Archive for the ‘Vermouth’ Category

December 9th, 2007

Lady’s Martini at Mooo

Kina LilletI tend to be skeptical of trendy new drink menus, especially those at trendy new restaurants that are obviously cashing in on a popular concept. In this case, I’m talking about the drink menu at Mooo, which joins KO Prime as Boston’s latest postmodern steak house. These aren’t your grandfather’s steak houses, with their dark, gentleman’s club decor. These are steak houses for today’s stylish man or woman susceptible to sleek, wink-wink design, like blurred photos of calves on the wall above your meat-laden table, and ornate chandeliers ‘clothed’ in cylinders of parchment. Mooo, which replaced the Federalist in the XV Beacon Hotel, is the latest ultra-high-end offering from celebrity chef Jamie Mammano of Mistral and Sorellina.

Luckily, there is a drink at Mooo that hits the right note of wit and taste without trying too hard, and that is the Lady’s Martini: Lillet Blanc, fresh lemon juice and hibiscus syrup, chilled and served straight up with a champagne chaser. I don’t know why it’s called the Lady’s Martini — maybe because it’s pink and relatively low in alcohol. It also happens to be gorgeous and delicious. Mooo serves the “martini” in a delicate, vintage-looking cocktail glass and the champagne chaser in a stemless flute, an aesthetic combination that makes you feel sophisticated just by sitting in front of it. But that’s not what we’re about, is it? We’re about flavor. And this cocktail has a layered, sweet-tartness that would satisfy even without the champagne. But when you put the bubbles on top of this little flavor lozenge, you suddenly feel like you’re wearing white gloves and smart hat.

All you men out there who appreciate a good cocktail: I urge you to be secure enough in your masculinity to give the Lady’s Martini ($13) a try. Or at least have your date order it, and taste hers.

Posted in Champagne, Cocktails, Vermouth | No Comments »

November 27th, 2007

The Moto Guzzi

Moto Guzzi

The first time I tried a Moto Guzzi, I had no idea that all it was was equal parts Booker’s bourbon* and Punt e Mes. I thought there were at least some bitters in there, or two kinds of vermouth. Nope. Turns out the Moto Guzzi is the White Stripes of cocktails: like the guitarist and drummer that make up the entire band, the two ingredients in the cocktail create something raucous, deep and compelling. You can find the complete recipe here.

Moto Guzzi is an Italian motorcycle manufacturer established in 1921. It’s famous for its eagle logo, its racing achievements, and its cool bikes. Kevin Montuori, a motorcycle enthusiast and regular at No. 9 Park, invented this cocktail with 9 Park’s principal bartender, John Gertsen. This is their story.

John: “One fuzzy night at the bar at No. 9 … Kevin Montuori and I were discussing the possibility of using Booker’s in a cocktail. Given the alcohol content, we discussed manhattans and the various ratios. It seemed like Booker’s could support as much vermouth as we could give it. With all that vermouth the Angostura bitters sorta disappeared. Enter, stage right: Punt e Mes. It was perfect. I was thinking of some Manly Italian Name, and Kevin is a motorcycle/scooter aficionado. Somehow Moto Guzzi was brought up. It probably sounded more like ‘mrtigtzy’ after all of that Booker’s. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

Kevin: “That’s it exactly. I always remember the amount of restraint it takes to make one: no bitters, no lemon oil spritzed over the top. Just the Punt e Mes and Booker’s. And it really was ‘mrtigtzy’ after a couple. The name was, if I recall, also influenced by the texture, which is sort of like used engine oil. Certainly one of my favorite drinks. Damn, now I’m thirsty.”

*From the Small Batch website: Booker’s is 6-8 year-old bourbon, 121-127 proof (uncut, straight from the barrel). “Big oak, vanilla, smoky charcoal” aroma. “Intense, fruit, tannin, tobacco” taste.

Posted in Cocktails, Vermouth, Whiskey | 1 Comment »

August 16th, 2007

Vermouth is it

Noilly Prat vermouthAs a proselytizer for “classic cocktails,” I am often at a loss when I try to explain to people what I mean by that term. My mind gropes futilely, trying to single out that obscure recipe that represents the vast treasury of pre-Prohibition drinks. Then, one day, I was flipping through the Old Waldorf Astoria Bar Book and noticed something that would astonish most modern drinkers: over one-third of the recipes in that book contain vermouth — either sweet (red/Italian) or dry (white/French), or both together. Ha, now there was a fact that would both grab the attention of the uninitiated and give them an example of what makes classic cocktails classic.

