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December 3rd, 2010

Nips – 12/3/10

I think the sign says it all. What with the holiday season upon us, I’ve been hoarding a recycled shopping bag full of nips for you, so let’s get cracking.

» Repeal Day Ball. Well, it seems I have truly arrived. I am part of a Boston contingent being whisked down to Washington D.C. this Saturday for the third annual Repeal Day Ball at the Maison Biltmore, courtesy of the D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild and Macchu Pisco. This shindig started amid the hoopla over the 75th anniversary of Repeal in 2008 (which Eastern Standard celebrated in great style right here in Boston) and quickly became one of the Capitol’s great parties. Jeffrey Morgenthaler (aka the Morgenblogger) of Portland, Oregon, MCs the affair, which features themed rooms manned by renowned innkeepers from the D.C. area and elsewhere. Sure, there’ll be punch and Prohibition-era cocktails, but, frankly, I’m making a beeline for the 1980s room starring Dale “King Cocktail” DeGroff. Line up the Woo Woos, baby!

» Book of punch. Speaking of punch, David Wondrich was in town last month to promote his new book, Punch: The Delights and Dangers of the Flowing Bowl, at Drink. Delights and dangers were both in abundance, with nary a cocktail shaker in sight — just the gentle ladling of spirits, citrus, spice and sugar into little cups, over and over again. Oh my, that was fun. Read C. Fernsebner’s and B.C. Burroughs’ terrific interview with Wondrich in the Bostonist, with a longer version available on their blog, Dudekicker.

» High West. Also in town recently was David Perkins of the High West Distillery in Park City, Utah. A former biochemist who is part laconic scientist, part droll cowboy, Perkins hosted a tasting of his exotic whiskies at Trina’s Starlite Lounge in late October. We tasted his Silver Western Oat Whiskey, an unaged whiskey made with 85 percent oats and 15 percent barley malt; Rendezvous Rye, a blend of straight rye whiskies (including a 16-year-old Fleischmann’s — paging Man Men!); and Bourye, “the world’s only bourbon and rye marriage.” These whiskies are popping up in a few Boston bars — they’re very much boutique offerings, with the price tag to match, but well worth a sip when you find them.

» Nolet’s gin. I was introduced to Nolet’s Silver gin recently at a cocktail dinner at Eastern Standard. Intriguing. This is one of those newfangled gins, albeit produced by the very old Nolet’s distillery in Schiedam, Holland — best known in the U.S. for Ketel One vodka — where generations of the same family have been producing spirits since 1691. Its primary botanicals are Turkish rose, white peach and raspberry. If that trio makes you envision a cross between Hendrick’s and Stoli Raz, stop yourself right there. The stuff is quite dry, as brightly aromatic and balanced as a really expensive perfume, and verrrrry smoooooth. In fact, one of our cocktails was simply Nolet’s Silver in a heavy rocks glass over one very large ice cube. Quite nice, especially considering the stuff is 95.2 proof. This is an exclusive spirit, launching in only six states and costing $50 per bottle. We were also treated to a dram of the even rarer Nolet’s Reserve, a lightly aged gin whose pale straw color comes from saffron (or should I spell that $affron?) and which is also flavored with verbena. It was ethereal — which it would need to be at $800 per bottle. Allemachtig!

» Banged-up bartenders. What a coincidence. The night before Robert Simonson’s NYT article on the injuries related to craft bartending came out, I was at a gathering of female bartenders who launched into a conversation about their job-induced aches and pains. (Coincidence #2: one of those women is quoted in the article.) One woman wakes up with pain in her wrist, another is plagued by a sore shoulder. One’s husband has to pry apart her clenched “shaker hands” as she sleeps. Another had the rest of us hold her wrist as she rotated it to reveal what felt like loose ball bearings. The main culprit was the constant, vigorous use of shakers, often with larger, denser ice than the norm, that is pretty much mandatory in craft cocktail mixing. Other culprits were similar to those mentioned in the article:

“Bartending has never been an easy job. But in the past, tired feet, an aching back and possibly a bent ear or two were the standard complaints. Today’s nonstop bar-side ballets have caused the pains to creep northward to the wrist, elbow and shoulder.

