Book Review – Speakeasy by Jason Komas and Dushan Zaric

If you haven’t heard of Jason Komas and Dushan Zaric then you will have heard of their bar Employees Only in New York.

One of the original modern day speakeasy style bars, Employees Only has been one of New Yorks top venues since it opened in 2004.Speakeasy cover The story behind the origins of their bar and the evolution of their interpretations on classic cocktails are at the heart of this, their first book.

The first thing that will grab you about Speakeasy when you open it up is just how beautifully photographed the cocktails are. The book is presented in such a way that you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a consumer coffee table tome. It is however a refreshing take on a real bartenders book shelf must have, with full page photo’s having you reach for your shaker much quicker than the almost clinical layout of all to many classic cocktail books.

More about the drinks in a minute – the book itself starts with a foreward from their mentor Dale DeGroff (combine this with the afterward by David Wondrich and you get an idea just how well respected these guys are in the US) and moves into a great little story about how they got to where they are.

I will leave the details up to them however if you have ever sat in a bar after a busy shift with a mate or two and talked about opening your own venue, and who hasn’t, then this will be a real source of inspiration for you.

Next up follows the seemingly obligatory equipment and ingredient guide for the home market, however just like with Remixed this can be quickly skipped over and even more quickly forgotten once you get into the recipes.

The recipes are split into 3 sections – Aperitifs; Long Drinks and Fancy Cocktails; Pitchers, Punches and Sangrias – with a final section on Homemade Syrups, Cordials, Infusions and Accompaniments which are vital if you want to truly taste these drinks as they were intended.

Jason and Dushan have built up a reputation by appreciating the classics and reinterpreting them. This combined with their belief that it is ‘….paramount to express and share all our knowledge and technique….’ has led to a unique recipe lay out.

Each chapter contains several of Employees Only signature cocktails, however they are interspersed with the classics that inspired them. Along with this is a fascinating insight from the guys about how they took the classics and turned them into their own signature drinks. Their thought and flavour processes give a rare glimpse into the minds of two great bartenders and will undoubtedly provide inspiration to any bartender who reads them.

It is a fantastic book and one that not only makes you want to jump the first flight to NYC but also leaves you with a head full of drinks to make and ideas to play with.

For a piece of this action you can order the book here.

Below is an excerpt for you plus one of our favourite recipes:

Fraise Sauvage

Fraise Sauvage
Photo courtesy of Ani Barberian

The Fraise Sauvage was inspired by the famous pre-Prohibition classic, the Frech 75. The name itself is a play on words in French, meaning “wild strawberry”. This cocktail uses our EO homemade Wild Strawberry Cordial* to create a cocktail in a classic style.

We shake together Plymouth gin with fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, and strawberry cordial, then top it off with demi-sec champagne. For our first summer menu at Employees Only , we wanted to put on the list a cocktail that would be a crowd-pleaser.

Fraise Sauvage is the EO equivalent of the ubiquitous Caprese salad. The flavours of gin, strawberry, and champagne are a timeless combination and showcase how simple flavours can become complex when combined. To make this cocktail without the strawberry cordial, simply muddle a shole fresh strawberry, then follow the rest of the directions

  • 1 ¼ ounces Plymouth gin
  • ½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ ounce simple syrup
  • ½ ounce Wild Strawberry Cordial*
  • 2 ounces of demi-sec champagne
  • 1 half strawberry for garnish

Pour the gin, juice, syrup and cordial into a mixing glass. Add large cold ice cubes, cover, and shake vigorously for 7 or 8 seconds. Pour the champagne into a chilled cocktail glass and pour the cocktail over it. Garnish with half a strawberry.

*You’ll have to buy the book for the Wild Strawberry Cordial folks but I can tell you it really is worth the effort – Ed