Dan Gregory delves into Speakeasy: The Employees Only Guide to Classic Cocktails Re-imagined

Dan Gregory delves into an old-school cocktail guide from this iconic modern classic of a bar. 

With the silly season over and a steady work routine slowly creeping in, it was time for one of my favourite things: the deep clean! It’s a special person who gets their kicks from scrubbing under the bar or hooking up a high-pressure hose and letting loose on the footpath. If you find that person working for you… do not let them go, these people are an asset to the business. But one area of hospitality I feel is often overlooked in the cleaning department is the office (if you have the space for one!). While other areas were being tended to, I got stuck into decluttering a year’s worth of stuff. One thing that always surprises me is how past and present staff members leave books behind. And at Electric Avenue there was a library being built from booze books forgotten.

I remember in another article I admitted I am up there with the best when it comes to procrastinating, and this was one of those times. I disappeared down the rabbit hole of flicking pages, one book stopped me longer than the others and I took it home to read more (so I could actually get back to cleaning).

The book I smuggled out was “Speakeasy: The Employees Only Guide to Classic Cocktails Reimagined”. When I think of the legendary bar that is EO New York it brings back memories of Sam Ng’s amazing stories of his time working there. He would regale me with a glowing smile when we were both at Black Pearl together. He would always speak so highly of this bar and would make you feel like you were missing out on one of the best times by not being there. But at the time, living in Melbourne, you felt like these would only ever remain someone else’s stories as New York was more than just a quick trip. Lucky for us here in Australia EO opened a branch in Sydney in late 2018, making it much easier to be a part of these good times in person.

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It all started back in 2004 with the opening of Employees Only New York from industry icons Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric. I would need to write another article on these gentlemen to do them justice. But in the opening of Speakeasy, you will come across a foreword by none other than King Cocktail himself Dale DeGroff where he gives his personal account of his connection to the two men. I find it interesting and inspirational to read about how people came to be in the industry and Jason and Dushan elaborate on this with their insight and stories of how it all came to be. An interesting read and one that should inspire young bartenders to create their dream bar one day.

The next section is about how EO makes their cocktail creations and gives you details on technique, equipment and understanding a cocktail’s DNA. The recipes are broken down into three sections: Aperitifs, Long Drinks & Fancy Cocktails, Pitchers, Punches & Sangrias. The recipes have additional information about the origins of the drink and how the ingredients work together, which is nice as it helps you to understand the thought process behind the drink. There are also tasting notes and if the page has the EO symbol next to the title of the drink this means it is an original or re-worked classic of their own doing. And I like to see how different bars re-work certain classics. To help reproduce the homemade ingredients that EO use, they’ve given us a section on making their syrups, cordials, infusions and accompaniments. They even have the recipe for their famous chicken soup which they give guests who might be expecting one more drink, a nice way of saying thank you and good night to the late-night punters. This was one thing Sam would always talk about, the chicken soup. I think it’s a fantastic gesture to end out the night without putting the boot in peoples bum to kick them out. And lastly a nice afterword to finish from David Wondrich. It’s always great to read his writings and speaks volumes to have DeGroff and Wondrich praise this bar and the people behind it.

I wanted to showcase two drinks from these pages, first up is an EO original the Fernando. In the Aperitif section, but I could easily find myself having this as a light digestive as well. A beautiful balance of Fernet Branca, Bianco Vermouth and vanilla. This drink is a great way to introduce someone to Fernet and a flavour that reminds me a lot of chinotto, quite easy to drink a few of these. The second is a stirred and stiff style of cocktail, one that would please any classic cocktail nerd. The Yellow Jacket, reposado tequila is the star of the show, with a herbaceous floral note coming from St-Germain and Yellow Chartreuse. I have cut back on these two ingredients to deliver a drier cocktail, but if you are a fan of more intense herbal flavours please bump this up to the original recipe in the book. If you are not as lucky as I was to find this gem in your office cave, time to head online and get yourself a copy.

I can’t see myself getting to New York soon to order one of these. But we are lucky to have our very own EO here. Next time I’m in Sydney I will head to Employees Only for one of these gems from these legendary bars.

Fernando
45ml Cinzano Bianco Vermouth
25ml Fernet Branca
15ml Galliano L’autentico
Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass
Stir down with ice,
Strain into short stemmed glass over ice
Garnish with a small mint sprig or a single mint leaf
Yellow Jacket
50ml Reposado Tequila
15ml St-Germain
10ml Yellow Chartreuse
1 dash Angostura Orange Bitters
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass
Stir down with ice,
Strain into frozen coupette.
Garnish with a lemon twist.

Dan Gregory is the GM of Goodfellas Group, Brisbane. He’s on insta: @dan_gregory84

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