This classic New Orleans cocktail is the perfect gateway drink for anyone unaccustomed to licorice-flavored cocktails. And, if you use pastis, the licorice flavor comes from star anise (Illicium verum).
Star anise is the fruit of a small Chinese evergreen tree related to the magnolia. The star-shaped fruits, which are harvested while unripe and allowed to dry in the sun, form five to ten points, each containing a single seed. The oils are concentrated not in the seeds themselves but in the star-shaped shell, called a pericarp. The oil is easier and less expensive to extract from star anise than it is from anise, so star anise is more widely used in pastis and herbal liqueurs. In recent years, however, as much as 90 percent of the world’s harvest of star anise has been purchased by the pharmaceutical industry to make Tamiflu, a drug used to combat flu pandemics.
The trees grow in China, Vietnam, and Japan. Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum), a close relative, is severely toxic and has poisoned people who picked it by mistake, so it would be unwise to harvest this one in the wild.
1 sugar cube
2 to 3 dashes Peychaud's bitters
1 1/2 ounces Sazerac rye or another rye whiskey
1/4 ounce Herbsaint, absinthe, or pastis
This drink requires a somewhat showy technique, but it's worth learning: Fill an Old-Fashioned glass with ice to get it cold. In a second Old-Fashioned glass, muddle the sugar cube and bitters, and then add the rye. Pick up the first glass, toss the ice into the sink, then swirl the Herbsaint around the glass and toss it out as well. Pour the rye mixture into the Herbsaint-coated glass and garnish with lemon peel.