Book Review: Speakeasy

Speakeasy: The Employees Only Guide to Classic Cocktails Reimagined, by Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric, chronicles the drinks made at the Employees Only bar in New York City. They specialize in classic cocktails and have bartenders who care about the craft. They only have a door to the street with no windows, and then you have to enter into a small room. Sounds awesome to me.

Speakeasy: The Employees Only Guide to Classic Cocktails ReimaginedAfter reading through the prefatory material, I was engaged. They follow my philosophy: everything fresh, as many things homemade as possible. They talk about how reimagining the past is about updating it, making it accessible to modern palates, even going so far to talk about how early drinks were male-centric, and how they want to update them to appeal to even female palates. They go back to Jerry Thomas’s 1862 compendium How to Mix Drinks or the Bon Vivant’s Companion, and they try to see how the drink has changed over time. While I think this book would be a bit overwhelming for the general cocktail newcomer, they do include some information about how to muddle and what equipment is needed for a bar. They even talk about how to stir.

While my initial reaction was very positive, when I began to peruse the recipes, I noticed that nearly everything that I really wanted to try required something called Absinthe Bitters: the Martinez, the Sazerac, Billionaire Cocktail, etc. Wondering what Absinthe Bitters were, I turned to the reference on page 184. Turns out the book ends on page 170. No page 184 to be found. Found another reference for it that mentions page161. That page actually does have the recipe. Now I understand why someone would feature their own recipe for bitters, but I don’t have the Fee Brothers Mint Bitters required to make this concoction, and I don’t want to waste 1/2 cup of Green Chartreuse on it, either. Of course, I’m going to adapt it to eliminate the mint bitters and to only make a cup of the stuff, period. I probably don’t need 4 cups, after all, which is what their recipe makes. These bar books need to realize that they’re writing for home bartenders who use a bottle of Angostura bitters once a year. Their infused recipes should be made accordingly.
How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant's Companion: The Original Cocktail Guide (Hesperus Classics)
Quite a few things throughout the book kind of irked me, such as requiring lavender-infused gin or peach-infused bourbon. I understand why those things are listed, but it still seems weird when the book is made for a general audience. They should include variations or something so that the average consumer doesn’t have to make an entire bottle of Maker’s Mark into peach-infused bourbon.

BUT, and it’s a big but.

I have made two drinks from this book so far, and they were the best versions I have ever had. It might not mean much until you learn that I tried their recipe for a Manhattan and a Negroni, and they were the best of those drinks ever. And we’re talking amazing, classic cocktails here, not junk thrown together in the last couple years that I have never had before. I have had a LOT of Manhattans, and I will be making their version from now on. Here’s how they did it:

  • 1 1/2 oz Rittenhouse 100 Rye
  • 1 3/4 sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 oz Cointreau
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • garnish with homemade brandied cherry

Stir it and strain into a cocktail glass. Then drop in the cherry.

This is an amazing drink. It is different, sure, but it’s delicious. It’s sweeter than a typical Manhattan, and the Cointreau gives a slight citrus smell, but there isn’t enough Cointreau to take over the flavor or anything like that. This drink alone makes me want to invest in this book.  

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