Archive for May, 2009

May 28th, 2009

Guilty pleasures & gateway drinks

guilty-pleasure-drinkOK, fellow imbibers, let’s pretend we’re at a group-therapy session. Let’s clear the air, shed our intellectual armor, spill some secrets. You know what I mean: talk about the embarrassing crap we used to drink before we discovered “real” cocktails, before we knew what Punt E Mes was, before we started saying things like, “You can’t make a proper Aviation without Creme de Violette.” And if you really want to dangle your cred off a ledge, admit that you’re still fond of these youthful potions on occasion.

I’ll go first. Hi, my name is Lauren, and I used to drink dirty Bombay Sapphire martinis. Loved ’em. Go ahead and scoff at my faux sophistication, smartypants boozers, but this drink was truly my gateway to gin cocktails of all stripes. It’s been a few years since I’ve had a dirty martini, but lately I’ve been getting nostalgically thirsty for some olive brine in my juniper sauce.

And way back, before the taste of alcohol became desirable to me, I was all about taking my spirits in an envelope of cream and sugar. White Russians, Mudslides, that sort of thing. My mature self rolls its eyes at these boozy milkshakes, but my inner 21-year-old would suck one down in a heartbeat if no one was looking.

There. I feel so free now.

Your turn.

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Posted in Cocktails, Whiskey | 55 Comments »

May 23rd, 2009

Redneck Luau @ Deep Ellum

redneck-luau-deep-ellumStretch your Memorial Day weekend festivities by stopping by Deep Ellum’s Redneck Luau on Tuesday, May 26 starting at 6:00 p.m. for some down-home barbecue, hillbilly-tiki cocktails and … free glassware! Yep, if you tell the doorman that you read about the party on drinkboston, you will receive a totally random beer or cocktail glass logo’d with anything from Mahr’s Pils to Crown Royal.

No cover charge, no reservations required for the Redneck Luau — just good ol’ boys and girls hungry for barbecued pig (they’re borrowing East Coast Grill’s pig box to roast a whole one) and Dallas-style brisket, thirsty for whiskey and locally produced rum, and itching to usher in summer on the back deck of a bar in Allston. Yee-haw! A big plate of barbecue with a heap of sides (mac n’ cheese, cheddar-jalapeno cornbread, slaw, etc) and a pile of sliced watermelon can be had for $16. Drinks and beers are a la carte.

Bar manager Max Toste and his staff came up with a whole new genre of cocktails for this occasion. Imagine if Donn Beach had opened up the first tiki bar in Alabama instead of L.A. …

The Volcano: Ragged Mountain Rum, Cherry Heering, muddled orange and lime, aromatic bitters, orange tiki bitters (made by bartender Paul Calvert). Shaken and served over ice in a double-old fashioned glass, rinsed with absinthe and topped with an umbrella.

Suffering Hillbilly: rye, grenadine, pineapple juice, half a lime plus the rind, allspice dram, orgeat syrup. Shaken and served over ice in a double-old fashioned glass and garnished with mint.

The Grass Kilt: Blended Scotch, Creme de Apricot, honey ginger syrup, half a lime plus the rind, aromatic bitters. Shaken and strained over ice in a double-old fashioned glass, topped with ginger beer and garnished with lime zest.

The Shipwreck: Triple 8 Hurricane Rum, house-made Picon, Swedish Punsch, half a lime plus the rind. Shaken and served over ice in a double-old fashioned glass and topped with an umbrella.

Hope to see you there, y’all!

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Posted in Rum, Whiskey | 2 Comments »

May 21st, 2009

Brunch bartender battle

burtons-grillStaying in town this weekend? Then stop by Burton’s Grill on Boylston St. Saturday between 11:00 and 3:00 for the first annual B4 (Boston’s Best Brunch Bartender) Challenge. The event, whose proceeds will go to I Hate Cancer, pits nine bartenders from nine different Boston neighborhoods against each other in a mix-off. The winner gets to showcase his or her cocktail on Drink this! a new segment on NECN’s TV Diner, whose co-host, Jennie Johnson, will emcee the B4 Challenge. The thing I like about all this, besides the good cause it’s benefiting, is that I will be one of the judges. Sweet.

