The craft cocktail resurgence of the last decade or so has prompted the publication of hundreds of cocktail books. Some are basic recipe books, while others are veritable history books with some recipes included. Others, like Speakeasy, are both: a little history, a lot of recipes, plus some beautiful photos to whet your thirst.
Speakeasy is written by Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric, owners and bartenders at New York's Employees Only bar. They are evidently a really big deal in the cocktail world, and so is their bar. They remind readers of this throughout the book, which made me want to hate them and the book. The thing is, the book is pretty awesome.
Throughout the introduction and the recipes, Kosmas and Zaric remind readers that making good cocktails is like cooking good food: Use quality, fresh ingredients. Don't use processed ingredients. Use your senses when mixing a cocktail, and train your palette to create balanced drinks. It seems pretty basic, but if you've had a great margarita in a bar, and then tried to recreate that margarita at home using mediocre tequila, a bottle of lime juice, or some margarita mix, you just won't get the same result. Speakeasy also takes you beyond the basics, like showing you how to use a Boston shaker, explaining the importance of ice in cocktails, and including recipes for infusions and cordials.
The 80 or so recipes in Speakeasy include quintessential cocktails like the Martinez, the Sidecar, and the Ramos Gin Fizz, plus modern variations of several classics. Each recipe headnote includes a brief history of the cocktail that is informative without being a goddamned dissertation. It's nice to learn a little background, but really this book is about making the drinks. Instructions are generally simple, and each recipe includes tasting notes and a suggestion for which style of glass to use.
I was at first irritated to see so many liquor brands specifically named in the recipes, but in the introduction it's made clear that this is done for consistency. These are the brands used at Employees Only. If you want your cocktails to taste like theirs, use them. They say use whatever you can find if necessary, just try to locate something with a similar flavor profile. I wish they gave some alternatives, but also like that they challenge readers to work that out on their own.
Read Part II of this week's Cooking the Books, and a recipe from Speakeasy.