include a mojito."
Hauff: The Cherrypolitan — that's Doug's creation — is a real crowd-pleaser. It's one you can make a larger jar of, then when you have people over, you can just shake it with some ice, pour it, and you're good to go.
Tell me about the taste-testing process.
Berdie: Elaine would come home from work and I'd say, "Here are three gin and tonics made with three different gins," and under each glass would be a Post-It saying which gin I used, then she would mix them up so I didn't know which was which, and we would each taste them and compare notes.
We just kept playing around for about two years until we got to the point, for each of these cocktails, where we would smile at each other and say, "That's it!"
Did anybody besides Elaine participate in your blind taste tests?
Berdie: Yes, we had a number of our friends participate. A couple of them just decided to "escape" a different social environment they were in one evening, and I said, "Well, come on over and help me work on one of these cocktails." They arrived about 9 and left at 2:30. By that time, we had it pretty well down (laughs).
Can anyone make these cocktails, regardless of bartending experience?
Berdie: Absolutely! If I can make these cocktails, anyone can. I'm not a professional. That's one of the beauties of this book — it's so precise, so if you find a cocktail that you like and you make it according to the instructions, it will always turn out the same. There are only three or four out of 30 that require a little extra work.
Have you always been the ones to "play bartender" for your friends and family?
Hauff: No, actually. Before we started working with cocktails, we did more wine. Back in the 1950s and early '60s, cocktails were "the" thing. They lost favor to the wine culture, which got big, and I think what we're seeing now is people going back to cocktails, finding that they can be well-made.
1 teaspoon 1:1 simple syrup (1 cup sugar to 1 cup water)
¼ teaspoon Peychaud bitters
2 ounces whiskey*
Small amount absinthe (about 1/8 teaspoon)**
1½-inch-by-¾-inch slice of orange peel, all pith scraped out
1. Fill Old Fashioned lowball glass with crushed ice and let sit to chill glass.
2. Put mixing glass in freezer for about 10 minutes to thoroughly chill.
3. Take out chilled glass from freezer from Step 2 and fill with ice cubes and simple syrup, Peychaud bitters and whiskey. Stir well for several minutes to thoroughly chill mixture.
4. Empty glass that contains crushed ice, pour about 1/8 teaspoon of absinthe in it, and swirl around sides of glass. Then, pour out absinthe (hopefully, into another glass awaiting the next Sazerac!).
5. Re-stir glass with the whiskey, and strain into the glass with absinthe coating.
6. Squeeze orange piece over drink and drop in.
* We prefer Jameson Irish Whiskey.
** We use Partus 68 Absinthe, but it's hard to find. Use Absente as a fine alternative.