Archive for January, 2010

January 25th, 2010

Nips – 1/25/10


» HAITI. Like a lot of people responding to the needs of disaster-striken Haiti, I’ve been texting donations to the Red Cross, over-tipping Creole-speaking cab drivers, and ordering Haitian rum (or rhum) at bars. Recently, Drink joined several bars across the country in fundraising for Haiti by creating a menu of drinks using quality rhums agricoles and donating some of the proceeds to Doctors Without Borders. If you’re near Fort Point this week, pop by and raise a glass to an urgent cause.

» BENEDICTINE. Congrats to Jackson Cannon of Eastern Standard for being one of five finalists from around the country in Benedictine Liqueur’s  “Alchemists of Our Age” cocktail contest. The contest, which marked the 500th anniversary of the French herbal elixir, announced its winner earlier this month: Damon Dyer of Louis 649 in New York City. The finalists, along with their cocktails, are featured in the January 2010 issue of Esquire. Check out Boston Herald writer Julia Rappaport’s blog post about Boston bartenders and Benedictine, and Dyer’s and Cannon’s recipes below.

Monte Cassino
Damon Dyer

3/4 part Benedictine Liqueur
3/4 part yellow Chartreuse
3/4 part fresh lemon juice
3/4 part Rittenhouse Rye

Shake, fine-strain into a chilled coupe (or small cocktail glass).  Lemon twist garnish.

Vincelli Fizz
Jackson Cannon

1 egg white
1 1/2 part Benedictine Liqueur
1 1/2 part house-made rose vermouth
1/2 part fresh squeezed lemon juice

Dry-shake above ingredients to emulsify. Add ice and shake again until well chilled. Pour into a coupe glass. Top with 1 ounce Champagne. Garnish with flamed madjool date essence. Proportions to be adjusted as needed for variations in vermouth and citrus.

» IRISH WHISKEY. My friend Lew Bryson, a beer and spirits writer based in PA, recently called to pick my brain about Irish whiskey. We both admitted being confounded over the assertion (made by Spirit Journal editor Paul Pacult, among others) that Irish is the fastest-growing spirits category in the U.S. That’s because neither of us are noticing it being downed in greater-than-usual quantity, at least not in the places we drink. How is all this whiskey being consumed, we asked? As shots alongside a Guinness (my fave method)? On the rocks, like Scotch? In cocktails? We guessed one of the first two, since there just aren’t a lot of cocktails containing Irish whiskey.

I addressed that dearth recently when I brought my brother to Drink for his birthday and introduced him to the fabulous Red Breast, pot-still Irish whiskey. Misty Kalkofen gamely created a cocktail with the stuff, which was delicious and needs a name: 2 1/4 oz Red Breast Irish whiskey, 1/4 oz Punt e Mes, 1/4 oz green Chartreuse, stirred well over ice and strained into a chilled rocks glass.

» ULTIMATE BEVERAGE CHALLENGE. Speaking of Paul Pacult, he is leading the launch of the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, a judging event that aims to evaluate spirits with the “most authoritative, accurate and consistent results.” Part of the overall Ultimate Beverage Challenge, the first-ever spirits challenge takes place March 1-3 at Astor Center in New York City, followed by the Ultimate Cocktail Challenge in April. Check it out.

» SCOFFLAW. Did you know that January 16 was the anniversary of the official coining of the term “scofflaw,” for which the Scofflaw cocktail is named? And that the word came about as the result of a contest held by the Boston Herald in 1923? I didn’t either! It was one of those “I can’t believe I didn’t freakin’ know about this” revelations.

“The Scofflaw drink followed the coining of the actual term by less than two weeks,” writes Ted Haigh in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. “Another invention of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, the cocktail hilariously baited Prohibition sensibilities.” Read more about it in the intro to Robert “DrinkBoy” Hess’ video about the Scofflaw. And thanks to Paul Harrington for being perhaps the first modern drinks writer to mention the history of the word and the cocktail.

» BOSTON DRINKING SOCIALS. Finally, this just in from Stuff Boston: Great Minds Drink Alike: Local booze crews give the term “social drinking” a whole new meaning.

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Posted in Books & resources, Cocktails, Liqueur, Nips, Rum, Whiskey | 17 Comments »

January 19th, 2010

We’ve seen this before


West Coast cocktail writers Camper English and Paul Clarke have sparked a debate that I can’t resist joining, because it’s oh so familiar.

A trio of recent articles by these gentlemen, and especially the comments those articles have generated, show that there is some, ah, disagreement over bartenders’ approach to customers in the world of craft cocktails.

English got things started with a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle called “Bartenders shift from lecture to nurture.” He observes that bartenders at many successful craft cocktail bars (including Boston’s Drink) are softening their attitude toward those who haven’t converted to the Church of the Serious Cocktail and are instead winning drinkers’ hearts and minds with good, old hospitality. The article generated comments ranging from this:

[Cocktail] MENUS??? What…. like Free Range BOURBON? Geeezus gimme a break…shot o’ Jack in a dirty glass thank you very much. And yeah.. the bartender works for ME. He’ll take my order and LIKE IT. Belch.

to this:

Just about every single person who commented completely missed the mark. You don’t walk into a corner liquor store in the Tenderloin if you want fine champagne and you don’t go to the K&L Wines on 4th street if you want malt liquor. Bars like the Rickhouse pride themselves on quality drinks. If you want a Cosmo there 999 other places that will make it for you. They don’t need your business. They have plenty.

