December 19th, 2007

Miracle on McGrath Highway

Good Hosting Guide 2008So, Scott and I are at Sav-Mor Liquors on McGrath Highway in Somerville the other day, buying what we usually buy at this seedily lit booze warehouse — a hodgepodge of 2-for-$12 wines, cheap-ass beer in cans and a good microbrew (which, this time of year, tends to be Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale) — when the indifferent sales clerk throws a little booklet into our bag of merchandise.

Now, Sav-Mor is the kind of place that sells economy-sized jugs of Mudslide Mix on the low end and Chivas holiday gift sets on the high end, so when I get home and start to flip through the booklet, called the Guide to Good Hosting 2008, I’m expecting page after page of “martini” recipes like Lingonberry Allspice Cosmos or some such Martha Stewart-y thing.

Instead, I land on page 7 to find the Whiz Bang:

1 1/2 oz Johnnie Walker Red Label
1/2 Noilly Prat dry vermouth
2 dashes grenadine
1 dash Lucid absinthe or, if not available, use Pernod or Herbsaint
2 dashes Gary Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass.

Um… WHA?! A cocktail calling for not only scotch, but dry vermouth, orange bitters and absinthe “or, if not available, use Pernod or Herbsaint”?! Wondering if this throwaway little pamphlet was written in magic ink that somehow gleaned my drinking preferences, I read on. There were recipes for a Vesper, a Gin Sling and a Honeymoon Cocktail (1 1/2 oz Laird’s Apple Jack, 1/4 oz Benedictine, 3/4 ounce Hiram Walker Orange Curacao, 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice), among other respectable drinks. And not only were many of the called-for ingredients of some quality (Luxardo Maraschino liqueur anyone?), the following tips appeared in a section called “Home bartending – become a great mixologist at home”:

“Serve your cocktails icy cold. The colder the better.”
“Use only fresh fruit whenever possible.”
“When the ingredients are clear liquids, STIR for proper mixing.”

Whoa. Any novice who comes across this booklet and actually follows its recipes and advice stands the chance of making a decent cocktail for his holiday gathering — and thus exposing his friends and family to the concept of a well-crafted drink intended for adults. The Guide to Good Hosting 2008 is a Christmas Miracle for the Cocktail Revolution.

Turns out the Guide is put out by the Beverage Media Group, the longtime publisher of liquor-industry journals whose writers include people like Dale “King Cocktail” DeGroff. DeGroff, of course, is one of the leading lights of mixology and a founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail. Even if he wasn’t directly involved in producing the Guide, his influence is all over it. Now, if only the retailers who hand these booklets out — hello, Sav-Mor — would actually sell the ingredients in the recipes … Luxardo Maraschino, Regan’s Orange Bitters … hell, rye whiskey would be a good start. I’ll have to wait ’til next year for that miracle.

Permalink | Filed under Books & resources, Cocktails |

17 Responses to “Miracle on McGrath Highway”

  1. john

    Can I get a hallelujah?

    O.K. Maybe just a hell yeah!

    Deck the halls with boughs of Degroff, falalalalala

  2. Craig

    That does appear to be something sorely lacking in Somerville- a good liquor store. At least in the Prospect Hill/Union Square/Winter Hill area… I can only take so much Mudslide in a month.

  3. ljclark

    Craig – you are correct. This is something I’m working on. See

  4. forager

    I have 3 words for you – Ball Sq. Liquors (“and Fine Wine” if you want the 5 word version). It’s worth it to go out of your way to hit it.

    They have a lot of unusual stuff you don’t normally find in a Somerville liquor store (including a artisan cheese cooler), additionally Chris is great at locating and picking up what he doesn’t currently carry (and is usually pretty quick about it). They also carry and are knowledgeable in wine, so if you need something or are looking for a particular flavor they are good at pointing you in the right direction.

  5. ljclark

    Forager, you rock. Thanks a million.

  6. Frederic

    I second Ball Square Liquors — they’re willing to special order things as well.

    Also worth mentioning are the Wine & Cheese Cask at the intersection of Beacon and Washington Streets in Somerville, and Downtown Wines and Spirits in Davis Square (near the Rosebud).

  7. ljclark

    Right you are, Frederic. W&C Cask has Luxardo Maraschino, Punt e Mes and Averna. I have been trying to get them to stock Amer Picon and will keep trying.

