Archive for the ‘Vodka’ Category

May 26th, 2010

Vodka – now with flavor!


Click on’s “vodka” category, and you’ll find some words on the subject that aren’t too pretty. (I always wonder if vodka marketers who send me press releases and even bottles of vodka fail to notice this or if they just don’t care.) I’ve accused vodka of taking “hostage the imagination of all who serve or drink liquor” and described its favorite party dress, the Cosmo, as “Paris Hilton in a glass.” Then Karlsson’s Gold came along.

I first tasted it last fall at Craigie on Main when Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli was still managing the bar. He had recently acquired a bottle and made me try it. Now, I knew that if Tom, who is well acquainted with my taste in spirits, was telling me to taste a vodka, it was either going to be notably bad or notably … not vodka-like. Luckily, it was the latter. There was a bread-y fullness to it, and a clear hint of that really good unsweetened cocoa that makes a great brownie. Tom poured some chilled Karlsson’s in a martini glass and twisted a lemon peel over the top. Those cocoa notes, along with the lemon oil, resulted in something that struck me as a very stripped-down Twentieth Century. Which is kind of wild, because Karlsson’s is made of potatoes, water, yeast and nothing else.

Since then, Karlsson’s has been popping up in other bars around the city. Recently, I attended a tasting and dinner sponsored by Karlsson’s. (This is where I disclose that the company’s reps have bought me two fancy dinners and handed me a bottle of Karlsson’s Gold — their flagship and, so far, the only one of their brands available in the States). There, I met Mr. Börje Karlsson himself, who also happens to be the guy who created … Absolut?! That’s the vodka that started the whole flavorless booze-as-status-symbol quagmire we’re in today. That’s why it’s a bottle of Absolut that is reclining in a coffin in my Vodka R.I.P. series. Uh, sorry, Mr. Karlsson.

The thing is, Mr. Karlsson is like a brewer who made his career on developing the recipe for Bud Light, only to turn around and create some really funky, boutique beer with rare malt and wild hops. But in his case, we’re talking heirloom potatoes. There’s a little pinkie-nail of land on the southern coast of Sweden where a group of farmers are busily fending off golf course developers in order to continue cultivating several varieties of “virgin new potatoes,” which they pick before the tasty little tubers have even grown a skin. It takes, like, an IKEA hamper full of these things to make one bottle of Karlsson’s Gold ($40).

At the tasting, we sampled some of the single-variety potato vodkas, from different years, with which the distillery experimented on its way to developing the blend of seven potato vodkas that comprise the Gold. The intent was to create a vodka that evoked its raw material — and that raw material’s terroir — through a single distillation and with no carbon filtration to strip out flavor. They succeeded. Some of the vintages were amazingly vegetal, with hints, even, of scallion. And in succeeding, Karlsson’s utterly fails the “odorless, flavorless” criteria embraced by almost all of today’s super-premium vodkas.

Which is just fine by me. Perhaps the best description I’ve seen of Karlsson’s Gold comes from Jim Meehan of PDT, who calls it a “potato eau de vie.” However you describe it, vodka lovers and vodka haters might just be able to come together over a rocks glass full of this stuff. Mr. Karlsson recommends garnishing it with a little cracked black pepper. Skål!

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Posted in Vodka | 9 Comments »

February 18th, 2010

Save the date: Boston Bartenders on the Rise

Put March 14 on your calendar, imbibers. Drinkboston and Green Street are teaming up for another event: Boston Bartenders on the Rise. The night will showcase four of the Hub’s emergent talents behind the bar, each of whom will serve a favorite cocktail:

  • Carrie Cole of Craigie on Main
  • Evan Harrison of Deep Ellum (recently of the Independent)
  • Bob McCoy of Eastern Standard
  • Emily Stanley of Green Street

While more familiar names in the Boston bar scene still command a lot of attention, the above individuals represent the up-and-coming generation of sharp personalities who know how to mix a killer drink and take good care of their guests. More details on this event in a later post.

Speaking of events, you’ll never guess what I’m doing this Sunday, February 21: judging a vodka cocktail contest. The Cocktail World Cup is put on by 42 Below Vodka and the U.S. Bartenders Guild and takes place at Bond, in the Langham Hotel, starting at 8:00 p.m. Bartenders in Boston and several other American cities are competing to go on to the national competition in New York on March 7. Three national finalists will then move on to the international competition in New Zealand, where they are expected to mix cocktails while bungee jumping and riding in speedboats. I’m not kidding. Hey, if a Boston barkeep gets to fly across the world for that kind of adventure, I’m happy to play a part.

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Posted in Bartenders, Events, Vodka | 5 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 »

September 18th, 2009

Drinks for the lovesick


Ever have one of those times in your life when it seems half the people you know are falling in love, getting married and having babies, and the other half are breaking up? Yeah, I thought so. This is for all imbibers facing the latter predicament. Among the many questions you’re grappling with — What went wrong? What will I do now? What is the point of existence? — is one that deserves special consideration: What am I drinking?

