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June 13th, 2010

Chicago stopover

chicago-sable-mike-ryan

I couldn’t resist spending a night in Chicago for a taste of the bar scene before continuing on to Kentucky for my first excursion on the bourbon trail. I hit up a storied tavern and two craft cocktail bars. It was a fine whistle-whetting that only left me thirsting for more.

Billy Goat Tavern. Why I had never been informed of this place I have no idea. I was beckoned here by a large “Billy Goat Tavern” sign on a Michigan Ave. overpass, then another that said “Cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger” and something about this being the birthplace of the 1970s Saturday Night Live skit that also brought us the catchphrase, “No Coke, Pepsi.” The dark doorway looked a bit sketchy, but I bet that there was a gem awaiting me on the inside, and I was right. The tavern moved to its current location in 1964 and appears not to have changed since. One side of the room is a diner, the other side a bar. A formica bar. With Schlitz on tap. And a bartender who has worked there for a really long time. He told me about how the tavern became a shrine to the Cubs, and how it was a hangout for hard-drinking newspapermen back when there was such a thing. Luckily, no one seemed to think it was an abomination when I set my laptop on the bar to get a bit of work done. In fact, the regular sitting next to me said in a tone of pleasant surprise, “They have wi-fi here?”

chicago-billy-goat-tavern

Sable Kitchen & Bar. New, sleek spot next to the Palomar Hotel with a futuristic glowing service bar and LCD screen playing a roaring fire. Mike Ryan, formerly of the Violet Hour, was tending bar that night. With an understated, gentlemanly manner, a sweet smile and a tattoo of bacon strips on his forearm, Ryan mixed a strong Ti Punch (La Favorite rhum agricole, cane syrup, limes) and then poured a flight of unusual and tasty whiskies, including Templeton rye from Iowa, Amrut single malt “scotch” from India and a “white dog” (unaged whiskey) made from spelt at Chicago’s Koval distillery. Sable boasts some superlative bar snacks, including BLT sliders where the B is (pork) belly.

chicago-violet-hour

Violet Hour. You take a cab a little way out of downtown, past what’s left of the infamous Cabrini-Green housing project, and look for an unmarked door on North Damen Ave. Wow, is this a romantic spot. Even if great classic and classic-inspired cocktails could not be found here, it would be worth spending an evening swathed in the dusty-violet aura of this sort of Gilded Age parlor gone minimalist. It gets its name and concept from the oft-quoted-in-cocktail-circles The Hour by Bernard DeVoto (which, coincidentally, has just been re-published): “This is the violet hour, the hour of hush and wonder, when the affections glow again and valor is reborn, when the shadows deepen magically along the edge of the forest and we believe that, if we watch carefully, at any moment we may see the unicorn.”

After my delicious Hush and Wonder (Methusalem rum, creme de violette, fresh lime, grapefruit bitters), I saw no unicorns, but I did see a night in my future when I’d return to Chi-Town for some more quality drinking.

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Posted in Chicago, Rum, 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 »

January 25th, 2010

Nips – 1/25/10

haiti-barbancourt

» HAITI. Like a lot of people responding to the needs of disaster-striken Haiti, I’ve been texting donations to the Red Cross, over-tipping Creole-speaking cab drivers, and ordering Haitian rum (or rhum) at bars. Recently, Drink joined several bars across the country in fundraising for Haiti by creating a menu of drinks using quality rhums agricoles and donating some of the proceeds to Doctors Without Borders. If you’re near Fort Point this week, pop by and raise a glass to an urgent cause.

» BENEDICTINE. Congrats to Jackson Cannon of Eastern Standard for being one of five finalists from around the country in Benedictine Liqueur’s  “Alchemists of Our Age” cocktail contest. The contest, which marked the 500th anniversary of the French herbal elixir, announced its winner earlier this month: Damon Dyer of Louis 649 in New York City. The finalists, along with their cocktails, are featured in the January 2010 issue of Esquire. Check out Boston Herald writer Julia Rappaport’s blog post about Boston bartenders and Benedictine, and Dyer’s and Cannon’s recipes below.

Monte Cassino
Damon Dyer

3/4 part Benedictine Liqueur
3/4 part yellow Chartreuse
3/4 part fresh lemon juice
3/4 part Rittenhouse Rye

Shake, fine-strain into a chilled coupe (or small cocktail glass).  Lemon twist garnish.

Vincelli Fizz
Jackson Cannon

1 egg white
1 1/2 part Benedictine Liqueur
1 1/2 part house-made rose vermouth
1/2 part fresh squeezed lemon juice

Dry-shake above ingredients to emulsify. Add ice and shake again until well chilled. Pour into a coupe glass. Top with 1 ounce Champagne. Garnish with flamed madjool date essence. Proportions to be adjusted as needed for variations in vermouth and citrus.