  8. Craig

    Forager- I didn’t know about Ball Square Liquors. and that’s not too far from where I am. I’ll check it out, and thanks for the tip!

  9. Adam

    I’ve had extremely bad luck with Ball Square. They never called me back the two times I asked them to special order something (both times after giving me enthusiastic, “of course we can get that” answers), and I don’t find their selection of spirits to be very good.

    Much, much, better, in my opinion, is the store in the Porter Square shopping area by Shaws. They carry a wide variety of interesting spirits, including every one mentioned in this post (except for the bitters, if that counts as a spirit). Plus, their prices are lower than Ball Square. A win-win situation, aside from the horrors of that parking lot…

    I’ve heard that Sav More has the best selection of cachaca in the area. True?

  10. ljclark

    Interesting, Adam. I haven’t been in that Porter Sq store (Liquor World?) in ages; will have to check it out. As for your cachaca question … I’m sorry to say I don’t know.

  11. Adam L

    I was actually at Sav-Mor today picking up items for a party I’m going to tonight (and Bartending).

    Last time I got that Guide I tossed it w/o even looking at it. I’ll hold on to the second one I got due to your post, Lauren.

    In regard to the cachaca – I can’t say it’s the best selection, but I can say I was blown away at how much they had there. More then I can ever remember seeing anywhere.

    I’ve been surprised by the beer selection at the Porter Square shopping center liquor store. Last time I was there (a long time ago) I didn’t browse the liquor selection, but I did ask the woman there if they carried Maraschino and got “We’re out, I’ll need to order more” as opposed to “Is that cherry?” which I got from Kappy’s on Rt. 16/28.

    [BTW – for those who care: The “specialty” drinks I’m planning to make tonight are the El Splendido (B-Side’s) and the Whiskey Smash. Plus the Rocky Mountain Punch from David Wondrich’s new book “Imbibe!”]

  12. ljclark

    Thanks for chiming in, Adam. Ah yes, Imbibe! is on my Christmas list.

  13. Adam

    And another report from the field: The liquor store next to the Fresh Pond Whole Foods (I can’t tell if it’s a Kappy’s or Cambridge Discount — both signs are there) has quite a large selection of stuff. Mostly standards, but they also have quite a few of the more “obscure” choices, if you look carefully. And it was nice to hear someone in the next aisle ask where she could find Benedictine and applejack, and the guy immediately replied “follow me…” 🙂

  14. Br. Cleve

    Ah, Sav-Mor — that was my main packy when I lived in Union Sq, which I did for well over a decade. There was a clerk I named Whoopsie Goldberg, who ranted one night after she had carded Peter Wolf, who responded with a ‘don’t you know who I am’ to which she replied ‘pull out the ID and show me the picture, honey, just show me the picture!’. But I digress. Sav-Mor has always had a large and varied selection due to its warehouse size, with lots of good wines, hard to find liqueurs, and good variety of spirits, esp Portuguese and Brazilian ones. But I think Jerry’s Liquors probably has a better cachaça selection. Jerry was the first (and, for awhile, only) game in town for it; I remember buying Pitu from him back in ’89, when he warned me to ‘be very careful with this’ (I wasn’t). Liquor World had a decent wine selection, but nothing unusual in the spirits world. Cambridge Discount Liquors has always had some hard-to-find selections : right now, they’re one of the few places carrying the Rothman & Winter spirits. Atlas Liquors over the border in Medford is renown for their selection and prices, as is the giant Kappy’s on the Fellsway. Even though I now live on the other side of the river, I find myself back at these places fairly often. All I can get here in the ghetto is phosphorusly colored fortified wines at Hancock Liquors and, my personal favorite, Old Dirty Bastard Liquors II.

  15. james

    I’m not coming up with anything on Cambridge Discount Liquors in terms of location. Obviously, cambridge. Can you help me out with an address? Thanks!

  16. ljclark

    I’m pretty sure it’s the place next to the Fresh Pond Whole Foods — Mall Discount Liquors & Wines, aka Cambridge Wine & Spirits:,+MA&fb=1&cid=0,0,15945399307683354081&t=h&z=17&iwloc=A

  17. james

    Thanks for the link. that is in fact what I’d found out from our tasting “professor.” Two affirmatives mean I can’t go wrong!

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