The Kissinger’s Eyebrow — that’s the first “specialty drink” Conan O’Brien wants to learn in bartending school. “You’re a piano teacher, and Mozart just walked in,” he informs his instructor.
This is one of the many classic Conan sketches that have been virally making the rounds lately amid speculation over whether, now that he’s moving to L.A., hosting the Tonight Show, and going on air at the tame hour of 11:30 p.m., the Brookline native will continue to be ass-kickingly funny. Well, if the feared scenario rears its ugly head, at least we’ll always have stuff like this to watch online.
Based on Conan’s description of his favorite specialty cocktail, I’ve attempted a recipe.
1 oz gin
1 oz tequila
1/4 oz grenadine
1 hair from Kissinger’s eyebrow
Shake first three ingredients well over ice and strain into shot glass. Garnish with eyebrow hair. Shoot.
Josey Packard is among that distinct class of bartenders who have had musical careers, and who channel their passion and creativity into the kind of performing that goes on behind a great bar. Those who remember Packard from another era, as the riot grrrl fronting the acclaimed band Chelsea on Fire, may find it jarring to see her now, sporting her natural brown curls, wearing a gentleman’s waistcoat, mixing Old Fashioneds. The contrast is part of her appeal.
When she decided to be a bartender, she skipped spring training and went right to the playoffs. While living in New York, she took the rigorous BAR (Beverage Alcohol Resource) course, then moved to San Francisco and landed a plum assignment at the Alembic Bar. That’s where I first encountered her, cracking ice cubes with a bar spoon, surrounded by homemade bitters and syrups, and offering detailed recommendations of bourbon and rye.
Naturally, when she moved back to Boston last fall, she promptly nabbed a spot at the newly opened Drink. With her love for (and knowledge about) classic cocktails, Packard’s most at home working the tri-sectioned bar’s “1800s station,” where she happily hacks away at a mammoth ice block in the process of making you a perfectly thought-out cocktail. Rest assured, there’s nothing didactic about her. Rather, she is that perfectly Bostonian combination of seriousness and sharp humor, intensity and affability.
Topeka, Kansas. My parents went to high school here in Boston, but due to an Air Force assignment I was born and raised in the Midwest. Its cachet is both useful and boring to me; today I’m gratified to call Boston my home.
Past bartending jobs
The Alembic, San Francisco.
Favorite bar in greater Boston other than your own
Irish Mist out of my parents’ cabinet. I think I was nine. First drink I ever ordered at a bar? Amaretto Sour. I had no idea what it was, but somehow the name came out of my mouth.
____ is to the Boston bar scene as ____ is to the Boston music scene
St. Germain is to the Boston bar scene as canned drums are to the Boston music scene. Not traditional, potentially transcendental, and ripe for abuse.
The drink you most like to make
Old Fashioned. Made the same way since the turn of the (19th) century: who doesn’t love a drink that was born right alongside our country?
A bartender’s best friend is…
The 6-ounce cheater tin.
A bartender’s worst enemy is…
A lack of humility.
What you drink at the end of your shift
Reading Lager. I hate lager (not enough flavor) but I love cold Reading Lager: go figure.
If you weren’t a bartender, you’d be…
I am so f***ing proud to be a bartender. I am also a musician and an editor.
Dumbest thing you’ve heard in a bar
“I can’t break the code” — meaning a guy can’t order a drink that anyone else has stated is a woman’s drink.
Most profound thing you’ve heard in a bar
Lady says: “While my friend’s in the bathroom, I want a non-alcoholic drink that looks alcoholic because I just found out I’m pregnant.” Then she goes to the bathroom, her friend waits until she’s out of earshot, and then says exactly the same thing.
What you say at last call
This is one of those areas where the genius of John Gertsen is sublimely obvious. There is no last call, there’s just a time after which drink-making stops but the party rolls on. I usually stand on the bartop with a bullhorn and a bottle of Captain, unbutton my shirt and pour a line of sloppy shots, set them on fire, then flash my tits: it’s like a visual cue. John is such a great manager to let me do this.
The best thing about drinking in Boston
Being here. Smart people, self-deprecating humor, welcoming community, weather extremes, and the Ward 8 with its three full-on ounces of rye.
The worst thing about drinking in Boston
I gotta say it’s the T stopping service at freaking 12:15 a.m. It’s simply irresponsible of them.
“A ‘certified beer judge’ — says who?” you might ask. The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), a nationwide organization established in 1985, bestows the title on anyone who passes its rigorous exam, which Butler, who works for a law firm, once declared was “harder than the bar exam.”
