Historically, I have never been much of a cocktail girl. A year or so ago, I would have told you that whiskey and bourbon are far too sweet for my liking, gin is great but doesn’t require ‘dolling up’ save an olive or two, and that college has pretty much put me off vodka for life. The cocktails I had seen and tasted came in girlie colors, were full of fruit and sugar, and seemed like the best way for a bartender to scam me out of a decent drink. At the end of the day, a great beer or an interesting wine would win me over. Every time.
But, over the last year I have developed a great respect for the art and science of cocktail making. Tony and I have had the pleasure of tasting concoctions in some pretty incredible establishments. We’ve been to places that craft their own tonic and sodas, use fresh egg whites in their sours, squeeze their own fruit juices, and make their own bitters. I’ve seen bartenders create drinks without a single measure—using only their eyes, hands, and years of experience—that come out as perfect and well-balanced as a cocktail calculated down to the last ounce.
We’ve sampled drinks infused with herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables. We’ve tried cocktails made with old-fashioned liquors and the newest spirits. We’ve quaffed some seriously palate-thrilling, life-altering beverages. But, we’ve had some duds, too. And honestly, it’s these sub-par concoctions that truly cultivated my appreciation for a well-made drink.
As with all of our culinary adventures, Tony and I ultimately needed to bring this one home, to try to make the same magic in our humble kitchen that we experienced in mood-lit bars, cutting-edge restaurants, and sexy speakeasies.
Fortuitously enough, Tony’s parents recently gave us a book called Speakeasy. (Having a “hobby” or “interest” is so awesome because you actually wind up with presents you want!!) This book—written by two mixologists from New York’s Employees Only bar—is a revelation. It is truly a cocktail book for cooks. Its clean, simple, and easy-to-follow design makes putting together interesting, seasonal cocktails seem do-able. Better yet, each recipe has a guide that explains the dominant flavors, body, dryness, complexity, accentuating flavors, and finish. They even show (not just tell) you what kind of glass to serve it in.
Of course, the pictures are stunning and recipes mouth-watering. But the best part may be the back pages, which are full of recipes for the exciting ingredients found in many of their concoctions. These guys taught us how to quickly infuse booze with herbs and spices, how to make our own exotic bitters, flavored simple syrups, delicate cordials, and homemade grenadine.
Everything we’ve made out of this book has been exhilarating—from finding or making the ingredients to taking that first tentative sip. Of course, we have our absolute favorites (check out the recipes below), but nothing has disappointed us. If you just want a drink…fast, then this may not be the book for you. But like most culinary projects, these cocktails don’t actually take that long to make. Homemade cocktails are also about 1/100th the price you’d find at trendy bar, and the pride and joy that comes with making something so remarkable is priceless.
And finally, if we’re being honest, mixing up cocktails like these will undoubtedly make you seem devilishly cool and suave to all your friends…just kidding (kind of). So, give it a shot. You, too, might become a cocktail convert.