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August 6th, 2009

A brief history of drinking in Boston

michaeltmcgreevys-1916-bpl

Hear ye, imbibers of the Hub. I’ve been brushing up on my Boston booze history, and I thought it would be fun to lead, you know, a little salon with fellow boozehound-historians interested in the topic. So I mentioned this to Adam Lantheaume of the Boston Shaker one day, and he said, ‘Why don’t we do a class?’ And I said, ‘You’re on.’

“A brief history of drinking in Boston” will take place Monday, August 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the Boston Shaker, which resides in the Union Square, Somerville, store named Grand. Tix are $20 (includes cocktails). Topics on the agenda include:

  • Colonial taverns
  • The New England ice industry & Boston’s role in the evolution of cocktails
  • Saloons
  • Massachusetts temperance and prohibition laws
  • Locke-Ober and the Parker House
  • Scollay Square
  • The Cocoanut Grove fire
  • Tiki bars
  • The revival of classic mixology in Boston

Sure, it’ll be educational, but it’ll also be informal and festive, as Adam and I will be serving samples of both classic and new Boston cocktails, including a Ward Eight made with Sazerac 6-Yr Rye (aka Baby Saz). Whether you know beans about Boston bar history or work for a tour company called the Boston Hooch ‘n’ History Trail (in which case we need to get acquainted), reserve yourself a spot — you’re bound to learn something.

See you there!

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Posted in Books & resources, Boston bars, Events | 4 Comments »

June 20th, 2009

Nips – 6/20/09

doctordrinking» As I prepare to make my third annual trip to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail, two New York Times articles this week combined in my head to form a timely and contradictory message: “Booze is bad for you. New Orleans is good for you.” The first article, Alcohol’s Good for You? Some Scientists Doubt It, looks skeptically at studies that show health benefits from moderate drinking. The takeaway is this: “It may be that moderate drinking is just something healthy people tend to do, not something that makes people healthy.” If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you figured that out a long time ago. I’m guessing that, even if you are a moderate drinker (one drink per day for women, two for men), you aren’t drinking for your health, but because it’s fun. Imagine — doing something that confers no benefit other than fun!

» Which segues perfectly into the second article, The Way of the Bayou, about New Orleanians being completely out of step with “progress” and not fretting about it one bit. “While the rest of us Americans scurry about with a Blackberry in one hand and a to-go cup of coffee in the other in a feverish attempt to pack more achievement into every minute, it’s the New Orleans way to build one’s days around friends, family, music, cooking, processions, and art. For more than two centuries New Orleanians have been guardians of tradition and masters of living in the moment — a lost art.” This is a rosy view of the city, but there’s truth in it. It’s something you pick up on pretty quickly when you’re down there, especially during an event as joyously frivolous — and bad for your health — as Tales of the Cocktail.

» Speaking of Tales, the event culminates in the annual Spirit Awards, which recognize the best bars, bartenders, writers, brand ambassadors, products, etc. in the cocktail world. This year, Drink has been nominated for Best New Cocktail Bar. Cross your fingers and hope for the best, ’cause Gertsen and co. deserve to win.

» Some Boston bar proprietors received a strange promotional item this week: a tasteful looking box with the words “Thanks for nothing” on the outside and an empty bottle of Knob Creek bourbon on the inside. An accompanying letter explains that consumer demand has literally drained the barrels dry, and it thanks the recipient for “helping make it happen.” As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. The letter continues, “We ask for your patience and your continued support. We plan to capitalize on this temporary shortage by creating customer communications and conducting outreach that underscore Knob Creek’s commitment to quality. Working together, I’m sure we’ll all be even more popular and profitable once supply is restored.”

Ooooh. Commitment to quality. Working together. Popular and profitable. The boutique bourbon market is wielding some fancy PR! The letter should’ve just said, “If you’re paying $10 more a bottle than you used to for our bourbon, bless your soul. By the time supplies are replenished, your customers will be used to paying the higher price. Genius!”

» And good gawd, y’all, MC Slim JB (food/drink critic and occasional contributor in this space) just posted There’s a riot going on in the cocktail world, an eloquent tribute to and smart summation of the rise of the craft cocktail scene in Boston. If you’re a regular here, a lot of the nuts and bolts of what he’s saying will already sound familiar, but his thoughtful take on things is well worth checking out. As he explains, his food-oriented audience and writing peers are often surprisingly ignorant of what’s been going on for the past several years, drink-wise. It’s time they knew.

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Posted in Booze in the news, Boston bars, New Orleans, Nips | 6 Comments »

June 3rd, 2009

Nips – 6/3/09

Things to drink and places to go:

jack-dor I have happily been following Dann Paquette’s brewing career since about the mid-’90s, when he was at the Northeast Brewing Co. in Allston. Numerous brewing stints later, including a recent couple of years in Yorkshire, England, Dann started his latest venture: Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project. Look for Pretty Things beers in your local bar or packie, and drink them. They are really good. I’m partial to the American-style saison, Jack d’Or (left). It’s distinctive and delicious, yet versatile enough for everyday use.