» IRISH WHISKEY. My friend Lew Bryson, a beer and spirits writer based in PA, recently called to pick my brain about Irish whiskey. We both admitted being confounded over the assertion (made by Spirit Journal editor Paul Pacult, among others) that Irish is the fastest-growing spirits category in the U.S. That’s because neither of us are noticing it being downed in greater-than-usual quantity, at least not in the places we drink. How is all this whiskey being consumed, we asked? As shots alongside a Guinness (my fave method)? On the rocks, like Scotch? In cocktails? We guessed one of the first two, since there just aren’t a lot of cocktails containing Irish whiskey.

I addressed that dearth recently when I brought my brother to Drink for his birthday and introduced him to the fabulous Red Breast, pot-still Irish whiskey. Misty Kalkofen gamely created a cocktail with the stuff, which was delicious and needs a name: 2 1/4 oz Red Breast Irish whiskey, 1/4 oz Punt e Mes, 1/4 oz green Chartreuse, stirred well over ice and strained into a chilled rocks glass.

» ULTIMATE BEVERAGE CHALLENGE. Speaking of Paul Pacult, he is leading the launch of the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, a judging event that aims to evaluate spirits with the “most authoritative, accurate and consistent results.” Part of the overall Ultimate Beverage Challenge, the first-ever spirits challenge takes place March 1-3 at Astor Center in New York City, followed by the Ultimate Cocktail Challenge in April. Check it out.

» SCOFFLAW. Did you know that January 16 was the anniversary of the official coining of the term “scofflaw,” for which the Scofflaw cocktail is named? And that the word came about as the result of a contest held by the Boston Herald in 1923? I didn’t either! It was one of those “I can’t believe I didn’t freakin’ know about this” revelations.

“The Scofflaw drink followed the coining of the actual term by less than two weeks,” writes Ted Haigh in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. “Another invention of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, the cocktail hilariously baited Prohibition sensibilities.” Read more about it in the intro to Robert “DrinkBoy” Hess’ video about the Scofflaw. And thanks to Paul Harrington for being perhaps the first modern drinks writer to mention the history of the word and the cocktail.

» BOSTON DRINKING SOCIALS. Finally, this just in from Stuff Boston: Great Minds Drink Alike: Local booze crews give the term “social drinking” a whole new meaning.

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Posted in Books & resources, Cocktails, Liqueur, Nips, Rum, Whiskey | 17 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 »

May 23rd, 2009

Redneck Luau @ Deep Ellum

redneck-luau-deep-ellumStretch your Memorial Day weekend festivities by stopping by Deep Ellum’s Redneck Luau on Tuesday, May 26 starting at 6:00 p.m. for some down-home barbecue, hillbilly-tiki cocktails and … free glassware! Yep, if you tell the doorman that you read about the party on drinkboston, you will receive a totally random beer or cocktail glass logo’d with anything from Mahr’s Pils to Crown Royal.

No cover charge, no reservations required for the Redneck Luau — just good ol’ boys and girls hungry for barbecued pig (they’re borrowing East Coast Grill’s pig box to roast a whole one) and Dallas-style brisket, thirsty for whiskey and locally produced rum, and itching to usher in summer on the back deck of a bar in Allston. Yee-haw! A big plate of barbecue with a heap of sides (mac n’ cheese, cheddar-jalapeno cornbread, slaw, etc) and a pile of sliced watermelon can be had for $16. Drinks and beers are a la carte.

Bar manager Max Toste and his staff came up with a whole new genre of cocktails for this occasion. Imagine if Donn Beach had opened up the first tiki bar in Alabama instead of L.A. …

The Volcano: Ragged Mountain Rum, Cherry Heering, muddled orange and lime, aromatic bitters, orange tiki bitters (made by bartender Paul Calvert). Shaken and served over ice in a double-old fashioned glass, rinsed with absinthe and topped with an umbrella.

Suffering Hillbilly: rye, grenadine, pineapple juice, half a lime plus the rind, allspice dram, orgeat syrup. Shaken and served over ice in a double-old fashioned glass and garnished with mint.

The Grass Kilt: Blended Scotch, Creme de Apricot, honey ginger syrup, half a lime plus the rind, aromatic bitters. Shaken and strained over ice in a double-old fashioned glass, topped with ginger beer and garnished with lime zest.

The Shipwreck: Triple 8 Hurricane Rum, house-made Picon, Swedish Punsch, half a lime plus the rind. Shaken and served over ice in a double-old fashioned glass and topped with an umbrella.

Hope to see you there, y’all!

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Posted in Rum, Whiskey | 2 Comments »

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