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Speakeasy - Wine Book Review

Classic Cocktails Reimagined, from New York's Employees Only Bar

by Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zeric
(Ten Speed Press, 2010)

"Speakeasy" provides an insider's guide to professional cocktail wizardry

The word “speakeasy” might bring to mind the bootleg booze of the 1920s, but you certainly won’t find any recipes calling for bathtub gin in Speakeasy: Classic Cocktails Reimagined, from New York’s Employees Only Bar. In this case, the old-fashioned moniker refers to a time when attentive barkeeps made their own syrups and bitters because such ingredients were in limited supply—or not available for purchase at all. This same artisanal spirit is at the heart of this tome from authors Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric, who helped usher in the recent craft cocktail craze when they opened the New York City bars Pravda in the 1990s and Employees Only in 2004.

The book’s recipes are organized under three broad headings: Aperitifs, Long Drinks & Fancy Cocktails, and Pitchers, Punches & Sangrias (larger format). While presenting fresh takes on classics like the Manhattan and Pisco Sour—and even creating subtlety and complexity in less revered drinks like The Cosmo and Mai Tai—the authors also present the historical backgrounds behind the drinks as well as entertaining anecdotes. It’s particularly interesting to see the thought processes that went into creating signature Employees Only cocktails such as the Ginger Smash, for which they devised four different versions (winter, spring, summer and fall) in order to make sure the muddled fruit would always be in season and at its most flavorful.

Many of these finely crafted drinks require a number specific spirits, freshly squeezed juices and various homemade syrups, infusions and bitters. The novice mixologist might find all of this a bit overwhelming, but that feeling is soon alleviated by the clear explanations given for each individual step. In addition, the recipes feature tasting notes to guide readers to the cocktails that will most appeal to their palates. These notes describe the dominant flavors, body, dryness (level of sweetness), complexity, accentuating or contrasting flavors and finish. It may take some time and effort, but recreating the drinks in this book is a worthy endeavor.

And if enthusiastic imbibers find themselves over-indulging, there’s even a recipe for home-style chicken soup in the back—the same savory restorative served to the last stragglers at Employees Only in the wee hours of the morning.

Reviewed by Becky Sauer

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