Archive for March, 2010

March 31st, 2010

Joonbug drinks and tells

The nightlife and entertainment site Joonbug, Boston edition was good enough to send one of its writers, Ivy Brown, to the Bartenders on the Rise event a few weeks ago. It was Brown’s first drinkboston event and first visit to Green Street, and she has a fresh, thorough take on things that is most welcome. Her heartfelt writeup reflects the quality time she spent talking to each of the four featured bartenders and sampling their cocktails. She begins:

“It was instantly clear that the guest bartenders were actually more like co-hosts, as each one seemed to have a hand in every aspect of the party. As the talent popped back and forth from behind the bar, mingled with the crowd, and happily saw to the distribution of welcome punch, it was clear that this was not simply a crew of folks who happened to make a decent drink, but rather a group of people who had genuine love for what they do.”

Cheers to that.

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Posted in drinkboston in the news | 4 Comments »

March 24th, 2010

Imbibers old and young


My grandfather is 89 and drinks Manhattans. Upon first sip, he often utters one of his favorite expressions: “Hot damn.” He is a natural flirt — he actually gets away with addressing one of the walker-clutching ladies at his nursing home Lightnin’ — and the Manhattans he mixes in his apartment help him in that endeavor. One of his favorite stories is how a female resident approached his doorway one day as he was watching the Red Sox and drinking his favorite cocktail.

“What’re you drinking?” she said.

“Cranberry juice.”

“Don’t smell like it.”

“I’ll be right back,” he said, returning with a Manhattan for her as she settled in to watch the game.

This Christmas, my brother bought our grandfather a bottle of boutique rye whiskey — Rye 1, which, ironically enough, I have described as “not your grandfather’s whiskey” — and some sweet vermouth. I went into the kitchen to make him his drink as requested: 2 parts whiskey, 1 part vermouth, over ice. (The old man doesn’t bother with cherries or twists.) He was taken aback when he tried it, thinking I had made it too strong. Nope, 2 to 1, like you asked, I said. But then — of course! — he asked if the Rye 1 was stronger than the average whiskey. Yeah, it is, I said, remembering that my grandfather, like most of the drinking public, is used to lighter Canadian whiskies in his drinks. It’s a legacy of Prohibition and WWII that, in most places still, when you call for whiskey that’s not bourbon or scotch, you get Canadian Club or V.O. or the like.

Not that he doesn’t like the stronger, and stronger-flavored, straight rye. In fact, he seems to have developed a taste for it. I imagine the ladies will, too, soon enough.

* * *

When the 21-year-old son of a good friend told me he drank Manhattans, I was surprised. “Well … SoCo Manhattans,” he admitted, vaguely understanding the gaucheness of such a drink preference. (Hey, we’ve all been there.) Luckily, though, we were at Eastern Standard, and I was in charge. We started with a Frisco, one of my fave gateway drinks to whiskey, then moved to a Whiskey Smash.

Meanwhile, I convinced his friend and fellow classmate at Northeastern to try a Pisco Sour. “It has egg in it?” she balked. “Don’t be afraid,” I said, explaining that it would do for her drink what meringue does for lemon pie. The coup de grace was when our bartender, Hugh, handed her a teaspoon so she could scrape the fluffy, lemony, pisco-infused egg white from the bottom of the glass. It’s fun to watch young drinkers when they try a cocktail that makes them Get It. Today’s 21-year-olds don’t know how good they have it coming of age during the Cocktail Revival. I was well into adulthood before I experienced these sorts of mixtures. Then again, my grandfather, born during Prohibition, has missed them entirely. Can you imagine?

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Posted in Cocktails, Whiskey | 16 Comments »

March 17th, 2010

They rose, we drank


As we witnessed Sunday night, all that Boston imbibers need to lure them out of the house when it’s raining sideways is the promise of a well-made cocktail and a good party. I applaud our hardiness — not to mention the emerging bar talent that made the evening possible.

