Archive for February, 2007

February 23rd, 2007

Pisco and Peruvian soul at the Alchemist 3/6/07

First, it’s pronounced “pees-co.” Second, it’s the national drink of Peru and Chile, and the two countries are fighting over its appellation (this BBC article will tell you what you need to know). Third, it’s a clear, grape-based spirit, or unaged brandy, made famous in cocktails like the Pisco Sour, Pisco Punch and Piscola (OK, that’s just pisco and coke over ice, but what fun to say).

Traffic Sound Peruvian funk

On Tuesday, March 6, Alchemist Lounge bartenders John Byrd and Nicole Poirier will mix these classics, along with a special menu of new pisco cocktails they created. International DJ Brother Cleve will spin 1970s Peruvian funk and soul, and the kitchen will whip up some Peruvian- and Chilean-style snacks for the occasion.

A new company called Macchu Pisco (the name is a play on Machu Picchu, the ancient city in the Andes Mountains of Peru) will supply the pisco for the evening’s cocktails. The company’s Peruvian brandies are Macchu Pisco, a mixable spirit made with quebranta grapes, and La Diablada, a super-premium pisco made with muscatel and italia grapes that can be sipped neat, like a good cognac. Macchu Pisco’s owner, Melanie da Trinidade-Asher, was born in Peru and has ties to the Boston area; she formulated her company’s plan at Harvard Business School.

The party starts at 7:30 p.m. Pisco cocktails are $8 each. No cover charge or tickets, but RSVP to the Alchemist at 617-477-5741. Groovy music. Yummy snacks. Bring your friends.

To get on the email list for events, email drinkboston at comcast dot net.

Posted in Events, Pisco | No Comments »

February 23rd, 2007

Mixing with Moxie

Mixing with MoxieBy Scott N. Howe

It’s not quite Coke, it’s not quite root beer, and it’s not quite good. “It” is Moxie, and if you grew up in New England, you’ve no doubt sampled this dark, bitter, medicinal soda — and you probably didn’t like it. To be sure, Moxie is an acquired taste, but a few more folks may acquire it thanks to a new cocktail at Allston’s Deep Ellum. Last night, barman Max Toste turned me on to the Black Water, a new Moxie-based concoction they’ve added to their interesting and ample cocktail menu. (“Moxie,” Max explained, is a Native American word for “black water.” I took his word for it.) The drink is simple: Moxie on the rocks, mixed with rye and garnished with a lemon slice. What you get is, depending on your perspective, a loving update of New England traditions or a Jack and Coke for the highly ironic. Either way, it’s damn tasty, and, at $6 a pop, it’s priced to make even the thriftiest New Englander smile.

Posted in Bitters, Cocktails, Whiskey | 6 Comments »

February 21st, 2007

A Wondrich evening

David Wondrich at Eastern Standard

David Wondrich, drinks writer for Esquire magazine and cocktail book author, was in Boston last Thursday night for a Martini and Rossi-sponsored cocktail party at Eastern Standard. Luckily, I and a group of local bartenders got to hang with the guy for the duration of the evening. Through his writing in Esquire and as a founding member of the Museum of the American Cocktail, Wondrich has done much on the national level to revive the classic cocktail. And you may not even realize it, but the drinks you enjoy at certain Boston bars may have been pulled from his books by any number of admiring bartenders. Example: the B2C2, a champagne cocktail featured at a recent event at Green Street, comes from Wondrich’s Killer Cocktails: An Intoxicating Guide to Sophisticated Drinking.

Wondrich graduated from high school in Long Island, NY, in the same class as Manhattan’s “libation goddess” Audrey Sanders, owner of the SoHo cocktail shrine Pegu Club. Up until about nine years ago, he was an English professor at New York University who was experimenting with making his own absinthe and mixing vintage cocktails. He contacted Esquire’s editor one day proposing to revive the magazine’s cocktail and party guidebooks. (These books were essential tools of the American bon vivant’s trade before that breed of gentleman was unfairly branded a limp-wristed elitist by Bud Lite-swilling NASCAR Dads.) The editor liked the idea, and Wondrich eventually switched to a writing career that allowed him to fully pursue his hobby.

Our evening’s topics of conversation included

  • unusual cocktail strainers (Beyond the Hawthorne and the Julep — ask bartender Ben Sandrof about these strange implements.)
  • homemade bitters and defunct brands of bitters (Wondrich once made an unusual batch of bitters with Ardbeg single-malt scotch for a scotch-based cocktail event he presided over. For the record, he prefers Angostura and Fee Brothers over other kinds of aromatic bitters, including the old brands, like Boker’s and Abbott’s, that are often extolled by cocktail enthusiasts.)
  • beer geeks vs. wine snobs (“Wine snobs are critics. Beer geeks are reverent,” summed up Portland, ME bartender and MOTAC board member John Myers.)
  • the continued, tragic popularity of Cosmopolitans and Grey Goose vodka
  • the best bar in midtown Manhattan (Keen’s Steakhouse, a century-old establishment whose atmosphere, says Wondrich, makes up for your mediocre Canadian Club-based Manhattan)
  • the disappearance of independent bookstores in downtown Boston (Wondrich planned to take the Red Line out to Davis Square in Somerville the next morning to shop for books at McIntyre and Moore’s.)
  • the elegant simplicity of the gin-based Aviation cocktail (below).