Speaking of which, the BJCP is roughly to beer appreciation what the BAR (Beverage Alcohol Resource) program is to mixology. Here’s a sample exam question from the former: “Identify three top-fermenting beer styles where the minimum original gravity is 1.070 or higher. For each style provide a statement describing the style as well as the differences and similarities between the styles by addressing the following topics …” You got it — this test ain’t for sissies.
Butler proudly points out that the original BJCP Style Guidelines — a bible of sorts on the world’s major beer styles — came from New England homebrewers during the rise of craft beer.
Recently, I asked Butler to name two or three beers that have knocked her socks off lately, and also whether she had any guilty-pleasure beers.
She said, “My favorite brewer is Jerome Rebetez of BFM [Brasserie des Franche Montagnes] in Switzerland. His background is wine, and his barrel-aging experiments are stunning, especially L’Abbaye de St. Bon Chien, named after a beloved cat in the brewery. I’ve lately been delighted by the craft beer coming out of Italy and France, too, Thiriez being one of my favorites — funky, hoppy farmhouse-style brew. Yum! Locally, Megan Parisi’s CaCow stout is my latest worth-a-trip beer [Parisi brews her stout at the Cambridge Brewing Co.].
“My confession (‘pleasure’ would be a stretch) is, on a really hot day when I want a glass of water and a buzz (not a beer), I’ll have a Miller Lite.”
Butler is a passionate proselytizer of craft beer. With her knowledge, she can out-do the geekiest of beer geeks, yet she doesn’t come across as one. She just believes everyone would love beer if only they’d discover the good stuff.
“To me, tasting a fine craft beer is a true sensory awakening. When someone says they don’t like beer, I know they haven’t tasted anything beyond the ubiquitous, well-marketed, watery Bud/Miller/Coors/Heineken/Stella lager. It’s like saying you don’t like cheese when all you’ve had is the wrapped American processed slices. And I think, ‘How sad!'”
St. Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. Eeccchhhh. Don’t get me wrong. Romance? Love it. But V-Day? C’mon — it’s probably the least romantic day of the year.
Whatever you do, do NOT get stuck going out to dinner at a fancy restaurant, where you’ll only get depressed observing a sad parade of couples overpaying for an evening of forced romance, while various Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus relationship scenarios play out beneath the surface. If you’re an imbiber, and you feel compelled to celebrate this day with your love, stroll down some unbeaten path where, if you’re lucky, romance will sneak up and find you. At the very least, you’ll have a good time. Suggestions:
Go to a dive bar in your neighborhood — walk there — and drink shots of whiskey and long-neck Buds.
Go to a sports bar and watch the Celts or Bruins on a giant TV while eating burgers and drinking Harpoon.
Go online and try to get a last-minute deal on a hotel downtown. If you manage that coup, have a large pepperoni pizza delivered to your room, stock the fridge with beer, and channel-surf the night away.
Invite your single friends over for a game of poker and make them martinis with plump olives.
One question I get a lot is how and where one can learn to mix cocktails (though not the kind pictured here). How about attending a cocktail class? A few places around town offer instruction for making serious drinks. While these classes won’t turn beginners into professionals, they’ll at least have you hobnobbing for an evening with the experts and picking up some good techniques and recipes.
I’ll probably have to start an ongoing list at some point, but here are the classes I know about so far.
Eastern Standard: I don’t know if any are coming up, or how much they cost, but I know ES has offered some in the past. Again, the newsletter will help here.
Sel de la Terre (State St.): I was pretty blown away to hear about a series of cocktail classes at the original Sel de la Terre (there are now three), which Frank McClelland and Geoff Gardner of L’Espalier fame opened in 2000. Head bartender Ted Kilpatrick is leading classes with titles like “Prohibition Era Cocktails — What the Cool People Were Drinking from 1920-1933″ and “History of the Martini … and Why that Bright Green Apple Thing You are Holding is Not One.” Seriously. I don’t know Ted, and I’ve never had a cocktail at Sel de la Terre, but now I’m forced to investigate. $21 per person with a 21% discount if you stay for dinner.
Stir: It’s worth going to a cocktail class at Barbara Lynch’s teaching kitchen at least once, even if these classes are the most expensive in town. Stir fits no more than 10 or 12 people, so you get to spend some quality time with your instructor, who is likely to be John Gertsen, Ben Sandrof, Misty Kalkofen or — soon enough — any of the other talented bartenders at Lynch’s bar Drink. $95-$125 per person.