Green Street, the venue and co-host for Boston Bartenders on the Rise, made the savvy decision of removing all the tables and chairs from the dining room to accommodate the sell-out crowd. We were warmly welcomed with a beer cocktail by Green Street proprietor Dylan Black called De Stella Nova: Pretty Things Jack D’Or Belgian-style farmhouse ale, 2 dashes of orange bitters and a candied citrus star flavored with coriander.


We then moved on to the four original cocktails created for the occasion by our featured talent (recipes and creators listed below in serving order). I circled the place again and again to say hello to everyone while sneaking the occasional fried oyster, chicken rillette, grilled shrimp on a skewer, or juicy slider (thank you for the lovely apps, chef Greg Reeves!).

Many, many thanks to those who traveled both near and far to join in on some drinkboston-style fun. Thanks also to Sean Frederick for the photos and the entire smooth-operating Green Street staff. Let’s do it again soon!


Loose Translation
Carrie Cole, Craigie on Main

1 1/4 oz Scorpion mezcal
3/4 oz Aperol
1/2 oz Mathilde XO orange cognac
1/2 oz pineapple syrup
1/2 oz lime juice
Pinch kosher salt
Dash Allspice Dram

Quick shake over ice, pour entire contents into a highball glass, and top with a splash of ginger ale. Drinkboston: We need something fruity on the menu. Carrie: I’m thinking of using mezcal. Result: a loose, tiki-inspired translation.

Evan Harrison, Deep Ellum

1 1/2 oz Old Overholt rye
1/2 oz Cynar
1/2 oz green Chartreuse
1/2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
Dash grapefruit bitters, Deep Ellum orange bitters

Shake over ice and serve straight up with grapefruit peel garnish. Inspired by skateboarding legend Stacy Peralta.

Saving Daylight
Bob McCoy, Eastern Standard

2 oz Plymouth gin
1 oz McCoy’s homemade golden vermouth
1/4 oz St. Germain
1/8 oz Cointreau
Dash McCoy’s aromatic bitters

Stir over ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with orange peel. Sip as winter turns to spring.

William of Orange
Emily Stanley, Green Street

1 1/2 oz Bols genever
1/2 oz Benedictine
1/2 oz Punt E Mes
1/2 oz Aperol
Dash orange bitters

Stir over ice and serve down (i.e. strain into a rocks glass). Named for the English king who ushered in the era when Dutch genever became English gin.

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Posted in Bartenders, Beer, Boston bars, Cocktails, Events, Gin, Whiskey | 4 Comments »

March 13th, 2010

Little known facts about Prohibition


Anyone out there know if there’s a good college class on Prohibition? I would sign up for it. There is so much interesting stuff about big-P Prohibition (1919-1933) and various small-P prohibitions that just isn’t part of Americans’ knowledge of history (OK, there’s a lot lacking in Americans’ knowledge of history, but I’ll let another blogger tackle that). I did not know, for instance, until I read The Chemist’s War in Slate that there was a federal program to poison alcohol.

“Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people,” writes Deborah Blum. If it’s even close to being accurate, that number’s astonishing.

Prohibition-era President Calvin Coolidge, who had already, as governor of Massachusetts, made a name for himself by cracking down on striking Boston cops, showed his characteristic zeal for maintaining law and order by turning to “chemistry as an enforcement tool.” Wow, way to go, Silent Cal. Imagine if that sort of zeal was ever applied to enforcing regulations governing high finance… Ah, well. Then as now.

Equally as fascinating as the dark episode above: We think of Massachusetts as a pioneer in everything from establishing the New World to declaring independence from the Old World to letting gay people marry to mandating universal health insurance. But few people know that the Bay State was also a pioneer in prohibition. According to Perry R. Duis’ study The Saloon: Public Drinking in Chicago and Boston, 1880-1920, Massachusetts was the first to enact statewide prohibition, which, except for the years 1868 and 1871-3, lasted from 1852 to 1875. Of course, we had about as much success with our own noble experiment as the entire nation did some decades later. Duis writes:

“The wets claimed that arrests for drunkenness had not really declined as dramatically as citizens had earlier believed. Alcohol was obviously being produced or imported, and a secret distribution system placed it in the hands of thousands of drinkers… Charity workers and city missionaries worried aloud about the social problems that came from… secret consumption. Tenement doors concealed drunkenness, wife beating, and child abuse… Under license, the quality and purity of liquor could be regulated; now, inspection was virtually impossible.”

