Review by Lindsay Rendall
Speakeasy is a gem of a book which whisks you back to the gin joints and ‘tea rooms’ of the roaring 20s, packed with a selection of both rare and more well known cocktail recipes dating back to the prohibition era. The book itself is stylishly designed with an art deco feel redolent of the period and is crammed full of fabulous illustrations by Georgia Perry.
Benny begins with an introduction to some 20s slang which adds to the character and feel of the book and helps take you back to the era. After drinking a few of the cocktails you might be feeling “spifflicated” (my personal favourite), “tight” or even “half-seas over”! There are also fascinating interludes with juicy tid-bits of history (or legend) from the period between the chapters, which for me made it a much more entertaining read than the usual run-of-the-mill cocktail book. Who knew that the term “booze cruise” originated not from the shopping trips over to Calais but in the prohibition era; boats were laid on specially to take passengers out as far as international waters (where it was legal to drink) and would sail round in circles while the passengers got wasted (sorry, I mean spifflicated).
Next you are introduced to the necessary additions to your cocktail cabinet to make your shin dig go with a swing. Benny takes you through some of the ingredients you might need, some of these can be found at the off-licence or a larger supermarket, but there are a number of lesser known ingredients needed to achieve the authentic 1920s taste. These are not needed for all of the recipes but for those serious about expanding their cocktail repertoire, they should be easy enough to find online through one of the many specialist retailers that are around these days. There are a few however which are no longer manufactured and for these Benny gives suggestions for suitable substitutions. This chapter also gives you a number of recipes for ingredients that you can prepare yourself at home such as cordials and shrubs (cordials where fruit is macerated with vinegar and sugar to give a sweet/sour taste). After introducing you to the ingredients, Benny takes you through the necessary equipment required, listing different types of glassware and which is used for each type of drink.
The main part of the book is given over to the cocktail recipes themselves. They are split by types into the following chapters: Martini, French 75, Bacardi, Jack Rose, Manhattan, Sidecar, Southside Fizz, Picador, Clover Club, Ramos Gin and Banks Closed (a collection of drinks which didn’t fit into any of the other chapters).
With each recipe, along with the ingredients and instructions, you are told the correct type of glass to serve them in, and are given some brief tasting notes so you have some idea of how they are supposed to taste. There is a fabulous selection of cocktails which all sound divinely decadent (if not ruinous – it might be worth having the Alka-Seltzer on hand if you’re planning on trying out a few of them in one session). I was particularly taken by the names of some of them: Corpse Reviver No. 2, Her Voice Was Full of Money and my personal favourite, The Good Times You Never Knew Your Grandma Had (tasting notes, strong, nutty and a little sweet) had me tickled pink and wanting to road test them for myself.
This is a great little book for anyone interested in making their own cocktails. It is a fascinating read and would be ideal for somebody planning their own Gatsby themed party (or how about a Clue style murder mystery), but is also equally useful for the homebody (read parent minus a social life) such as myself who fancies a change from the usual glass of wine in front of the telly. Who knows, it may just inspire me to pull my finger out and hold a proper cocktail party, once the house is cleaned anyway!
Speakeasy: 200 Underground Cocktails
Written by Benny Roff, illustrated by Georgia Perry
Published by Hardie Grant Books