Archive for the ‘Bitters’ Category

September 4th, 2009

Operation 1919 – Part 2


Wow, has it really been two years since I wrote the original Operation 1919 post urging Boston imbibers to demand pre-Prohibition and other rare cocktail ingredients from their local liquor purveyors? Well, some positive developments since then indicate that our voices have been heard.

Several stores have beefed up — and in some cases continued to stock — their selection of classic cocktail spirits, including BRIX Wines in Boston (South End and Broad St.), Downtown Wine & Spirits and the Wine & Cheese Cask in Somerville, the Wine Gallery in Brookline and Boston (Kenmore Square), Gordon’s in Newton, Liquor Land in Roxbury, Mall Discount Liquors in Cambridge (Fresh Pond), and Julio’s in Westborough.

The Boston Shaker at Grand in Somerville opened this past year and has become a Mecca for those seeking bitters (could you imagine buying celery, cherry or whiskey barrel-aged bitters two years ago? Ha!) and non-alcoholic ingredients like Luxardo maraschino cherries, fruit shrubs, real grenadine, orgeat and falernum, not to mention cocktail tools and books. Many people have chimed in here and elsewhere about specialty-food and international stores that carry stuff like orange flower water, passionfruit juice and pomegranate juice. These include Christina’s spice shop in Cambridge, Super 88 grocery stores, and assorted Brazilian, Caribbean and Asian stores in a neighborhood near you. (Also check liquor stores in these ‘hoods for stuff like cachaca, pisco and funky eaux de vie.) Then there’s Cirace in the North End for hard-to-find aperitivos, amaros and digestivos (Cynar, Averna, Fernet, etc).

Just for fun, here’s a wish list of items culled from comments on that first 1919 post, as well as from myself and various other cocktailians since then. I divided the list up into rough categories of availability. I say “rough,” because a lot of this stuff is still only available at a handful of places, and is often unpredictably stocked. So please don’t take my word for it — call ahead. And I know a few people out there who have more comprehensive knowledge of Boston-area liquor store inventories than I do, so please let me know of a) any hot new finds or b) unavailable items to start a new wish list.

More or less available at some/most of the places above
(Starred items available at the Boston Shaker)

Batavia Arrack
Bitters (other than Angostura and Fee’s orange)*
Bluecoat Gin
Creme de Violette
Falernum (Fee Bros.)*
Genever (Bols, Anchor)
Luxardo Maraschino cherries*
Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
Old Tom Gin (Hayman’s)
Pimento Dram (St. Elizabeth Allspice Liqueur)
Rye whiskey
Shrub (fruit syrups preserved with a little vinegar)*
Sloe Gin (Plymouth)
Vermouth (Vya, Dolin)

Sighted locally but generally hard to find

Amer Picon/Torani Amer
Bonded Applejack
Carpano Antica
Marie Brizard liqueur (particularly Apry, or apricot)
Velvet Falernum

Unavailable or should be easier to find

Bitters (clones of Abbott’s or Boker’s — some bars are making their own)
Byrrh wine
Kola tonic
Raspberry syrup
Swedish punsch

One “hard to find” item that was mentioned more than once by commenters on that first post? St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur. Hard to imagine, since its ubiquity now has earned it the nickname “bartender’s ketchup.” Also, is Cherry Heering really that hard to find, or is it just me?

To conclude, I think we’re getting there. But one-stop shopping for much of the above still seems far away. Is a huge, unfussy liquor warehouse that features Rittenhouse 100, Herbsaint, Luxardo cherries, grapefruit bitters and Creme de Violette, along with the usual 97 flavors of vodka and econo-sized Mudslides, too much of a pipe dream?

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Posted in Bitters, Cocktails, Drinking supplies | 30 Comments »

June 10th, 2009

Bitters breakthrough

bittermens-xocolatlIt’s the moment cocktailians have been waiting for. Bittermens bitters are finally going to be available in stores and more widely in bars. After years — yes, years — of battling various authorities to make and sell their bitters, all the while providing their products to select bars in Boston and elsewhere on a “pre-release” basis, Avery and Janet Glasser have finally and happily entered a partnership with the German bitters producer the Bitter Truth.