And on and on. See you in class.

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Posted in Books & resources | 3 Comments »

March 6th, 2010

Nips – 3/6/10


If you’re insulted by Men’s Health magazine ranking Boston the soberest city in the nation, get yourself over to the Boston Combat Zone: 1969-1978 photo exhibit at the Howard Yezerski Gallery in the South End. It’ll cheer you up with images of hookers, strippers and guys driving around in muscle cars drinking Schlitz. Hurry — you only have until March 16 to catch the show, which WBUR profiled nicely on the web and the airwaves with A Puritan City’s Experiment in Adult Entertainment.

» Now, about that Men’s Health article. America’s Drunkest Cities ranked Boston the least drunk of 100 metro areas. (Fresno, CA, was ranked the most drunk.) Reactions around town ranged from the fitness-and-moderation crowd giving themselves pats on the back to boozing homeboys lashing out as if Men’s Health had ranked Boston last in penis size. In any case, if the results sound surprising, you’re not alone. I mean, it was only four years ago that Forbes ranked Boston among the top five drunkest cities. You see how things get weird with these surveys when you examine the data on which they’re based.

Men’s Health ranked cities according to “most liver disease, most binge drinking, most deaths in DUI-related crashes, most DUI arrests and least stringent DUI laws.” As some people have pointed out, DUI crashes and arrests would logically be lower in Boston, where many people take public transportation or walk, than in cities where driving is the primary way of getting from bar to bar. Staggering around drunk results in fewer deaths than driving around drunk. But the survey doesn’t appear to correct for those sorts of disparities.

Forbes, meanwhile, looked at “state laws, number of drinkers, number of heavy drinkers, number of binge drinkers and alcoholism.” The problem with statistics like “number of heavy drinkers” and “number of binge drinkers” is that they are derived from self-reporting, which, when it comes to alcohol, is infamously inaccurate.

Why not just look at per-capita consumption of alcohol based on more reliable sources like wine/beer/liquor sales and tax revenue? Well, it seems no one is tallying that data — not at the city level, at least. However, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism put out a recent report on per capita alcohol consumption state by state. Massachusetts is in the 4th decile, with the 1st decile representing the highest levels of consumption and the 10th representing the lowest. So, it appears that our state — and its capital, I’m guessing — rank above average in boozing.

Oh, but wait. The report notes that “many factors may result in inaccuracies in estimates of per capita alcohol consumption. For instance, per capita consumption estimates in some States can be inflated by such factors as cross-border sales to buyers from neighboring States.” Hello, New Hampshire! Turns out the Granite State is in the 1st decile. Would Massachusetts’ and New Hampshire’s rankings look different if all the lower-priced liquor that Bay Staters purchased north of the border — not to mention all the drunken crashes on I-93 involving Mass plates — were accounted for? I’m guessing yes.

» OK, I’m done being a wonk. Now back to the fun side of alcohol education. It seems that the Saturday-night bar scene at Lineage in Brookline is worth checking out. From 9:00 – 11:30 p.m., the restaurant’s website tells us, “resident mixologist” Ryan Lotz is exploring the Lineage of the Cocktail by way of mixing up recipes from Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: from the Alamagoozlum to the Zombie and Beyond. It’s one of my fave cocktail books, and I’m not just saying that because Haigh mentions me and drinkboston in the revised edition. Each Lineage session features two different drinks in two different sizes (about $5 for the smaller and $9 or $10 for the larger). Call ahead if you want to see what’ll be on the menu: 617-232-0065.

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Posted in Nips | 6 Comments »