I've been a long-time fan of Employees Only, the West Village watering hole and one of the earlier champions of New York City's cocktail renaissance, so naturally I jumped at an invitation to hear owner Dushan Zaric speak on his various housemade cordials, syrups, and bitters, at EO's sister restaurant, Macao Trading Post. (I hoped to learn the secret recipe behind their brilliant pomegranate grenadine, but alas, they are keeping that one closely guarded.)
During the event, Dushan passed around tiny glasses of each syrup, cordial, or infused spirit on its own, followed by the composed cocktail each ingredient was developed for (or in some cases, the opposite was true—sort of a chicken-or-the-egg scenario). There was a gin martini made with herbs de provence-infused vermouth, lavender-infused gin, and cointreau; a tequila-based cocktail with lemon, ruby port, and pandan leaf syrup (which alone tasted like sticky-sweet rice candy); another gin drink was flavored with a seriously tasty grapefruit cordial and topped with champagne, while a cognac cocktail featured chai-infused vermouth and fresh pomegranate juice. But my favorite by far was one of the EO originals: the Billionaire Cocktail. Employees Only grenadine, fragrant with clove and cardamom, sweetens over-proof Baker's Bourbon and fresh lemon juice, while a healthy dash of homemade absinthe bitters compliments the the spice notes of the grenadine while adding some tongue-tingling bite. Easy enough to mix at home with regular absinthe (when the drink was initially developed, it was made with a dash of absinthe substitute because the spirit was still illegal in the U.S.), I'll be drinking this rich libation through autumn and into the winter.