OK, here’s what you’re not drinking: Champagne. Cognac. Port. Anything pink. Anything juicy. And if you’re trying to drown your sorrows in something like Pinot Grigio or Michelob Ultra, you’ve got bigger issues than heartbreak.

So what’s left? Gin. Whiskey. Tequila. Maybe even vodka. These should be consumed in something close to their pure form, with nothing more than one or two other ingredients, preferably bitters and vermouth. After all, it’s time to strip away that psychic baggage, to get elemental. You’re dealing with an adult situation — have an adult beverage. What says “I am training for the emotional equivalent of the Iron Man Triathalon” more than a Pink Gin, an Old Fashioned, a Mexican Eagle or a vodka on the rocks? A case can be made for beer, as long as it’s not fancy and accompanies a shot, and, for those with a keen sense of sarcasm, a Zombie. It’s a tiki drink, sure, but it’s got four ounces of rum.

Order one of these at a barely lit bar, stare into your glass with your trenchcoat still on like Frank here, and let the lyrics of another master of heartbreak songs, George Jones, run through your head: “With the blood from my body / I could start my own still / And if drinking don’t kill me / Her memory will.”

And for god’s sake read the Modern Drunkard’s Boozing Through a Breakup.

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Posted in Beer, Bitters, Gin, Rum, Tequila, Vermouth, Vodka, Whiskey | 11 Comments »

August 28th, 2009

Nips – 8/28/09


Liquors launched. Bols Genever and Absolut Boston launched in Beantown recently. You will see the former at the city’s best cocktail bars. You will see the latter everywhere else.

Genever is an old Dutch spirit that, while it gave birth to modern-day, London dry gin, is in its own category. You could call it the whiskey drinker’s white spirit. It’s made with malted grain, same as whiskey, so it has a depth of flavor even before botanicals are added. If you want to time travel back to the days when Jerry Thomas was mixing up Improved Holland Gin Cocktails, this is your vehicle. Cocktail Virgin Slut and C. Fernsebner of the Bostonist both did fine writeups of the Bols Genever launch party at Drink.

As for Absolut Boston, what can I say? It’s from the benchmark vodka brand whose brilliant marketing made it an icon and launched the category of premium vodka into the stratosphere. It’s part of a series of special-edition flavors inspired by cities, in our case black tea (historically apt) and elderflower (currently trendy). It’ll sell like gangbusters.

bartender-raceBartenders on the move. Wow, where to begin? With the ladies — the Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails, that is. Joy Richard (aka Bourbon Belle) left her longtime gig managing Tremont 647 to manage and work the bars at both Franklin Cafes (South End and Southie). She is kicking cocktails up to a new level at these beloved neighborhood spots. Emma Hollander (aka Hot Toddy) also left Tremont 647 and will christen the shakers at Trina’s Starlite Lounge in Cambridge (where the Abbey used to be), whose soft opening should begin next week.

Now for the men. Andy “Hunter S. Thompson” McNees is moving from Green Street in Central Square to Toro in the South End. His esteemed colleague Nathan Bice (aka “just Bice”) is heading slightly northwest to Highland Kitchen in Somerville. Speaking of Highland Kitchen, I should also mention that Claudia Mastrobuono is leaving the bar there to go back to school. I’ll miss her skills and no-nonsense attitude. Meanwhile, joining Dylan Black and Emily Stanley behind the bar at Green Street are Colin Kiley, lately of Central Kitchen, and Joel Mack, lately of Deep Ellum in Allston (and Redbones before that). And to complete the circle, Patrick Sandlin just stepped behind the bar at Deep Ellum after managing Bukowski in Boston. Finally, Ben Sandrof will no longer be working behind the bar at Drink — or any bar at all for that matter (sniff). But he’ll remain a key figure in Boston’s booze world with his new career in wholesale at M.S. Walker. Whew! That was dizzying. If I’m missing anyone, let me know.

Manhattan & Montreal. If you missed Tales of the Cocktail and have a hankerin’ to schmooze and booze with fellow cocktailians from around the globe, you should get tickets to the Manhattan Cocktail Classic Fall Preview on October 3 and 4. This is a mini-conference to prep for a larger event in May, and, given the buzz I’ve heard, it could be a quick sellout. The details are still vague, but all you really need to know is that these are the organizers. Oh, I hear there are a few good cocktail bars in Manhattan, too. Tickets go on sale Labor Day weekend. Book your hotel now. Speaking of Tales and Manhattan, read On the Rocks, It’s a New Landscape in the New York Times if you haven’t already.

As for Montreal, I’m seeking news rather than reporting it. Specifically, does anyone know of any connections between the bar/restaurant scene in Montreal and the bar/restaurant scene in Boston? Like, Boston bar owners who are from Montreal, Boston bars that are using ice wine from Quebec, or dedicated barflies who divide their lives between the two cities… Anyone?

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Posted in Bartenders, Books & resources, Booze in the news, Cocktails, Gin, Nips, Vodka, Whiskey | 15 Comments »