Archive for August, 2007

August 16th, 2007

Me and the Boston Globe walk into a bar

This just in: the Boston Globe thinks is inkworthy … and stylish. It’s publishing an article on me and the site in today’s Styles section. Not only that, I will be available for an online chat about the article, Boston bar culture, cocktails, etc. from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. today on Check it out!

If you’ve landed here from or the Boston Globe and are a first-time visitor, welcome. Take a look around. Post a comment. Have a drink. Cheers!

If you’re not busy this Sunday night, join me and the Boston chapter of LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails) for Chartreuse Cocktails at Green Street in Cambridge.

Posted in drinkboston in the news | 11 Comments »

August 16th, 2007

Vermouth is it

Noilly Prat vermouthAs a proselytizer for “classic cocktails,” I am often at a loss when I try to explain to people what I mean by that term. My mind gropes futilely, trying to single out that obscure recipe that represents the vast treasury of pre-Prohibition drinks. Then, one day, I was flipping through the Old Waldorf Astoria Bar Book and noticed something that would astonish most modern drinkers: over one-third of the recipes in that book contain vermouth — either sweet (red/Italian) or dry (white/French), or both together. Ha, now there was a fact that would both grab the attention of the uninitiated and give them an example of what makes classic cocktails classic.

In the present day, vermouth is viewed as a relic from an era when people apparently enjoyed drinking poison. At least, that’s what you’d think vermouth was given the way modern Martini drinkers shudder at the notion of more than a drop of the stuff mucking up their chilled vodka with olives. That’s how we’ve all been conditioned for decades: the drier the Martini the better, so lose the vermouth. And while you’re at it, strip the drink of all remaining flavor by replacing gin with vodka.

When you think about it, that’s just weird. I mean, why did the Martini ever become popular in the first place? Because it used to be a great drink. Try this: two-thirds London dry gin and one-third dry vermouth stirred for a good minute over cracked ice and served straight up with a lemon twist. (Add a dash of orange bitters and an olive if you want to.) It’ll make you understand why vermouth is worthy of respect. Without a liberal dose of it, the Martini would never have achieved fame.

Not just in the Martini, but in many classic cocktails, vermouth adds roundness to the strong taste of spirits. It can also knit together other flavors. It’s kind of like the standard onion-celery-carrot base of many soups — you don’t taste those flavors up front, but without them the soup lacks savoriness and dimension.

Take, for instance, the El Presidente and the Scoff Law. Without dry vermouth, the former would be a forgettable, sweet drink, and the latter would be a disjointed combination of flavors. The Independent has a slight variation of the El Presidente on its current menu; it contains a little fresh lime juice, and it’s delicious and refreshing. The Scoff Law is a drink that’ll probably wind up on the menu for drinkboston’s upcoming Chartreuse Cocktails event at Green Street. The flavors balance each other out and create an entirely new taste. (There’s a Scoff Law variation, also delicious, with rye, dry vermouth, lemon juice and grenadine.)

Now that you realize vermouth is not poison, but instead an indispensible cocktail ingredient, here are the rules for stocking it in your home bar: buy small bottles, which take less time to finish; keep vermouth refrigerated after you open it; and choose decent brands like Noilly Prat or Martini & Rossi. The good brands are still cheap — a 375ml bottle of Martini & Rossi will set you back $4. Simply keep in mind that vermouth is essentially red or white wine that’s flavored with herbs and lightly fortified to an alcohol content of 16 percent (compared to 12-14 percent for regular wine), so it should be treated similarly to wine. That means throw away those bottles you last opened for a party in 1995 and start fresh. Then mix up a batch of old-school Martinis, invite your friends over, and change their lives.