You don’t need to buy tickets or make a reservation, just show up, order a drink and a plate of eggs, and enjoy the festivities. The sponsor of B4 is Absolut Mango vodka, which means that all of the competing cocktails will contain this spirit. I know what many of you are thinking. ‘Flavored vodka? Lame.’ But I like the idea of bartenders starting with any prescribed cocktail ingredient and creating something interesting and tasty with it. Here are the contestants and their bars (good luck to all):

  • Michael Ahearn, Stella
  • Jackson Cannon, Eastern Standard
  • Janessa Davis, Boston Beer Garden
  • Mike Doyle, Harvard Gardens
  • Joe Kin, Florentine
  • Chris Little, Burton’s Grill
  • Matt Stricos, Stephanie’s on Newbury
  • Katrina Turner, Red Sky
  • Paul Westerkamp, 33 Restaurant

Hope to see you there!

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Posted in Bartenders, Boston bars, Brunch, Vodka | 9 Comments »

May 20th, 2009

I survived BarSmarts


When was the Rob Roy invented? Which region of Armagnac is considered to produce the finest brandy? At what point in history did people begin distilling beer and wine to produce spirits? What volume of liquid does a standard barspoon hold?*

These are the kinds of things I had to know in order to pass BarSmarts Advanced, a spirits and mixology class conceived by BAR (Beverage Alcohol Resource) LLC and sponsored by the U.S. unit of Pernod-Ricard SA (whose many brands include Absolut, Wild Turkey, Beefeater, Plymouth, Martell and Chivas Regal). It’s a four-week course with four online quizzes that test you on material from a 68-page workbook full of info on the nature and history of spirits and cocktails, plus bartending tools and technique. Passing the four quizzes earns you a spot at BarSmarts Live, a.k.a. the final exam, which involves a 100-question written test (complete with blind evaluation of spirits) and a practical section where you are asked to mix three cocktails out of a possible 25 in 10 minutes.


May 6 was the day of reckoning here in Boston. About 100 bartenders and liquor-industry folk from all over New England, with a sprinkling of writer types like me, gathered in the Colonnade Hotel for the exam, which was preceded by a morning of seminars supplementing the stuff we learned over the past month. The $65 fee for the course suddenly seemed amazingly cheap when I learned that all of BAR’s primary instructors had traveled up from New York to administer this thing: Dale DeGroff, Doug Frost, Steve Olsen, F. Paul Pacult, Andy Seymour and David Wondrich. Not only are these guys impressive (check out their bios on the BAR website), they’re a good time. I mean, you’ve got problems if you’re teaching spirits and mixology for a living and aren’t having fun, but this group is notable for its combined depth of knowledge and breezy attitude toward the subject at hand. After all, what they’re essentially doing is helping everyone have a better time in bars.

barsmarts-cocktailsPreparing myself for the practical part of the exam was nerve-wracking, given that the last time I worked in a bar Fuzzy Navels and Slippery Nipples were popular (what a weird era). I actually mixed all of the Classic 25 Drinks Every Bartender Should Know, to the workbook’s exact specifications, in my kitchen one night. Bloody Mary and Dry Martini, meet Pisco Sour and Irish Coffee. I am glad I did this. When my evaluator for the practical, Dale DeGroff — who had just won the James Beard award for best wine and spirits professional — ordered a Caipirissima (a Caipirinha with rum instead of Cachaca), a Manhattan and a Margarita on the rocks, I cranked them out pretty smoothly. Thank god I wasn’t being judged on flair; nothing like a silent, methodical bartender to get the party going.

There were some glitches over the course of the four weeks, namely with the online quizzes. Compared to other cities that have participated in the program, Boston quickly distinguished itself by the number of complaints lodged about quiz results that were flawed or downright incorrect. Confession: I was one of the nerds who emailed the administrators screen shots of my results as proof. Hey, the upside was that we helped BarSmarts do some crucial website de-bugging!

The funny thing is, I almost turned down the invitation to take the course. A friend who had taken BAR’s 5-Day course in New York prodded me to sign up. “Can’t do it. Way too busy,” I whined. But he wouldn’t take no for an answer. At one point, he emailed me:

Remember that part in Oceans 11 where they all go meet at Roman’s house & Matt Damon is kind of sitting outside at the pool trying to decide to go inside or not after Clooney tells them all what they’re in for? And Roman comes over & talks to him for a minute & then shoves him inside ’cause he really didn’t have a choice anyway ’cause it was the right thing to do? You’re Matt Damon & I’m Roman. Get in the house.

So I did. And I passed. Of course, I have no plans to work behind a bar again. But at least I’ll know what the hell I’m talking about when I scold a bartender for putting ice in my Gin Fizz.

(*BarSmarts answers: 1890-1900. Bas Armagnac. 500-300 B.C. 1/8 oz.)

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Posted in Bartenders, Books & resources | 11 Comments »

May 14th, 2009

Nips – 5/14/09

marshall-smith-drinkThis 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.

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Posted in Bitters, Books & resources, Nips | 7 Comments »