In the present day, vermouth is viewed as a relic from an era when people apparently enjoyed drinking poison. At least, that’s what you’d think vermouth was given the way modern Martini drinkers shudder at the notion of more than a drop of the stuff mucking up their chilled vodka with olives. That’s how we’ve all been conditioned for decades: the drier the Martini the better, so lose the vermouth. And while you’re at it, strip the drink of all remaining flavor by replacing gin with vodka.

When you think about it, that’s just weird. I mean, why did the Martini ever become popular in the first place? Because it used to be a great drink. Try this: two-thirds London dry gin and one-third dry vermouth stirred for a good minute over cracked ice and served straight up with a lemon twist. (Add a dash of orange bitters and an olive if you want to.) It’ll make you understand why vermouth is worthy of respect. Without a liberal dose of it, the Martini would never have achieved fame.

Not just in the Martini, but in many classic cocktails, vermouth adds roundness to the strong taste of spirits. It can also knit together other flavors. It’s kind of like the standard onion-celery-carrot base of many soups — you don’t taste those flavors up front, but without them the soup lacks savoriness and dimension.

Take, for instance, the El Presidente and the Scoff Law. Without dry vermouth, the former would be a forgettable, sweet drink, and the latter would be a disjointed combination of flavors. The Independent has a slight variation of the El Presidente on its current menu; it contains a little fresh lime juice, and it’s delicious and refreshing. The Scoff Law is a drink that’ll probably wind up on the menu for drinkboston’s upcoming Chartreuse Cocktails event at Green Street. The flavors balance each other out and create an entirely new taste. (There’s a Scoff Law variation, also delicious, with rye, dry vermouth, lemon juice and grenadine.)

Now that you realize vermouth is not poison, but instead an indispensible cocktail ingredient, here are the rules for stocking it in your home bar: buy small bottles, which take less time to finish; keep vermouth refrigerated after you open it; and choose decent brands like Noilly Prat or Martini & Rossi. The good brands are still cheap — a 375ml bottle of Martini & Rossi will set you back $4. Simply keep in mind that vermouth is essentially red or white wine that’s flavored with herbs and lightly fortified to an alcohol content of 16 percent (compared to 12-14 percent for regular wine), so it should be treated similarly to wine. That means throw away those bottles you last opened for a party in 1995 and start fresh. Then mix up a batch of old-school Martinis, invite your friends over, and change their lives.

Posted in Cocktails, Vermouth | 9 Comments »

July 27th, 2007

Tales of the Cocktail 2007

Ted Haigh & Lauren Clark

Wow. As we say in New England, that was wicked awesome. The last time I was in New Orleans, I was a dumb college kid hanging out on Bourbon St. drinking Hurricanes with the rest of the tourists. Fast-forward many years to Tales of the Cocktail 2007, where I attended seminars on vermouth and pimento dram and drank Pimm’s Cups at the honorable Napoleon House. The older, wiser me had a much better time.

Martin DoudoroffIf drinking cocktails for breakfast, lunch and dinner, then going out at night for more cocktails, is your idea of heaven, this is the event — and the town — for you. At a 10 a.m. session on applejack, we were served a Golden Dawn, a Jack Rose and a Wicked Kiss (a Widow’s Kiss with the addition of rye whiskey). Haigh (Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails), Gary Regan (The Joy of Mixology, Regan’s Orange Bitters), and Chad Solomon and Christy Pope (Cuff & Buttons) presided over the seminar with an unofficial fifth panelist: Lisa Laird of the Laird family. Yes, that Laird family, the ones who have produced Laird’s Applejack since the 1700s and who had George Washington over for dinner before the Battle of Monmouth. The cocktails were made with bonded Applejack, which is distilled with 100-percent apples (no grain neutral spirits) and aged for four years — and which, as far as I know, cannot be had in the Boston area. Too bad.

At Prohibition’s Shadow, which featured Haigh, David Wondrich, Robert Hess ( and John Hall (distiller of Forty Creek Canadian whiskey), we sipped samples of Forty Creek, a blend of rye, corn and barley whiskies, all distilled separately then blended. That stuff was righteously smooth and had flavors of an old ale, like Thomas Hardy’s. Why Canadian whiskey? Well, where do you think speakeasies got their whiskey during Prohibition? The session itself turned into a bit of a speakeasy when John Myers, bartender, cocktail historian and author of the Thirstin’ Howl, suddenly pulled a bottle of Fernet out of his bag and began dispensing shots. Perfectly appropriate at this sort of convention.

