Archive for December, 2009

December 30th, 2009

Nips 12/30/09 – the year in drink


In this last installment of Nips for 2009, let’s consider some of the key developments of Boston’s year in drink.

» Booming business for Boston’s best bars. Probably the pleasantest surprise of the year for imbibers. It’s usually expected that the cream of the crop will thrive, but we’re in the middle of the biggest economic downturn since the Depression, for chrissakes. I know, I know — people drink more when times are tough. But it’s not like we’re talking dive bars, here. And it’s not only existing bars that are doing well. So are some newly opened ones, such as…

» Trina’s Starlite Lounge, Lord Hobo and Woodward. These three fine establishments opened in 2009 for our drinking pleasure. The ’50s-inspired Starlite has quickly become the kind of place that’s like a second living room for denizens of Cambridge and Somerville. It has two full bars to choose from, the vibe is genuinely welcoming and easygoing, the prices are recession-proof, and if you don’t run into someone you know there, then you probably know at least a couple of the bartenders by name.

After months of wrestling with anti-bar curmudgeons from the neighborhood, and amidst much nose-wrinkling over its loony name, Lord Hobo finally opened in the space formerly known as the B-Side Lounge. With a beer list that keeps the likes of the Publick House and Deep Ellum on their toes, serious gastropub fare coming out of the kitchen, and a good-looking cocktail list (albeit one I haven’t tested enough to judge), Lord Hobo has already established itself as a place for serious bargoers.

I’ve only sampled Woodward, in the Ames Hotel, once since previewing it a few months ago. But it’s clear that the place is making a serious attempt to be, for downtown Boston, a rare combo: an upscale tavern with top-notch food; a serious cocktail bar; and a magnet for nightlife. It appeared to be succeeding on all counts when I visited. More study needed.

» Legal Sea Foods discovers real cocktails. One of the most successful restaurant chains to come out of Boston does the right thing by hiring Patrick Sullivan as a beverage czar.

» Boston bartenders get noticed. Some of our best appeared locally on NECN and Chronicle, as well as nationally in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Bon Appetit. Plus, drinkboston appeared in two new books: Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails and Lonely Planet’s Boston City Guide.

» The annual Craft Brewers Conference. It convened in Boston this year, giving a boost to our bona fides as a beer town.

» BarSmarts. Dozens of bar industry people around Boston and New England received top-notch training through this fast-growing program.

» Some positive trends… Tiki. Real tiki drinks could be had regularly at Eastern Standard and Drink, the latter of which had tiki Sundays all summer long. Shared cocktails. The above two spots also raised the profile of punch, one of the most sure-fire ways to put a whole crowd in a good mood. Meanwhile, the Marliave serves FDR martinis by the pitcher. Genius. Bitters. Bitters became more available, and in more flavors than ever before. The Bitter Truth is just one example, and bars continue to have fun making their own. Mezcal. I’m talking about the artisanal stuff, which Del Maguey pretty much single-handedly put on the map around Boston and elsewhere. Look for DM’s brightly colored, folk art-inspired labels at a bar that’s serious about spirits, and order a measure. You won’t look back.

» Last but not least, drinkboston got a stylin’ new design and taught its first class on the history of drinking in Boston. What’s up this blog’s sleeve for 2010? Let’s think about it over drinks.

Happy new year, everyone!

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Posted in Bitters, Boston bars, Nips | 9 Comments »

December 23rd, 2009

Packard, Maddow and flaming punch

Heads up, drinkbostonians: Josey Packard, one of Boston’s best bartenders, will appear tonight on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC (9:00 p.m. EST) to mix up a flaming bowl of Christmas Rum Punch. Go, Josey, go!

Regular viewers know that Maddow often closes her political talk show with a bit on cocktails — I recall Dale DeGroff mixing Irish coffees on the set earlier this year. More recently, Maddow shared with her audience an investigative coup: an actual drink menu from one of the Obamas’ regular White House cocktail parties. As you see in the short video segment above, she not only described the cocktails (the Emerson, the Stone Fence and the Frost) but explained some of their ingredients (applejack, maraschino liqueur), named and photographed the bartenders who served them (Derek Brown and Adam Bernbach), pointed out that bartending is an American invention, and signed off with this delicious nugget: “And remember, Martinis do not contain vodka.”

Packard, a friend of Maddow’s who did guest spots about cocktails on the latter’s radio show back in her Air America days, will make a punch recipe adapted from the 1949 edition of Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts, about which Paul Clarke writes humorously on Cocktail Chronicles. I got a live preview at a recent Christmas party as Josey did a (not so) dry run of the flaming punch for the assembled guests. It was very cool, what with all the spices and orange oil making sparks as they were tossed into the bowl. Even the sternest Scrooge would be uplifted by this vessel of flaming goodness.

Watch the show, congratulate Josey the next time you’re at Drink, and have a merry Christmas!

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Posted in Applejack, Bartenders, Booze in the news, Boston bars, Cocktails, Punch | 14 Comments »

December 22nd, 2009

Quite possibly the stupidest drink ever


There are two things drinkboston normally doesn’t talk about: stupid drinks described in press releases and stupid celebrity scandals. I don’t want to call any extra attention to these scourges. And yet, how could I not pipe up about something that came over the transom today?

The local PR firm Image Unlimited Communications sent a press release about a cocktail that Za Za restaurant in Saugus (oh, Saugus) is promoting. Here is a verbatim excerpt (complete with rampant quotation marks, random capitalization and a missing apostrophe).

