Heads up, drinkbostonians: Josey Packard, one of Boston’s best bartenders, will appear tonight on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC (9:00 p.m. EST) to mix up a flaming bowl of Christmas Rum Punch. Go, Josey, go!
Regular viewers know that Maddow often closes her political talk show with a bit on cocktails — I recall Dale DeGroff mixing Irish coffees on the set earlier this year. More recently, Maddow shared with her audience an investigative coup: an actual drink menu from one of the Obamas’ regular White House cocktail parties. As you see in the short video segment above, she not only described the cocktails (the Emerson, the Stone Fence and the Frost) but explained some of their ingredients (applejack, maraschino liqueur), named and photographed the bartenders who served them (Derek Brown and Adam Bernbach), pointed out that bartending is an American invention, and signed off with this delicious nugget: “And remember, Martinis do not contain vodka.”
Packard, a friend of Maddow’s who did guest spots about cocktails on the latter’s radio show back in her Air America days, will make a punch recipe adapted from the 1949 edition of Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts, about which Paul Clarke writes humorously on Cocktail Chronicles. I got a live preview at a recent Christmas party as Josey did a (not so) dry run of the flaming punch for the assembled guests. It was very cool, what with all the spices and orange oil making sparks as they were tossed into the bowl. Even the sternest Scrooge would be uplifted by this vessel of flaming goodness.
Watch the show, congratulate Josey the next time you’re at Drink, and have a merry Christmas!
This installment of Nips is all about congratulations. First, congrats to bartender Scott Marshall of Drink, who earned the highest score on last week’s BarSmarts Advanced exam in Boston.
BarSmarts Advanced is a new spirits and mixology training and certification program run by Beverage Alcohol Resource (BAR) and Pernod Ricard. You may recall that two other Drink bartenders, Misty Kalkofen and Josey Packard, have passed the rigorous BAR 5-Day Program in New York City. Roughly speaking, BarSmarts Advanced is to BAR 5-Day as the SATs are to college. And, just as some students get scholarships for acing the SATs, Marshall’s high score earned him a $3,500 scholarship to attend BAR 5-Day this fall. About 100 bartenders and related industry folk from around New England participated in the BarSmarts Advanced course, which is being offered in cities throughout the U.S. One of those related industry folk was yours truly. And yes, I passed. More about BarSmarts in another post.
Speaking of Josey Packard, congrats to her for making the Improper Bostonian’s annual Beloved Bartenders issue. Don’t worry, Josey, we still respect you.
Congrats to Fred Yarm of cocktail virgin slut for being named a finalist in the TRU Organic Spirits Barmade Bitters Challenge. In July, Yarm will present his celery bitters to a panel of judges at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans in hopes of becoming one of three winning mixologists to see their recipes commercialized. Go, Fred!
Finally, congrats to Boston food/drink critic and drinkboston contributor MC Slim JB for recently launching a kick-ass blog. You know his stellar prose from the Phoenix, stuff@night, Boston Magazine, etc., and now you can enjoy the type of commentary that doesn’t adhere to the polite, hook-driven strictures of our mainstream press.
Eric Felten’s last two drink columns for the Wall Street Journal have referred, directly and indirectly, to some of Boston’s best bartenders. April 18′s A Welcome Sign of Vodka’s Decline describes a development for which I have been beating the drum for some time, and it singles out Misty Kalkofen‘s mezcal-based recipe for Food & Wine’s Cocktails ’09 — the Maximilian Affair — as “an instant classic.” (Thanks to those readers who tipped me off about this article, and congrats to you, Misty.) Felten also mentions an original cocktail by Jackson Cannon, the Fernet-laced Heather in Queue, as an example of a gravitation toward bitters.
April 25′s Women Behind Bars compares the male-only saloon culture that largely kept women employees out of bars until well after WWII with the prevalence of female bartenders in today’s “culinary cocktail” scene. Felten begins by mentioning this year’s James Beard Foundation culinary gala, whose theme is Women in Food. “More than a dozen prominent female bartenders will be mixing original drinks at the May 4 dinner in New York,” he writes. Guess who will be among those “prominent female bartenders.” Yep, Misty rides again, and she’ll be accompanied by her Drink colleague Josey Packard. Have a blast, girls — can’t wait to see the pics!