Posted in Cocktails, Vermouth | 9 Comments »

August 13th, 2007

Food & Wine touts Mixology Monday, drinkboston

Food & Wine magazine’s Mouthing Off blog featured a recent post about cocktail blogs and Mixology Monday, which Paul at Cocktail Chronicles started in April 2006. (Coincidentally, that’s when started, too.) MxMo is “a monthly event for drink bloggers (and nonbloggers, too, using the drink forum at eGullet) to mix up themed cocktails and share recipes,” writes F&W’s Julia Bainbridge. I have to admit I’ve been a slacker, having only participated in MxMo once so far. The next one is tomorrow, August 13, at the Intoxicated Zodiac blog. The theme is orange (as in orange juice, orange liqueur, orange peel, orange bitters, etc.) Whether I’ll have my sh*t together to participate in that one is still an open question. Right now I just want to toot the drinkboston horn and mention the fact that I’m quoted at the end of the Mouthing Off post.

Posted in drinkboston in the news | No Comments »

August 10th, 2007

Tales: shout outs & magic moments

Ernie K-Doe's Mother-in-Law Lounge

Indulge me while I dredge up more memory fragments from the sotted swirl that was Tales of the Cocktail 2007. The event still lingers in my mind, and I’m not alone. Paul Clarke over at Cocktail Chronicles admitted, “Yes, I’m still going on about it,” in a recent post. Specifically, Paul welcomed readers who landed on his blog from, which interviewed him during Tales week for a recent article called It’s always cocktail hour somewhere. Way to go, Paul! Then there’s poor John Myers over at the Thirstin’ Howl, who is poetically “wracked and paralyzed” with longing for New Orleans now that he’s back home in Portland, Maine. Oh, dear. Read his ode to NOLA, then post him a comment with a few cheery words, will ya?

Now for some of the things — ah, the magic moments — that made my short visit to New Orleans stick in my head.

Freelance tuba. I’m at Vaughan’s Lounge at around 2:00 a.m. Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers are in mid-set, and the crowd on the floor is pretty densely packed. Suddenly, a shiny tuba is being carried by its owner above the dancers’ heads, and the band is beckoning this guest musician to join in. The guy apparently keeps his instrument on hand whenever he goes out, just in case the evening’s musical act needs someone to sit in and provide low brass notes. In Boston, you might see a sit-in musician go out to his car during a show and grab a guitar. Maybe a saxophone. But a tuba? Only in New Orleans.

Ernie K-Doe HeadErnie K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law Lounge. This might be the most wonderfully weird bar I’ve ever been in. It is a shrine to the R&B performer who looked a bit like Little Richard, sang the 1961 hit song for which the lounge is named, and prototyped the modern hip hop alias by changing his last name from Kador to K-Doe. K-Doe died in 2001, and his widow, Antoinette, keeps the place going. This involves maintaining an Ernie K-Doe mannequin dressed in some of the outfits the singer actually wore. There are tons of photos and memorabilia of the K-Does and their friends on the walls and, best of all, a giant Ernie K-Doe head that I’m guessing makes appearances in Mardi Gras parades. The Hurricane Katrina flood badly damaged the lounge, but luckily, friends and fans donated money to renovate the place. (Read a recent USA Today article about the bar.)

Taggart hugs a fan. As I mentioned in my previous post about Tales of the Cocktail, Chuck Taggart was among the featured panelists. His writing about cocktails (and food, music and politics) on the Gumbo Pages has attracted many admiring readers over the years, including Jackson Cannon, the mixology guru at Eastern Standard. After a seminar on vermouth, Cannon walked up to Taggart to introduce himself. He did this by handing Taggart an actual cocktail menu from Eastern Standard — a cocktail menu that happens to credit Taggart for a drink called the Hoskins. At first, Taggart merely perused the menu with admiration for a bar that would serve up obscure classics like the Brooklyn, the Alaska and the Vieux Carré. Then his eye fell upon the Hoskins, with his own name next to it, and the look of admiration turned into one of open-mouthed surprise. So tickled was this L.A.-inhabiting New Orleanian that a bartender in Boston, Massachusetts, paid tribute to him, he reached up and gave Cannon a big bear hug. And you thought a cocktail convention couldn’t be touching.