Cocktails and the Blogosphere, another 10 a.m. session (oh, my head!) involved Fancy Free and Police Gazette cocktails by way of illustrating how obscure drinks get re-discovered and popularized through blogs. Full of whiskey and bitters, these are two libations that’ll set the vintage-cocktail enthusiast’s heart aflutter. Paul Clark (Cocktail Chronicles), Chuck Taggart (Gumbo Pages), Darcy O’Neil (The Art of Drink) and Rick Stutz (Kaiser Penguin) presided. The session’s money quote (by Paul, I think): “At the 10th anniversary of Tales of the Cocktail, we’ll be talking about the recently launched 100,000th drink blog.”

Jackson Cannon & Audrey Sanders

The money quote from the session simply titled Vermouth (with Haigh and Martin Doudoroff, the geniuses behind came from Haigh just as we started: “It’s 11:30 in the morning, and you guys are at a session on vermouth? Get a life!” We sipped a Marconi Wireless (speaking of bloggers rediscovering old drinks) and a Rose and learned that it’s really hard to get information from vermouth producers (Martini & Rossi, Noilly Prat, etc.) on the spices they use to turn red or white wine into a classic cocktail ingredient. One of the panelists did manage to get hold of some info, and she recited a list of ingredients used in M&R and NP, but I was way beyond note taking at that point.

The Lost Ingredients session was a trip. I had never even heard of pimento dram or Batavia arrack, much less tasted them, before that day. The session was basically a live interpretation of “Gone but Not Forgotten,” the article Clarke wrote for the current issue of Imbibe. I urge any cocktail enthusiast to pick up that issue, because Clarke’s article includes info (and some recipes) on some of the amazing, re-emerging spirits we sampled at Lost Ingredients, including: pimento dram, a rum-based, allspice-flavored liqueur rarely found outside Jamaica — we sampled Taggart’s homemade version; Batavia arrack, a sugar cane- and fermented rice-based spirit produced in Java (formerly the Dutch colony of Batavia) and the basis of Swedish punsch; and falernum, a low-alcohol syrup flavored with limes, ginger, almonds and clove and a key ingredient in many tiki drinks. Read more about the Lost Ingredients session here.

Absinthe dripFinally, Sunday brunch: absinthe with a little sugar. I walked into that session a little late, and when I entered the room … wow, the licorice perfume enveloped me, a sensory experience I’ll never forget. Chemist and absinthe expert Ted Breaux gave a comprehensive presentation about absinthe history, myth and legal status, which is apparently still kind of fuzzy in the U.S. He devised the recipe for the new, legal-in-the-U.S. absinthe Lucid, which contains wormwood but only a barely measurable amount of wormwood’s active and feared ingredient, thujone. Anyhoo… somehow we were drinking real Swiss and French absinthe (the latter produced from a recipe of Breaux’s) in the traditional way, by very slowly letting ice water drip into the glass until the liquid became cloudy. This stuff was strong — over 130 proof! I don’t think absinthe should be banned, but I’m not sure if I recommend it as the first meal of the day.

In my next post, I’ll provide some snapshots of what happened outside of the Tales of the Cocktail sessions.

Posted in Absinthe, Applejack, Cocktails, Events, New Orleans, Vermouth, Whiskey | 6 Comments »

July 19th, 2007

Four takes on the Manhattan

ManhattanMax Toste, bartender and co-partner of the Allston beer and cocktail bar Deep Ellum, is quite pleased when he tells me that he sells more sweet vermouth than Absolut, and more rye whiskey than Jack Daniels, as if all is going according to plan. Well, it is. When you put four different Manhattans on your cocktail menu, you’re going to go through some rye and vermouth. Here are the historically correct options under Deep Ellum’s “Manhattan 4 Ways”:

All of the below are 2 parts whiskey to 1 part sweet vermouth, except for the New School.

1930s – Rye (my fave)
Sugar cube muddled with 2 dashes Peychaud’s, 1 dash Angostura; twist
Stirred, straight-up

1950s – Bourbon (Deep Ellum uses W.L. Weller)
Angostura, bourbon-and-vermouth-soaked cherry
Stirred, straight-up

1970s – Canadian Club (Max’s grandfather’s recipe)
Angostura, twist
On the rocks

New School – Maker’s Mark
2 1/2 oz Maker’s Mark, 1/2 oz sweet vermouth; Angostura, cherry
Stirred, straight-up

And congrats to Max! He recently welcomed a baby daughter into the world.

Posted in Boston bars, Cocktails, Vermouth, Whiskey | 6 Comments »

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