Archive for the ‘Drinking supplies’ Category

September 20th, 2007

Sweet on BRIX

BRIX owners Wroblewski & Mally

After I learned from my more with-it colleagues in drink that obscure cocktail ingredients could be found at BRIX Wine Shop in the South End, I ventured over there with notebook and camera in hand. I just had to interview Carri Wroblewski and Klaudia Mally, the two self-described “chix” who own the place, and find out what they were up to.

If you’re used to the typical Massachusetts package store with its motley hodgepodge of wines o’ the world and dusty bottles of Leroux cordials, you might walk into BRIX and think, ‘Ooops, wrong tax bracket!’ Each bottle here seems to occupy its own special place on the sleek shelves, the way individual sweaters are displayed in high-end clothing boutiques. But take a closer look, and you’ll find reasonably priced wines along the bottom shelves, just like in any other liquor store. Luckily, these wines have been certified Not To Suck by Wroblewski and Mally, who forsake the usual suspects in favor of offbeat stuff they truly like, culling their selection from 39(!) different distributors.

The ladies are industry veterans — Wroblewski worked for J. Lohr Wines and Frederick Wildman & Sons importers, Mally waited tables at Grill 23 before working in mergers and acquisitions for a software company — and they’re all about education and service. They hold weekly public tastings and offer private ones by invitation or appointment. And they network with influential people in the Boston bar industry to stay on top of in-demand but hard-to-find spirits like Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, Amer Picon, Van Winkle bourbon and Peychaud’s and orange bitters. If you can’t find some oddity necessary for an obscure cocktail, BRIX will do its best to special-order it for you.

If you, like me, are closer to downtown Boston than the South End, you’re in luck — Wroblewski and Mally are opening a new store on Broad Street in October. It will look similar to the four-year-old mothership, but it’ll have a private tasting room for events. If you want up-to-date info on tastings and special offers, get on the BRIX mailing list. Oh, in case you were wondering, “brix” is the name of a scale used in winemaking to measure the sugar content in grape juice.

Posted in Cocktails, Drinking supplies, Wine | 6 Comments »

August 24th, 2007

Operation 1919 – seeking lost ingredients

We want lost ingredients

Looking for lost cocktail ingredients? Know where to shop for them? Read on.

OK, enough. It really shouldn’t be that hard to find ingredients for the pre-Prohibition cocktails we’re all crazy about and attempting to mix in our homes when we’re not ordering them in bars. In the past week, people have asked me where they can purchase Peychaud’s bitters, orange bitters, Amer Picon, Fernet Branca — even rye whiskey, for chrissakes! Then there’s the really weird stuff like Swedish punsch and creme de violette. One reader has taken it upon himself to purchase cases of bitters and absinthe online and then sell them (at cost) to fellow cocktail enthusiasts (thanks, Adam!). That is commendable. But, um, shouldn’t someone else be doing that on a larger, more profitable scale? Like, say, a liquor store?

Sure, some liquor stores mentioned here in the past — Blanchard’s, Wine & Cheese Cask, Downtown Wine & Spirits, Martignetti’s, Beacon Hill Wine, Atlas in Medford — carry one or two of these ingredients, but none of them stock a decent, dependable selection. Why not? I’m guessing it’s because not enough people have asked them to. Well, folks, it’s time. Please join me in Operation 1919 — a mission to make lost and rare cocktail ingredients readily available to the home mixologist. We must do the cyberspace equivalent of standing en masse outside Boston’s finer booze purveyors and chanting: “What do we want? Peychaud’s bitters! When do we want it? Now!”

Leave a comment on this post and tell me a) which vintage cocktail ingredients you’re looking for and b) whether you have found such ingredients in the Boston area — or anywhere in New England, for that matter. I will then pass our wish list on to the proprietors of the above and other establishments in hopes that they’re interested in serving a niche market. Ready, set, demonstrate!

Posted in Bitters, Drinking supplies | 53 Comments »

June 23rd, 2007

How to stock a tiki bar

Tiki Bar

I saw Brother Cleve at Devlin’s in Brighton recently (he was playing with his band, Dragonfly) and mentioned casually that I was getting curious about tiki drinks. Like, what do you have to have on hand to mix them up at home? A couple days later, I got an email from Cleve with a long list of rums, juices and other ingredients, plus opinionated commentary on the do’s and don’ts of stocking your own tiki bar. It’s valuable advice, and I just had to share it. Warning: with what it’ll cost to buy all the ingredients below, you might as well shop around for a liquor license and open a bar.

How to Stock a Tiki Bar — by Brother Cleve
Well, you may hate me for this — cuz it’s not cheap to do your initial setup — but here’s a standard list of what you’d need to be able to flip open a Trader Vic’s guide and make a Polynesian drink. A lot of the mixers are available at Martignetti’s on Soldiers Field Rd., including Fee Brothers Falernum and also an alcoholic Falernum as well. Orgeat is best bought at an Italian shop like Capone’s, which has the real deal made without corn syrup (just like Mexican Coca Cola!). Good sources of odd rums include Wine & Cheese Cask, Downtown Wine & Spirits, Martignetti’s, Beacon Hill Wine, Atlas in Medford.

grenadine (not Rose’s; pomegranate syrup from Middle Eastern groceries can work)
passion fruit syrup (difficult to find; available via mail-order from Trader Vic’s)
rock candy syrup (see above)
orange curaçao (Bols is best, followed by Marie Brizzard)
simple syrup
Angostura bitters

Meyer’s dark (jamaica)
Meyer’s white – plantation style (jamaica)
Meyer’s Legend
Lemon Hart Demerara 84 proof (Guyana. There is a Jamaican lemon hart but very difficult to find)
Lemon Hart Demerara 151 proof
Rogue white rum (Oregon)
Clement rhum agricole (Martinique)
Cruzan 2 yr. old (St. Croix)
Mt. Gay Eclipse gold (Barbados)
Brugal gold (Dominican Republic)
Barbancourt, 3 or 5 star (Haiti)
Wray & Nephew Overproof (Jamaica)
Trader Vic’s brand white and gold
Pusser’s Navy rum (B.V.I.)

orange juice
pineapple juice
passion fruit juice
lime juice
grapefruit juice
coconut cream

When buying juices, go for the single variety rather than the blends. Goya brands are always a good bet. Beware many of the “tropical blends” such as V8 brand, as they contain carrot juice as well, which tends to curdle with rum.