Aviation cocktails

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February 14th, 2007

Night of bubbles and booze

Ben Sandrof at champagne cocktail party

What better way to spend a Monday night in February than at a cozy neighborhood restaurant drinking champagne cocktails mixed by some of Boston’s best bartenders? That’s the sound reasoning that brought 60+ people to Green Street last night for’s sold-out champagne cocktail party. Misty Kalkofen of Green Street and the B-Side Lounge, Ben Sandrof of Noir, Dylan Black of Green Street and John Gertsen of No. 9 Park mixed four distinctive classic cocktails using champagne: the Diamond Fizz, the Black Velvet, the B2C2 and the Seelbach (recipes below). Not only that, they visited each and every table in the room, explaining the drinks’ origins (or alleged origins, given that the history of cocktails is usually as unverifiable as the provenance of traditional folk songs). The evening was festive and informative — well worth the price of a small headache on Tuesday morning.

To get on the email list for future events, email drinkboston at comcast dot net.

John Gertsen at champagne cocktailsThe cocktails

1 oz each of brandy, Benedictine and Cointreau shaken over ice and strained. Top with champagne.

Misty learned of this drink from David Wondrich’s Killer Cocktails: An Intoxicating Guide to Sophisticated Drinking. It was “created by American intelligence officers at the end of WWII. They had all of these wonderful goods that had been looted from the French by the Germans and then left behind during the Germans’ retreat,” she says. Luxurious bubbles.

Diamond Fizz
2 oz gin, 1 oz lemon juice and 1/2 tsp powdered sugar shaken over ice and strained. Top with champagne.

A dressed-up gin fizz (which uses seltzer instead of champagne). Also similar to the French 75, only it contains less sugar and no garnish. The Cocktail Database recipe calls for a highball glass with ice, but we served it straight up in a saucer. Delicious either way.

Black Velvet
1/2 stout and 1/2 champagne in a wine glass or flute.

Said to have been created at London’s Brooks Club in 1861 during mourning over Prince Albert’s death. Also called the Bismarck, as the drink was a favorite of German statesman Otto von Bismarck. Dylan used Mackeson’s Stout for this drink. Dark and rich.

1 oz bourbon, 1/2 oz Cointreau and 7 dashes each Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters poured into a flute and stirred. Top with champagne.

Invented at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, circa 1917. The recipe was lost, probably during Prohibition, until being rediscovered by the hotel in 1995 and later printed in Gary and Mardee Regan’s New Classic Cocktails. This is one of the great whiskey drinks.

Posted in Bartenders, Beer, Brandy, Champagne, Cocktails, Events, Gin, Liqueur | No Comments »

February 10th, 2007

Beer of the Gods

Beer of the GodsA couple of years ago, in an article called “Light, Crisp and Unavailable,” I complained about the lack of flavorful but light-bodied, moderate-in-alcohol craft beers. Craft brewers and beer drinkers were then and, for the most part, still are obsessed with “extreme beers” high in alcohol, loaded with hops, and heavy with malty sweetness. Some of these beers are exceptional and fun to drink. But what about when you’re looking for an everyday beer with great character? Where is the American — preferably local — equivalent of a German helles or kolsch, an English ordinary bitter, or the dry Belgian ale DeKoninck? Well, my prayers have finally been answered. There is a six-pack of Beer of the Gods in my fridge.

Beer of the Gods is a hybrid of two German ale styles. It’s made with the pale pilsner malt used in Cologne’s golden ale, Kölsch, and the spicy noble hops used in Dusseldorf’s Alt beer. Extra aroma hops are added during a crucially lengthy lagering (cold-aging) stage. The result is a light, crisp, refreshingly hoppy, exquisitely balanced beer.

Will Shelton, who with his brother Dan owns the Shelton Brothers beer-import company in Belchertown, MA, brews Beer of the Gods at the Paper City Brewery in Holyoke, MA, under the name High & Mighty Brewing Co. In addition to Beer of the Gods, he produces XPA (extra-pale ale), an American pale ale that’s hoppy without being overly citrusy or herb-y. Brewing these beer styles makes total sense for Will, given that he and Dan have for years bucked the extreme-beer trend by importing traditional, nuanced beers from very small breweries in Europe, the U.K. and Canada. They are known for regularly pissing off the craft-beer cognoscenti by, for instance, denouncing many strong Belgian ales as much too sweet (Duvel, Delirium Tremens) and dismissing the armchair connoisseurs behind the beer-rating system on But their criticisms have legitimacy, because they know good beer. (By the way, these are the guys behind Santa’s Butt Winter Porter, an English beer whose label caused some regulatory controversy.)

And now they don’t just import good beer, they make it, too. In greater Boston you can find High & Mighty beers at Downtown Wine and Spirits in Davis Square, Somerville. Call first to make sure they’re in stock, though: 617-625-7777.

Posted in Beer | No Comments »