“Most professionals deal in some repetitive motion or other; bartenders contend with several. They tilt heavy bottles into a shaker each night; they smack ice with the bowl of a bar spoon to get the size and shape just right; they unleash the suction of a shaker with the palm of their hand, jolting their wrist again and again.”

Sheesh. Does anybody predict that punch is about to get a whole lot more popular?

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Posted in Books & resources, D.C., Gin, Nips, Punch, Whiskey | No Comments »

June 3rd, 2010

Nips – 6/3/10

montanafrobisher

The latest happenings in and thoughts on Boston’s world of drink… First, ‘bad guy’ cocktails. OK, two cocktails does not make a trend, but maybe more will follow from this post, and then we’ll have conveniently manufactured one. (I love social media!) What I’m getting at are Eastern Standard‘s Frobisher and the Starlite Lounge‘s Tony Montana.

I was delighted when Jackson Cannon, who, like me, is a devotée of the FX series Damages, told me he was naming a new cocktail on the menu after Arthur Frobisher, the Enron-inspired CEO played by Ted Danson. Frobisher stands out as a bad guy in a show populated almost entirely by bad guys (and girls — the protagonist is the ruthless high-stakes litigator Patty Hewes, played by Glenn Close). That’s because Danson has elevated playing an unmitigated tool to a high art form. Cannon celebrates that achievement with a stirred, straight-up mixture of 2 oz Oxley gin, 3/4 oz ES’ own rose vermouth, 1/4 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur, orange oil and a Luxardo cherry.

Then there’s the Tony Montana, which Beau Sturm is known to serve while uttering its name in the Cuban accent with which Al Pacino menaces his way through the gangster training video Scarface. The recipe: 2 oz Pyrat rum, 3/4 oz Carpano Antica, 1 barspoon Benedictine and 1 dash orange bitters, stirred well and strained. The thing about these drinks is that they’re not just ridiculous concoctions slapped with a badass name to get people to drink them. The cocktails themselves are badass — all spirits, straight up, not to be trifled with. Never mind that both Frobisher’s and Montana’s substance of choice is powdery and white, not fiery and wet.

» Stoddard’s (48 Temple Place). My first impressions are pretty positive. The place looks beautiful, with its brick walls, massive, century-old bar imported from England, prints of old Boston, and local artifacts including old street lamps and corsets from an early incarnation of the Stoddard’s space (before its days as a cutlery shop of the same name). The lamb sausage sandwich and the steak frites over braised oxtail were really good, as was our bar service by Jamie Walsh. The Gin Sling and Stone Sour, both tall drinks over ice, were well made, but the Brandy Crusta was a bit watered down, and the Pegu Club was out-of-whack — too heavy on the Plymouth gin and without Angostura bitters to balance the orange flavors, as Stoddard’s house recipe strangely dictates.

We were fortunate to get a peek at the already infamous, not-yet-open private club downstairs. For a membership fee of $2,000, you get your own key and entrance (in the Winter Place alleyway right next to Locke-Ober) to this low-lit den, plus privileges to use the space for meetings and parties. Stoddard’s was taken to task several months before it opened when a rumor circulated that the club would be men-only. That’s not the case, although Stoddard’s seems to really, really want to skew its demo to recreate a late-19th-century gentlemen’s bar, albeit with TVs. The bar staff appears to be entirely male, and General Manager Billy Lyons said that while membership for the private club is building, only two women have bought in so far.

