by Tim McNally
Memories of New Orleans are dominated by unforgettable experiences that to me define the city. Legendary restaurants, Royal Street art galleries, electric streetcars, the Victorian splendor of Garden District mansions and omnipresent European architecture. Street characters like mimes and musicians dot the French Quarter, sharing space with shoe shiners who miraculously make music with a rag. Some deaths are celebrated with a Jazz funeral march.
No place on earth was better suited to debut the cocktail.
Tim McNally is in a unique position to share with the world his city’s uniqueness. A popular radio broadcaster, journalist, lecturer and author, his fascinating book, The Sazerac, is both a history of an iconic drink born in his hometown, but also a chronicle of the evolution of alcoholic beverages in America.
A few pages into the book, readers learn that the Sazerac is cocktail royalty, earning a place alongside the Old Fashioned, the Manhattan and the Martini. McNally’s research becomes a tour de force of the Sazerac’s evolution beginning in a family-owned Cognac company in France, a globally popular ingredient created by a New Orleans pharmacist, to Absinthe a once-shrouded-in-mystery spirit. A heritage drink and an important part of the city’s cultural DNA, the Sazerac earned the distinction as the official cocktail of New Orleans.
McNally, who knows New Orleans better than anyone I know, reviews the evolution of the cocktail. When the Sazerac first appeared in the mid-1800s, cocktails were unknown. Bartenders, according to McNally, rarely spent time combining multiple ingredients for a single drink, and when they did, no name was bestowed. Everything changed with the Sazerac. It combined a specific Cognac named Sazerac de Forge et Fils with Creole pharmacist Antoine Peychaud’s bitters, plus a sugar cube—all of which were stirred and strained into a drink glass coated with absinthe.
The process for making the Sazerac became known and was followed, providing the comfort and enjoyment of a social ritual. The Sazerac became both a delicious beverage in its own right and a marker of the city’s unique alcohol culture.
Tim McNally blends history, cocktail trivia, and recipes making his book highly readable and useful. A creative home bartender will gain useful knowledge and hone skills with the anecdotes. The Sazerac uncovers the true story of one of New Orleans’s most long-lived and iconic beverages. There is a bonus for the more adventurous. The author provides recipes for the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, the Sazerac and, for those unafraid of mystery, a chance to encounter the “green faerie” through the Absinthe Cocktail and Absinthe Frappe.
The Sazerac is not a muscle drink. Women and men enjoy them daily in the French Quarter. The landmark Roosevelt Hotel is home to a famous bar named The Sazerac. This book makes a great gift.
Tim McNally writes with the ebullience and eloquence displayed regularly on his popular New Orleans broadcasts. This highly readable, useful book is now in my home library, appropriately nestled where it belongs, alongside classic works by other esteemed cocktail authorities like Dale DeGroff.
By Tim McNally
Also available on Amazon