Try to find orgeat without corn syrup. (Unfortunately, Fee Bros. brand has corn syrup in it.)

Some Polynesian cocktails also call for gin, brandy or scotch.

I find Bacardi pretty bland, but some of the other Puerto Rican rums are … well, they’re bland too, but they’re less than mainstream bland (such as Ron Rico). If you stumble across Ron de Barrilito, buy it.

Rums from the French West Indies are “agricole” or “agricultural” rum, made from sugar cane juice as opposed to molasses like all other rums. Tough to find here, although Clement and J.M are slowly appearing. A very different taste. Not essential for tiki drinks, but good to have on hand, and they do blend nicely with fruit juice.

Cane sugar syrup is good to have as well; not that easy to find here, but you can make it from brown sugar and water.

That’d make a good start!

(Um, thanks, Cleve. I think.)

Posted in Cocktails, Drinking supplies, Rum | 9 Comments »

June 12th, 2007

A summer drink for tough guys and broads

Fanciulli cocktail

Yeah, it’s summertime, but that doesn’t mean you have to fight for sidewalk seating at a trendy Boylston Street restaurant and drink mango margaritas. Just find a dark, cool bar that stocks Fernet Branca and crushed ice and order a Fanciulli. This is the perfect drink to have when you quietly slip out of work at 2:30 on a sweltering afternoon to assume the role of an anonymous barfly in a film noir.


1/2 bourbon
1/4 sweet vermouth
1/4 Fernet Branca

Frappé. (In other words, mix the ingredients together in a shaker and pour over crushed ice.) Tip: last Christmas, I received a Groggy ice crusher from Ikea; it’s a perfect home bar tool for frappé cocktails.

I found the recipe for this bracingly refreshing drink in that good, old yardsale paperback The Art of Mixing Drinks, based on the Esquire Drink Book, where I also found the Marconi Wireless.

Coming up … a back-of-the-napkin account of our recent trip to L.A.

Posted in Bitters, Cocktails, Drinking supplies, Whiskey | 9 Comments »

December 20th, 2006

Buying, making bitters in Boston

Tonka beansFellow Boston drinks writer and Weekly Dig contributor MC Slim JB emailed me recently asking if I knew where to buy bitters locally. It seems this question came up recently on the Boston Area section of the Chowhound board. I told him what I knew: Eastern Standard stocks extra bottles of orange bitters (Fee Bros. and Regan’s) and Peychaud’s bitters to sell to those who ask. Christina’s spice shop in Inman Square, Cambridge sells Fee Bros. orange bitters (and also orange flower water for your homemade grenadine). Also, I seem to remember that Blanchard’s liquor store in Allston (617-782-5588) stocks Fee Bros. orange bitters and Peychaud’s, but you should double-check before you go.

Aromatic bitters like Angostura, Peychaud’s and all their defunct brethren are such a cool and mysterious part of cocktail history. They were medicinal potions made of top-secret blends of roots, herbs and other botanicals and consumed by the drop in a glass of whiskey or brandy to ease digestive troubles. “The Cocktail” wouldn’t exist without bitters. (See this Martini Republic post by Ted Haigh for more background and info on bitters.) After my conversation with MC Slim JB, I started some long-overdue research on bitters, particularly recipes one might be able to re-create at home. I remembered that there was a recipe in Haigh’s Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails for Boker’s bitters, a New York product that disappeared around the turn of the 20th century. Haigh reconstructed the Boker’s formula from a recipe he found in The Scientific American Cyclopedia of Receipts, Notes & Queries. Here it is:

3/4 ounce quassia chips
3/4 ounce powdered catechu
1/2 ounce cardamom
1 ounce dried orange peel
Macerate for 10 days in 1 quart strong whiskey. Filter and add 1 gallon of water. Color with Mallow or Malva flowers.

If anyone finds a local source for quassia chips, catechu and Malva flowers, let me know. Strangely, I didn’t find any of these at the well-stocked Christina’s spice shop mentioned above, but I did find Tonka beans there. Tonka beans were an ingredient in another defunct brand of bitters that cocktail geeks have been trying to recreate for years and that are probably worth more than their weight in gold on eBay: Abbott’s Bitters. Apparently, a Manhattan made with Abbott’s bitters is the Best Cocktail You Will Ever Drink. Robert “Drinkboy” Hess and some of the correspondents on his forum actually had a gas chromatograph done on an old bottle of Abbott’s and, for the most part, isolated the components of the formula. Read their recipe and ongoing discussion about Abbott’s here. According to Hess and others, one of Abbott’s key ingredients, Tonka bean, was banned by the FDA decades ago because it can cause intestinal bleeding (!). And yet, there they were: small plastic bags of Tonka beans on sale at Christina’s for $4.50. Now if I can only track down Pimenta Racemosa Bay leaves and Benzoin resin…

Posted in Bitters, Drinking supplies | 12 Comments »

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