Texting at the Carousel BarDistance bartending. My companion in drink during the week of Tales was fellow Bostonian Misty Kalkofen. She is much more familiar with New Orleans than I am, and she served as my guide to the coolest bars and restaurants in the city, for which I was immensely grateful. Every afternoon, when we finished drinking cocktails for educational purposes, we climbed aboard the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone to drink cocktails for fun purposes. Remarkably, Misty remained alert to respond to emergencies at Green Street, the bar she manages back in Cambridge. Once, while sitting at the Carousel Bar, she helped out a co-worker by text-messaging him the recipe for a Fort Washington Flip. The words on her phone screen in the photo read, “applejack, benedictine, maple syrup, egg.” Go to Green Street and try one.

Those who served us. On a more bittersweet note, I have to mention the fact that even in the touristy, unscathed French Quarter, the repercussions of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans’ psyche were apparent. There was an undercurrent of wariness and suspicion in the demeanor of bar and restaurant folks we encountered. (They were totally competent and professional, nonetheless.) Mario at the Napoleon House curtly serving us Pimm’s Cups… Paul at Tujaques sizing up the Sazerac-fueled Boston tourists as potential jerks… Antoinette gruffly asking who we were before letting us enter the Mother-in-Law Lounge for a birthday party… Who can blame them? Maybe these individuals’ circumstances were bad in the aftermath of the storm, maybe they weren’t. But it was clear that a person didn’t have to live in a FEMA trailer to feel beaten down with worry over the fate of his/her city. There was nothing we could do except be polite and leave big tips. It seemed to work a little. By the end of our visits with Mario, Paul and Antoinette, a glimmer of camaraderie appeared in their hardened expressions, and we were glad for that.

Posted in New Orleans | 4 Comments »

August 2nd, 2007

Chartreuse Cocktails at Green Street 8/19/07

Green will join boozy forces with the recently founded Boston chapter of LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails) on Sunday, August 19 to host Chartreuse Cocktails at Green Street in Cambridge. The event starts at 7:00 p.m. (More on LUPEC Boston below.)

Chartreuse, the brilliant green, 110-proof spirit made by Carthusian monks in France and flavored with 130 herbs and other botanicals, is perhaps the noblest of liqueurs. If you’ve had Chartreuse, you know that nothing else tastes quite like it. How do you even begin to describe its bright, herbal complexity? You don’t. You just mix it into a cocktail and admire the distinctive result. At the Green Street event, you’ll taste cocktails made with green Chartreuse, described above, and its sibling, yellow Chartreuse.

On the menu: Two classic Chartreuse cocktails and two new-school Chartreuse cocktails, the latter created exclusively for this event by members of LUPEC Boston. Passed appetizers with fresh, in-season ingredients will accompany the drinks. But wait, there’s more:

  • LUPEC Boston members will mix, pour, and discuss Chartreuse cocktails.
  • A special guest bartender will, in the guise of a Carthusian monk, be on hand to discuss the history and ingredients of this storied liqueur.
  • An additional menu of Chartreuse cocktails will be available for purchase at the bar.
  • Ticket price is $35/person including 4 Chartreuse cocktails and passed appetizers.

LUPEC logoLUPEC Boston is a classic cocktail society dedicated to “breeding, raising, and releasing nearly extinct drinks into the wild” (a.k.a. Boston-area bars and restaurants.) Founded in February 2007 by Misty Kalkofen of Green Street and 10 fellow cocktail enthusiasts (including moi), LUPEC Boston is the city’s first and only female-oriented cocktail society. The ladies of LUPEC Boston meet once a month to sample delicious cocktails from a bygone era, and learn about the important and nearly forgotten forebroads who sipped them. They also work to improve the lives of Boston-area women, and proceeds from their upcoming events will benefit local women’s charities.

Proceeds from Chartreuse Cocktails at Green Street will benefit LUPEC Boston and the fundraising events they are ramping up for this fall.

Reserve tickets in advance by calling Green Street at 617-876-1655 or emailing LUPEC Boston at lupecboston “at” gmail “dot” com. Or purchase tickets by visiting Green Street at 280 Green St., Cambridge, MA. See ya there!

Posted in Cocktails, Events, Liqueur | 10 Comments »