» If, the next time you go to Drink in Fort Point, you notice a lot more Europeans than usual, blame John Gertsen. He recently traveled to the 2010 Cocktails Spirits expo in Paris as the representative of an American cocktail bar. He gave a well-received presentation about his landmark bar, including a demo of the Chee Hoo Fizz, a cocktail invented by Randy Wong of the exotica orchestra Waitiki, which spearheaded Drink’s now famous summer Sunday tiki nights. While at the expo, Gertsen also encountered a bunch of rare spirits like Portuguese tequila from 1920 and a 1917 vipérine — booze flavored with a big, ol’ poisonous snake. Here’s a video of a good chunk of John’s presentation, and here’s another one of him and fellow Boston barman Scott Holliday (of Rendezvous) looking at the vipérine and other rare liquids with spirits collector George Dos Santos. (Thanks to Jörg Meyer of Le Lion Bar in Hamburg, Germany, for those videos.) Congrats, John!

» Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar. A new outpost of the growing Franklin South End/Franklin Southie empire, the Citizen will open on Boylston St. overlooking Fenway Park in July. Joy Richard, whom drinkboston has mentioned several times as a cocktail contest winner and founding member of LUPEC Boston, will oversee the bar as she does at the other two restaurants. Expect good cocktails, beer and wine but, most important of all, a whiskey bar! In fact, Joy and I happen to be heading to Kentucky next week to visit several distilleries along the Bourbon Trail, starting with Maker’s Mark and a tasting of its new whiskey, Maker’s 46. I’ll be sending regular communiqués via Twitter from that jaunt. Until then…

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Posted in Boston bars, Cocktails, Gin, Nips, Rum, Whiskey | 10 Comments »

March 17th, 2010

They rose, we drank

bartenders-rise-prep

As we witnessed Sunday night, all that Boston imbibers need to lure them out of the house when it’s raining sideways is the promise of a well-made cocktail and a good party. I applaud our hardiness — not to mention the emerging bar talent that made the evening possible.

Green Street, the venue and co-host for Boston Bartenders on the Rise, made the savvy decision of removing all the tables and chairs from the dining room to accommodate the sell-out crowd. We were warmly welcomed with a beer cocktail by Green Street proprietor Dylan Black called De Stella Nova: Pretty Things Jack D’Or Belgian-style farmhouse ale, 2 dashes of orange bitters and a candied citrus star flavored with coriander.

bartenders-rise-stanley

We then moved on to the four original cocktails created for the occasion by our featured talent (recipes and creators listed below in serving order). I circled the place again and again to say hello to everyone while sneaking the occasional fried oyster, chicken rillette, grilled shrimp on a skewer, or juicy slider (thank you for the lovely apps, chef Greg Reeves!).

Many, many thanks to those who traveled both near and far to join in on some drinkboston-style fun. Thanks also to Sean Frederick for the photos and the entire smooth-operating Green Street staff. Let’s do it again soon!

bartenders-rise-mccoy

Loose Translation
Carrie Cole, Craigie on Main

1 1/4 oz Scorpion mezcal
3/4 oz Aperol
1/2 oz Mathilde XO orange cognac
1/2 oz pineapple syrup
1/2 oz lime juice
Pinch kosher salt
Dash Allspice Dram

Quick shake over ice, pour entire contents into a highball glass, and top with a splash of ginger ale. Drinkboston: We need something fruity on the menu. Carrie: I’m thinking of using mezcal. Result: a loose, tiki-inspired translation.

Peralta
Evan Harrison, Deep Ellum

1 1/2 oz Old Overholt rye
1/2 oz Cynar
1/2 oz green Chartreuse
1/2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
Dash grapefruit bitters, Deep Ellum orange bitters

Shake over ice and serve straight up with grapefruit peel garnish. Inspired by skateboarding legend Stacy Peralta.

Saving Daylight
Bob McCoy, Eastern Standard

2 oz Plymouth gin
1 oz McCoy’s homemade golden vermouth
1/4 oz St. Germain
1/8 oz Cointreau
Dash McCoy’s aromatic bitters

Stir over ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with orange peel. Sip as winter turns to spring.

William of Orange
Emily Stanley, Green Street

1 1/2 oz Bols genever
1/2 oz Benedictine
1/2 oz Punt E Mes
1/2 oz Aperol
Dash orange bitters

Stir over ice and serve down (i.e. strain into a rocks glass). Named for the English king who ushered in the era when Dutch genever became English gin.