The first Bittermens products being released under the partnership are Grapefruit Bitters and Xocolatl (Chocolate) Mole Bitters. Hopefully the Glassers’ other artisanal flavors, like ‘Elemakule Tiki Bitters, won’t be far behind. The goods won’t be available for purchase stateside for another few months; for now you have to buy them through the Bitter Truth website (and pay dearly for overseas shipping, I’m afraid). The price of an individual bottle is listed at 10.90 euros, which is about 15 bucks.

The Boston Shaker already sells several varieties of Bitter Truth bitters (Celery, Jerry Thomas’ Decanter, etc.) and hopes to begin offering Bittermens bitters as soon as they are available.

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Posted in Bitters, Booze in the news, Drinking supplies | 3 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 »

March 27th, 2009

Mmm, medicine

Trinidad SourI am a big fan of drinks that taste a bit like medicine. Pour some bitters, be they Angostura, orange, Campari, Aperol, Fernet, etc., into a glass of whiskey, gin or brandy, and chances are I’ll slurp it up. Bitter cocktails are, like blue cheese or anchovies, something we start out thinking is disgusting but that, as we get older and wiser, we grow to savor.

Ben Sandrof at Drink has made me many a medicinal cocktail, so he knew he had a good guinea pig for a new drink that takes the idea of a bitter cocktail all the way to Crazy Town: the Trinidad Sour. Created by a bartender [Giuseppe Gonzalez] at Clover Club in Brooklyn, it uses Angostura bitters (which are made in Trinidad) as a base. Here’s what I mean:

Trinidad Sour

1 oz Angostura bitters
1 oz orgeat
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz Rittenhouse rye

Shake hard and double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

A full ounce of Angostura modified with a bit of whiskey? That’s, like, 50 times the amount of these “non-potable” bitters that are usually measured by the dash. Nonetheless, I poted them. And surprisingly, the drink was potable. With the sweetness of the orgeat (almond syrup) and the sourness of the lemon juice, the deep-red potion tasted kind of like a really strong, and medicinal, Sweet Tart. The weirdest part of it was the white head that just sat atop the liquid in the glass until the drink was drained, like the head on a Guinness. Ben was fascinated and mystified by it. I could only guess that all the plant matter that goes into a bottle of Angostura creates some really fine particles that somehow bind to the other ingredients and froth when shaken. I may be way off but, hey, it sounds good.

Another bitter cocktail I tried recently and have to mention, because it’s every bit as bold in its own way as the Trinidad Sour, is the No. 47 at Hungry Mother (the cocktails here have numbers instead of names). The cocktails during my first two visits to this instantly acclaimed, year-old Cambridge restaurant were underwhelming. But this time around they were perfect. The ingredients in the No. 47 are Laird’s Applejack, Aperol and Buffalo Trace Bourbon — in what proportions I don’t know exactly, but none seemed overshadowed by another, and together they created a mixture that transcended the individual spirits. The drink was served “down” in a heavy rocks glass with a large sphere of ice, which made all the difference. The drink started out strong but stayed cold and balanced as the ice slowly melted. I thank bartenders Ned Greene and Duane Gorey, plus co-owner Alon Munzer, for creating Hungry Mother’s short but sweet cocktail menu and for adding some more delicious medicine to my first-aid kit.

Posted in Bitters, Cocktails | 23 Comments »

December 3rd, 2008

New sources for cocktail stuff

Cocktail supplies at Grand in Somerville

If you’re looking for mixology tools, exotic bitters and newly reissued cocktail books of yore, head to Grand in Union Square, Somerville (374 Somerville Ave.). The Boston Shaker, a fledgling local enterprise headed by Adam Lantheaume, recently helped Grand set up a section for these items amidst the store’s merchandise for devotées of design.

The photo above gives you an idea of the sort of cocktail accoutrements you’ll find at Grand: Fee Bros. bitters (orange, mint, whiskey-barrel aged, etc.), syrups (orgeat, cassis, etc.), bar spoons, shakers, ice crushers, jiggers, cocktail books. No spirits, however — Grand is not a liquor store. (Bitters contain alcohol, but, like extracts used in cooking, they are not consumed in great enough quantity to warrant regulation.)

You can also contact the Boston Shaker directly to order these goods, as well as to get info on procuring hard-to-find spirits. And, note to industry folks: the Boston Shaker would love to talk to you about supplying your bar with specialty cocktail tools and ingredients. So, if you’re in the market for, say, an absinthe fountain or cherry bitters, give Adam a shout.

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Posted in Bitters, Books & resources, Drinking supplies | 3 Comments »

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