Downtown Wine & Spirits in Davis Square, Somerville, has fairly recently expanded the “spirits” part of its name with hard-to-find bourbons, liqueurs, rums, etc. It also has the best combination website/blog of any liquor store in greater Boston. And they have regular tastings.

packard-wi-fi Scott opened the June Esquire, featuring the annual Best American Bars list, and asked me, “Which Boston bar do you think they picked?” “Drink,” I said. No brainer. (There’s also an RIP sidebar that bids farewell to the B-Side.) Speaking of Drink, on a recent visit I tried Josey Packard‘s homage to the Marconi Wireless, the WiFi: Bonded Laird’s Applejack, Lillet Blanc, Drambuie. Strong, complex, stunning.

maul-ramos-fizz Todd Maul has rather quietly been insinuating craft cocktails into the Boston fine-dining scene. He recently moved from Rialto in Cambridge to Clio in Boston, where he has livened up a cocktail menu based largely on vodka and sake infusions with classically inspired mixtures using gin, tequila, whiskey and rum. As you can see from the pic, he also makes a helluva Ramos Gin Fizz. Go check this guy out.

Finally, an observation and a question: remember when people who patronized bars and restaurants were called “customers?” In the last few years, in some establishments anyway, they have become “guests.” What’s the origin of the switch? I suppose it’s nicer to be considered a guest than merely one end of a cash deal, even though being someone’s guest has traditionally implied that you enjoy their hospitality without having to pay for it.

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Posted in Beer, Boston bars, Drinking supplies, Nips | 10 Comments »

May 21st, 2009

Brunch bartender battle

burtons-grillStaying in town this weekend? Then stop by Burton’s Grill on Boylston St. Saturday between 11:00 and 3:00 for the first annual B4 (Boston’s Best Brunch Bartender) Challenge. The event, whose proceeds will go to I Hate Cancer, pits nine bartenders from nine different Boston neighborhoods against each other in a mix-off. The winner gets to showcase his or her cocktail on Drink this! a new segment on NECN’s TV Diner, whose co-host, Jennie Johnson, will emcee the B4 Challenge. The thing I like about all this, besides the good cause it’s benefiting, is that I will be one of the judges. Sweet.

You don’t need to buy tickets or make a reservation, just show up, order a drink and a plate of eggs, and enjoy the festivities. The sponsor of B4 is Absolut Mango vodka, which means that all of the competing cocktails will contain this spirit. I know what many of you are thinking. ‘Flavored vodka? Lame.’ But I like the idea of bartenders starting with any prescribed cocktail ingredient and creating something interesting and tasty with it. Here are the contestants and their bars (good luck to all):

  • Michael Ahearn, Stella
  • Jackson Cannon, Eastern Standard
  • Janessa Davis, Boston Beer Garden
  • Mike Doyle, Harvard Gardens
  • Joe Kin, Florentine
  • Chris Little, Burton’s Grill
  • Matt Stricos, Stephanie’s on Newbury
  • Katrina Turner, Red Sky
  • Paul Westerkamp, 33 Restaurant

Hope to see you there!

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Posted in Bartenders, Boston bars, Brunch, Vodka | 9 Comments »

April 17th, 2009

The most amazing gathering of brewers in one Boston bar

Deep Ellum - Citizens of the World party

In the last post I mentioned that the annual Craft Brewers Conference is coming to Boston next week and that the event is spurring local beer bars to show hop heads what they got. Little did I know what an understatement that was. Turns out that Deep Ellum in Allston, in partnership with Shelton Brothers beer importers of Amherst, MA, are hosting what they’re calling the First Annual Citizens of the World Party and what I’m calling the Most Amazing Gathering of Brewers in One Boston Bar. Seriously — Jean Van Roy of Belgium’s fabled lambic brewery, Cantillon, will be there. He has never set foot in the U.S. before.

From Wednesday through Saturday, Van Roy and a couple dozen other artisanal brewers from Belgium, Germany, Scandinavia, Japan, England, Quebec and, of course, the U.S. will drop by Deep Ellum to schmooze and booze. They are responsible for most of the 80+ draught beers that will be tapped over the course of the four-day fest. (There’ll be special bottled beers, too.) Brasserie de la Senne (Belgium), Mahr’s (Germany), Ridgeway (England) and Dieu de Ciel (Quebec), plus the U.S. breweries Russian River (CA), Southampton Publick House (NY), Jolly Pumpkin (MI), Sly Fox (PA), Allagash (ME) and High & Mighty (MA), are just a sampling of the breweries represented. Check in with the Shelton Brothers blog for details and updates.

Each night has a theme: Wednesday is Welcome to the Craft Brewers Conference with BeerAdvocate; Thursday is East of the Mississippi; Friday is West of the Mississippi; and it looks like Saturday will be Day of the Belgians (check in with the abovementioned blog or with Deep Ellum about exact times). And last, but so not least, the Shelton Brothers and Dogfish Head are co-hosting a beer party Tuesday night at the Other Side Cafe on Newbury St.

Inform your friends in Allston that you are crashing on their couch next week, and come check this out.

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Posted in Beer, Boston bars | 7 Comments »

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