Who’s fiercer, the cougar or the tiger? Experience them both at Za Za Restaurant off of Route 1 in Saugus, MA. Based on the recent escapades of Tiger Woods, the “Two-Timing Tiger” ($9.50) cocktail is a deceivingly delicious blend of grey goose vodka, olive juice (extra dirty), and 14 blue cheesy stuffed olives in honor of each of the “man of the hours” alleged transgressions. You might have to beat back a few “Cougars” to reach the “Tiger” at Za Za – but stop in and enjoy it.

3 oz. Grey Goose Vodka
1 oz. Olive Juice
Blue Cheese Stuffed Olives

Directions: Combine Grey Goose Vodka and olive juice in a shaker filled with ice and shake until the shaker is frosted. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with blue cheese stuffed olives. Take a sip and get out on the prowl.

Eww. I need a shower.

It’s not that there isn’t a time and a place for silly drinks. And as cocktail historians know, plenty of drinks were invented to capitalize on seedy current events (hello, Ward Eight). But the Two-Timing Tiger blows these quaint traditions out of the water. It’s a mind-boggling combination of bad concepts and lame jokes in one Big Gulp martini glass:

  • Grey Goose vodka (the official drink of tools)
  • Extra olive juice (get it? Extra dirty…)
  • Blue cheese-stuffed olives. Fourteen of them. (Speared on a golf club-shaped cocktail pick, I hope.)
  • A celebrity scandal (a professional athlete slept with 14 skanks? I’m shocked, shocked…)
  • Cougars (way to work that Big Cat theme … and insult the very women who are supposedly your customers)
  • The use of the phrases “deceivingly delicious” and “blue cheesy stuffed olives” in one sentence.

Every political and cultural movement has a common enemy who is held up as a threat to the movement’s cherished ideals. Liberals have Sarah Palin. Conservatives have Nancy Pelosi. Letterman fans have Jay Leno. And now, cocktail enthusiasts have the Two-Timing Tiger. Rowwwrrr.

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Posted in Booze in the news, Cocktails, Vodka | 32 Comments »

December 16th, 2009

Sherry: out from the shadows


As far as I know, sherry has remained largely under the radar in Boston as both a straight drink and a cocktail ingredient. Sure, it started trickling back onto peoples’ palates a while ago with the advent of tapas restaurants like Dali, Tapeo and Toro. And several drinks writers have made a case for it recently — check out Camper “Alcademics” English’s roundup of articles about sherry, Paul Clarke’s helpful primer in Imbibe and my tribute to the Barbara West. Still, this Spanish fortified wine, with multiple styles ranging from dry and briny to mellow and nutty to raisiny and viscous, occupies only a tiny niche in this city’s drinking culture.

That may be changing. Today, two Boston bartenders, Corey Bunnewith of Coppa and Misty Kalkofen of Drink, competed in the fourth annual Vinos de Jerez (Sherry) Cocktail Competition at Clover Club in Brooklyn. Alas, neither took home the gold, but their cocktails were singled out as finalists. Take a look:

Balao Swizzle
Corey Bunnewith

3 oz dry oloroso sherry (Don Nuño)
1/2 oz Meletti amaro
1/2 oz velvet falernum
1/2 oz lime
1/4 bar spoon caraway seeds
Angostura bitters

Lightly muddle caraway seeds in a collins glass to extract aromatics. Discard seeds. Add crushed ice and liquid. Swizzle until chilled. Float bar spoon of Angostura bitters over the top.

Misty Kalkofen

2 1/4 oz fino sherry (Lustau)
1/2 oz Cynar
1/2 oz maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)
2 dashes Angostura orange bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Like its botanical-infused cousin vermouth, sherry is increasingly an ingredient that bartenders are using to make layered, sophisticated drinks that don’t singe your brain cells with hard spirits. I happened to be present at the birth of the Dunaway, whose name was my suggestion. Misty served me this drink in a vintage stemmed glass, and an image of Faye Dunaway in Chinatown, set in the 1930s, popped into my head: elegant and intriguing.

Thanks to special correspondent Aaron Butler, a colleague of the two Boston contestants at both Coppa and Drink, for the breaking contest results. And congrats to Charles Joly of the Drawing Room in Chicago for placing first and winning a trip to Spain.

Posted in Bartenders, Cocktails | 15 Comments »

December 12th, 2009

The greatest gift of all


Give a man a drink, and he’ll drink for a day. Give a man some quality hooch and cocktail tools, and he’ll drink for a lifetime. I think that’s an ancient Chinese proverb.

In time for the holidays, I have (finally) added to drinkboston a Supplies page listing liquor stores and other retailers who stock the kind of ingredients that today’s classically minded cocktailian demands. Merry Christmas!

Many of us prefer going out to Boston’s best bars for good cocktails, but I know that, especially in this crappy economy, some imbibers are doing more mixing at home. In fact, they are the good people who have helped compile this list of places that stock often hard-to-find ingredients, such as rye whiskies, amari, Haus Alpenz liqueurs, various types of bitters, falernum, Old Tom gin, rum agricole, shrub and good vermouth  — plus, all the equipment and instruction you need to set up your home bar (hello, Boston Shaker). And since we in Massachusetts suffer the curse of being banned from ordering liquor through the mail, these sources are especially helpful.

Just for fun, you may want to revisit some of the posts that inspired the Supplies page:

If there are any Boston-area stores with a good selection of classic-cocktail ingredients and mixing equipment that you think deserve to be included, make your case at drinkboston at comcast dot net.

Here’s a to a pleasantly lubricated holiday season!

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Posted in Drinking supplies | 2 Comments »