July 7th, 2010
On a steamy summer Friday afternoon, who doesn’t dream of heading straight from the office to a magical oasis of exotica music and tropical drinks? Well, pinch yourself, ’cause this is no dream: Beginning July 9, Brother Cleve, Boston’s oracle of tiki, will host Freaky Tiki Fridays at the new Cambridge “bistro-theque” Think Tank (1 Kendall Sq., Bldg. 300) from 5:00-9:00 p.m.
At this week’s special kickoff event, says Cleve, “our old pal Mr. Ho will be bringing the condensed version of his Orchestrotica — we can’t really fit all 22 members of the full ensemble, so we’ll take the quartet — for a set of exotic sounds in the style of ’50s Hawaiiana like Martin Denny and Les Baxter.” [NOTE: Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica unfortunately won’t be appearing, but the tiki party’s still on!) Of course, when live music isn’t on the bill, Cleve will spin his own vast collection of tunes to sway your grass skirt to. Meanwhile, Think Tank owner Vincent Conte has sprinkled his cocktail menu with a few mixtures that hark back to his days as bar manager of the South End’s departed Pho Republique, and each Freaky Tiki Friday will feature a drink or two from Beachbum Berry’s terrific books, which put tiki drinks back on the map of legit drinking. Soak up the rum with Think Tank’s 5-for-$5 pan-Asian appetizers that will make you “feel like you’ve gone to the Kowloon, but without the indigestion,” says Cleve. See you there!
» Congrats to Todd Maul of Clio for being named best bartender in the Improper Bostonian’s annual Best of Boston list, out on newsstands now. Maul elevated the cocktail program to the level of the cuisine for which this restaurant is famed — and he did it with a sense of humor, e.g. a list of tiki-inspired “drinks for two … 2 straws, 1 bowl.” While we’re on the subject of fine-dining bars, here’s a shout-out to Carrie Cole of Craigie on Main. She and her mixology crew have made the cocktail program established by Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli continue to kick ass. Check out this Public Radio Kitchen interview with her, and then go have a Bird Bath.
» If you’re fairly new to Massachusetts, you’ve probably had this rude awakening: you’re out for brunch at 11:03 a.m. on Sunday and order a Bloody Mary, only to be told you have to wait until noon. Thank god that foolishness is over. Last week, the state made it legal to buy a drink on Sunday morning. I mean, with Boston-area bars closing at 1:00 or 2:00 a.m., you’re plenty well rested to start drinking bright and early the next morning.
» There’s nothing like finding your niche. Local cocktail enthusiast and California native Devin Hahn blogs about a single cocktail — the Periodista — at the Periodista Tales. So far, his posts constitute one man’s entertaining and well-researched quest for why this rum-based drink, which means “journalist,” is something of a fixture in Boston while being unknown in virtually every other city he has visited.
» A few good reasons to stay out late on a school night this month: the Franklin Southie continues its Thursday Industry Night series on July 15 at 9:00 p.m. with a $6 cocktail menu featuring quality Luxardo spirits (e.g. Amaretto, Maraschino, Espresso, Fernet, Amaro Abano, Sambuca, Bitter, Sangue Morlacco, Triplum and Limoncello). And Emily Stanley, who traded in her bar towel for a new career as a brand ambassador for the malty Dutch gin Bols Genever, will host two events: a Bols Genever dinner at Aquitaine ($65) on July 19 featuring four cocktails by the talented Matt Coughlin, and a punch party at Highland Kitchen on the 26th starting at 10:00 and featuring $4-$6 punches and cocktails. See you there!
» Here’s something you might like: drinkboston’s Facebook fan page.