English expanded on the idea in the latter comment with a follow-up post on his blog titled Why Can’t I Get a McDonald’s Hamburger at Chez Panisse? Clarke then threw his hat into the ring with Serious Cocktails: Is the Customer Always Right? He writes:

Most bartenders employ some aspect of the “Customer is always right” principle. If the ingredients are available, they will make the requested drink. But does the customer have a responsibility as well? Possibly to distinguish the types of drinks they’ll order based on the type of bar they’re visiting?

Yes, Paul. At least, the customer should have that responsibility. And it is up to mixology-minded bartenders to help the customer understand that. That means continually educating guests — most of whom don’t read cocktail blogs — about the fact that in certain places, bartending has reached a new level and that the drinks there are different. Many people, like Mr. Shot O’ Jack above, will start out thinking it’s all just a pretentious fad. But once they sample a few really well-made drinks and notice that more and more of their friends are doing the same, they’ll come around. The thing is, it always takes more time than the passionate early converts realize.

All this has happened before with food, wine and beer. It wasn’t all that long ago that lettuce was Iceberg, wine was Inglenook in a jug, and beer was Bud in a can. Anyone who clamored for more variety and better quality was considered a fussy elitist. Now, regular Joes at your average chain restaurant consume arugula, Chardonnay and India pale ale without comment.

I experienced this kind of change first-hand during my brief stint in the craft brewing industry in the late ’90s. Even though craft beer had been proliferating for over a decade at that point, people would still walk into a brewpub and order a Miller Lite. The bartender would explain that there was no Miller Lite on tap, that the establishment sold only beer that was made on the premises, and he would suggest a golden ale — milder than the pub’s other beers but still way more flavorful than mass-produced light lager. The customer would either leave or try the golden ale. If he tried it and liked it enough, he might get adventuresome later on and order an IPA or a porter. It was a process, and it didn’t happen overnight.

Did my fellow brewers and I privately snicker at those Miller Lite-ordering rubes? Yes — just as today’s craft bartenders do with the Cosmo set. But luckily for both beer nerds and cocktail geeks, the impulse to win over the unenlightened triumphs over the impulse to mock them. A little less zealotry, a little more diplomacy. Which means that, in a few years’ time, Mr. Shot O’ Jack might walk into a bar, glance at the cocktail menu without raising an eyebrow, and respectfully ask the bartender to suggest a rye for his Sazerac.

Trust me, it’ll happen. Eventually.

Posted in Bartenders, Booze in the news | 25 Comments »

January 12th, 2010

Spirits in the night

jessica-lange-francesIt’s 2:00 a.m. The bars have closed. The party has ended. But you’re not ready to call it a night. You want to commune with the pre-dawn hours and exercise the remains of your higher brain function while watching army ants devour a scorpion on Animal Planet. The question is, what are you drinking?

I’m talking nightcaps. And I’m not talking the civilized kind you mix before curling up in bed with a book before midnight. These usually involve brandy, eggs or hot liquid, and are as innocent as a lullaby.

No, I’m talking a down-and-dirty, half-in-the-bag nightcap — a usually half-assed but sometimes inspired improvisation mixed with a combination of laziness and brio.

One night I came home and dumped the following ingredients into a rocks glass over ice: Hendrick’s gin, Navan vanilla liqueur, Zirbenz stone pine liqueur, lemon juice and grapefruit bitters. I’m telling you, it was a hell of a cocktail. (Unfortunately, I have never been able to reenact the magical proportioning of ingredients that produced that drink.)

You’ve got to figure that a lot of weird-sounding but good-tasting cocktails are created the same way. How else would someone have come up with a Blood and Sand? ‘Hmm, what’ve I got in my cabinet here? Scotch … sweet vermouth … cherry brandy. Oh, and a splash of OJ. Yeah!’

In my less successful experiments, I usually end up with some muddy mess of a Hanky Panky or Red Hook wannabe, with the wrong kind of bitters and an ill-advised dash of absinthe or Old Monk rum. Often, I throw improvisation out the window and simply pour a Scotch neat or a Negroni on the rocks, the latter with orange bitters substituting for a twist from the desiccated citrus fruit disgracing my kitchen counter.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of other easy but surefire mixtures to add to my nightcap repertoire. Like a Pink Gin (gin and Angostura bitters — you don’t even need ice!), an Upside-Down Martini (mostly dry vermouth with a splash of gin — Julia Child liked these) or … hey, what about a Bentley (half applejack, half Dubonnet)? Wow, that’s a classy way to slip into unconsciousness. Go, army ants, go!

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Posted in Cocktails, Gin | 20 Comments »

January 6th, 2010

Chartreuse at the Franklin 1/14


And the Franklin-drinkboston Industry Night series continues… This month’s ingredient? Chartreuse. Which makes us pioneers of a new decade, according to Derek Brown of the Atlantic online.

Next Thursday night starting at 8:00 p.m., bar manager Joy Richard and the gang at the Franklin Southie will stock the bar with many, many bottles of the Carthusian monks’ famous herbal liqueur for our cocktailing pleasure. Original and classic drinks with both green and yellow Chartreuse will be on the evening’s menu and will be a steal at $6. Another steal–$7 shots of VEP Chartreuse in iced shot glasses. Yes, I said $7 shots of VEP Chartreuse in iced shot glasses.

Not to mention a $5 bar menu starting at 9:00 p.m. and some coveted Chartreuse swag (while supplies last).

And if you are as inspired as we are by the charitable ways of the monks, bring in a canned food item to be donated to the Greater Boston Food Bank, and you’ll be entered into a drawing for a Very Special Gift from Chartreuse.

Whether you’re industry, or you just like hobnobbing with industry, or you just like Chartreuse, come join us for some botanical shenanigans.

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Posted in Events, Liqueur | 2 Comments »