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Posted in Bartenders, Beer, Boston bars, Cocktails, Events, Gin, Whiskey | 4 Comments »

January 12th, 2010

Spirits in the night

jessica-lange-francesIt’s 2:00 a.m. The bars have closed. The party has ended. But you’re not ready to call it a night. You want to commune with the pre-dawn hours and exercise the remains of your higher brain function while watching army ants devour a scorpion on Animal Planet. The question is, what are you drinking?

I’m talking nightcaps. And I’m not talking the civilized kind you mix before curling up in bed with a book before midnight. These usually involve brandy, eggs or hot liquid, and are as innocent as a lullaby.

No, I’m talking a down-and-dirty, half-in-the-bag nightcap — a usually half-assed but sometimes inspired improvisation mixed with a combination of laziness and brio.

One night I came home and dumped the following ingredients into a rocks glass over ice: Hendrick’s gin, Navan vanilla liqueur, Zirbenz stone pine liqueur, lemon juice and grapefruit bitters. I’m telling you, it was a hell of a cocktail. (Unfortunately, I have never been able to reenact the magical proportioning of ingredients that produced that drink.)

You’ve got to figure that a lot of weird-sounding but good-tasting cocktails are created the same way. How else would someone have come up with a Blood and Sand? ‘Hmm, what’ve I got in my cabinet here? Scotch … sweet vermouth … cherry brandy. Oh, and a splash of OJ. Yeah!’

In my less successful experiments, I usually end up with some muddy mess of a Hanky Panky or Red Hook wannabe, with the wrong kind of bitters and an ill-advised dash of absinthe or Old Monk rum. Often, I throw improvisation out the window and simply pour a Scotch neat or a Negroni on the rocks, the latter with orange bitters substituting for a twist from the desiccated citrus fruit disgracing my kitchen counter.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of other easy but surefire mixtures to add to my nightcap repertoire. Like a Pink Gin (gin and Angostura bitters — you don’t even need ice!), an Upside-Down Martini (mostly dry vermouth with a splash of gin — Julia Child liked these) or … hey, what about a Bentley (half applejack, half Dubonnet)? Wow, that’s a classy way to slip into unconsciousness. Go, army ants, go!

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Posted in Cocktails, Gin | 20 Comments »

September 18th, 2009

Drinks for the lovesick

sinatra-no-one-cares

Ever have one of those times in your life when it seems half the people you know are falling in love, getting married and having babies, and the other half are breaking up? Yeah, I thought so. This is for all imbibers facing the latter predicament. Among the many questions you’re grappling with — What went wrong? What will I do now? What is the point of existence? — is one that deserves special consideration: What am I drinking?

OK, here’s what you’re not drinking: Champagne. Cognac. Port. Anything pink. Anything juicy. And if you’re trying to drown your sorrows in something like Pinot Grigio or Michelob Ultra, you’ve got bigger issues than heartbreak.

So what’s left? Gin. Whiskey. Tequila. Maybe even vodka. These should be consumed in something close to their pure form, with nothing more than one or two other ingredients, preferably bitters and vermouth. After all, it’s time to strip away that psychic baggage, to get elemental. You’re dealing with an adult situation — have an adult beverage. What says “I am training for the emotional equivalent of the Iron Man Triathalon” more than a Pink Gin, an Old Fashioned, a Mexican Eagle or a vodka on the rocks? A case can be made for beer, as long as it’s not fancy and accompanies a shot, and, for those with a keen sense of sarcasm, a Zombie. It’s a tiki drink, sure, but it’s got four ounces of rum.

Order one of these at a barely lit bar, stare into your glass with your trenchcoat still on like Frank here, and let the lyrics of another master of heartbreak songs, George Jones, run through your head: “With the blood from my body / I could start my own still / And if drinking don’t kill me / Her memory will.”

And for god’s sake read the Modern Drunkard’s Boozing Through a Breakup.

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Posted in Beer, Bitters, Gin, Rum, Tequila, Vermouth, Vodka, Whiskey | 11 Comments »

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