Tags: Aquitaine, Bols Genever, Brother Cleve, Carrie Cole, Clio, Craigie on Main, exotica, Franklin Southie, Highland Kitchen, Improper Bostonian, Luxardo, Massachusetts liquor laws, Matt Coughlin, Orchestrotica, Think Tank, tiki, Todd Maul
Posted in Events, Nips | 9 Comments »
November 5th, 2009
I got to thinking about Massachusetts’ peculiar “cordial license” recently after sitting down with Courtney Bissonnette to get a sneak peak at her cocktail menu for Coppa. The latest venture by prolific chef Ken Oringer is set to open in the South End any minute now and amp up the Italian enoteca concept the way Toro has done with Spanish tapas. Bissonnette will helm the bar program at both establishments, in which her husband, chef Jamie Bissonnette, is a partner.
Unlike Toro, which has a full liquor license, Coppa has a beer and wine license with a permit to serve cordials and liqueurs. So Bissonnette, collaborating with head bartender Corey Bunnewith (recently of Drink), devised a list of cocktails based on, yes, liqueurs like St. Germain and Cherry Heering, but also vermouths and other aromatized wines, Italian bitters like Aperol and Campari, and a splash of Plymouth Sloe Gin and Pimms No. 1. It includes an Aperol Spritz (Aperol, prosecco, soda) and a Lenny e Joan (Plymouth Sloe Gin, dry vermouth, Cynar, lime, orange zest, sugar rim). Creative, tasty-looking stuff, and, as Boston magazine recently pointed out, Coppa isn’t the only place making cocktails within the confines of a cordial license.
Which brings us to the question: just what are the confines of such a license? Well … no one really knows. “It was never spelled out in writing,” said a long-time member of Boston’s liquor wholesale industry who wishes to remain anonymous. This source — I’ll call him Stan — says that the license came about because of Italian-American drinking customs. Specifically, North End restaurateurs, who typically had beer and wine licenses, were miffed about getting busted periodically for offering their clientele a customary after-dinner shot of Sambuca or Strega. So, in 1994, the cordials and liqueurs permit was born. Stan connects this development to the growing clout of Italian politicians around that time. While I haven’t done the research to verify that claim, it is intriguing that 1994 marked the beginning of both the cordial license and Tom Menino’s long (and, since Tuesday, getting longer) tenure in the mayor’s office.
Anyway, the thing about the cordial license is that “cordial” and “liqueur” have been liberally defined. Most people — including liquor industry folk, says Stan — first assumed that the license referred only to sugary spirits flavored with various fruits and botanicals. But over the years, outliers snuck in. Grappa? Pisco? Check. Applejack? Check. Flavored vodka? Check. So … if you’re a grape-based spirit, and you want to be served under a cordial license, say you’re from anywhere but France. If you’re applejack, don’t worry; only about three people in the city know what you really are (70% grain neutral spirit — woo hoo!). And if you’re vodka, just infuse yourself with kiwi or something to make yourself seem cute and harmless as a bunny, even though you’re sugarless and 80 proof.
It all adds up to one very grey area, where some spirits attract scrutiny and others don’t. Grappa is an example of the former, and therefore is typically served on the sly, according to Stan. It is actually up to the wholesale companies to decide what they are and aren’t allowed to sell to establishments with cordial licenses. And they all do so individually, says Stan, so there tends to be some variation in product listings. A restaurateur might be able to get, say, applejack through one wholesaler but not another.
While a full liquor license is almost always going to be the most desirable type of license, mixologists can get pretty creative with a cordial license. And, presumably, these licenses are cheaper and easier to get than full licenses, which are strictly capped and therefore so coveted that corruption regularly ensues. Liquor laws are weird in a sometimes cool way. I love that a special provision created to accommodate the customs of an influential ethnic group has spawned creative bars that are mixing interesting drinks with unusual ingredients. And it’s nice knowing that if I go to a place like Coppa and I’m not in the mood for a mixed drink, I can get a nice, civilized, 110-proof shot of green Chartreuse.
Tags: Coppa, cordials, liquor license, Massachusetts liquor laws
Posted in Applejack, Liqueur, Pisco, Vermouth | 6 Comments »