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.
Going out on the town in San Francisco with Josey Packard would be fun even if she didn’t know every great bartender in the city. She and her missus, poet Jill McDonough, are smart, funny good-time girls whom I feel I’ve known much longer than the brief time we’ve spent bar-hopping.
A senior staffer at the Alembic Bar in Haight-Ashbury, Josey is something of a celebrity in West Coast mixology circles. (In another life, she was a member of the band Chelsea on Fire.) I spent Sunday afternoon witnessing her busy brunch shift. The Alembic has a worn-in, saloon-like vibe, with a display of vintage pharmacy flasks and three very long shelves of liquor bottles: dozens of different types of rye, bourbon and Scotch whiskey dominate the shelf space, though anything you need to make a vintage cocktail, including house-made grapefruit wine and infused syrups, is also on hand. The cocktails, made with hand-cracked heavy ice cubes (a cocktail-friendly form of ice not yet found in Boston bars) and served in beautiful German glassware, are mostly priced at a very reasonable $9.
When I took my stool, Josey announced, “The white peaches are in. I can make a proper Bellini.” Honestly, I’ve never had a Bellini that grabbed me, but I trusted her and was rewarded with a blushing, sparkling, fresh-peachy potion that was delicious. Then Jill came in and ordered a Mint Julep. Josey proceeded to fill an ancient-looking canvas bag (“She sewed it herself,” Jill whispered to me) with the hard ice cubes and whack the hell out of it for about two minutes, in order to have the ideal crushed ice for the Julep. Jill told me that once, a guy at the bar looked on incredulously at this violent bashing, causing Josey to quip, “We have a mouse problem.”
After Josey finished her shift, she donned her New England Patriots ballcap (see last paragraph) and off the three of us went. First stop was the Toronado, a must-visit beer bar with great West Coast brews from Russian River, Moonlight, Anchor, etc. The place was crowded, the bathrooms were predictably smelly, the bartender had long, grey hair, and snarky, stick-it-to-the-man bumper stickers covered the wall behind the bar. Perfect.
Next was Nopa for dinner and cocktails. This swanky, spacious new joint was chock full, but we were ushered to a booth as soon as the bar staff recognized Josey. Restaurants in San Francisco are all about using local flora and fauna for their cooking. We were served the chickeniest roast chicken I’ve ever tasted, along with some yummy beans, asparagus and farmer’s cheese. I had a fine cocktail called a Minero: Quebrante Pisco, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh lemon juice, egg white and “sunshine bitters,” about which the only thing I know is that they were made with a copious quantity of peppery cardamom (“Hippy-ass” homemade bitters, Josey and Jill conjectured).
We ended up at a brand-new place in the Mission district. “Word is that the best action is now happening at Beretta,” Paul Clarke of Cocktail Chronicles told me. The action was impressive indeed. Beretta’s a sleek, modern-looking place with a long, communal bar just behind the main bar. It reminded me a little of NYC’s Death & Company. John and Jill, the husband-and-wife owners, are well known in the craft-bartending scene and were both mixing cocktails (with the same type of Kold-Draft ice used at the Alembic). I had an Improved Whiskey Cocktail (inspired by a recipe in Jerry Thomas’ famed bartening guide): rye, Dubonnet, absinthe, maraschino and bitters, straight up. Good medicine with which to end the evening.
Luckily for me and all my fellow Boston-area lushes, Josey and Jill are moving back to Beantown, where they spent several years before moving out west. That means Josey will likely be mixing drinks at a bar near you come autumn. But in the meantime, stay tuned: There’s lots more bar-hopping to do while I’m here: Bourbon & Branch, Cantina, the Tonga Room, etc., etc. Not to mention Savoy Tuesday at the Alembic, at which Josey and her colleagues scrap their regular cocktail menu, put a copy of the Savoy Cocktail Book on the bar, and encourage patrons to choose any of the 1,000+ cocktails listed within. Looking forward to that insanity.