Do the Bitters Make the Bar?

Speakeasy: Classic Cocktails ReimaginedOf all the bar, cocktail and spirits books that came my way recently, it was a passage from the newly released Speakeasy: Classic Cocktails Reimagined, From New York’s Employees Only, ($24.95, hardcover, Ten Speed Press) by Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric that caught my eye and made a point I’ve tried to impart for a while. Here it is, from their recipe for Absinthe Bitters: “Poring through old cocktail books, we noted that every reputable bar had a house recipe for bitters. Originally we played with infusing bitter herbs and spices in absinthe but found the task too time consuming and the results too inconsistent. We settled instead on a blend of different absinthes, Green Chartreuse and bitters to create just the right balance of anise and bitterness.”

They might have added that the results of house-made bitter attempts, besides taking time and attention, can be overwhelmingly idiosyncratic and assertive, often dominating drinks. It used to be that the sight of homemade bitters on the backbar was a sign that the coming drinks would be interesting; today, with so many questionable experiments being forced into cocktails, there is no telling what the final result will be.

Kosmas and Zaric’s Employees Only in NYC is so successful because it splits the difference between cocktail geek spot and Vodka Tonic hangout by acknowledging that whatever you serve should be just what the customer, not what the bartender, wants. It shows at the bar, and in Speakeasy, which is both fun and enlightening — like an evening in a great bar.

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