Whether you’re new to making your own drinks, or you've already perfected your method for carbonated Negroni spheres, there’s no reason not to try your hand at creating your own cocktail recipe.
At best, you’ll have created something new, perfectly tailored to your preferences -- and, at worst, you won’t be thirsty anymore. -- words and photos by Andrew Fatato
On an August evening during the summer of 1976, in the Adrirondacks of upstate New York, I invited my parents to dinner at a fancy restaurant I happened to be operating. I was only 9 years old, the space in reality was just a century old camp kitchen building that hadn't been used for decades, but it did still have silverware, plates, bowls and glassware. My younger brother and sister helped me clean the whole place out, wash everything and we proudly announced the three of us would serve dinner at 6:00pm sharp, there was to be one seating. In the perfect soft focus of memories, we even had linen and cut wildflowers from the field. Other details are a bit vague because it was so long ago, but my parents kept the bill. Pretend dinner elaborately played out: endive, lamb chops, potatoes and finally sorbet. Cocktail? Dubonnet, then Champagne. My father left a big tip too, and added that the service was exceptional.
I am retelling this story now as I can only hope that my service today behind the bar and as I sign off from this blog has been the same- my enthusiasm certainly was. While certainly far from perfect, always well intended and with a smile. I am very fortunate to have had the privilege, many thanks to the wonderful team at Boston.com.
Don't worry I'm not going far, perhaps I may have the pleasure of pouring you a drink soon (or opening a High Life). Maybe even tonight? I am on the bar at Silvertone.
2 oz dry gin
1 oz Dubbonet
2 dashes orange bitters
orange peel garnish
I am thankful for Manny Gonzalez. He runs both Foundry on Elm and Saloon (I have never been in a not seen him there) all the while has the time to create some of my favorite cocktails and write a terrifically informative blog. If you haven’t made a trip to visit Davis Sqaure recently, this is most certainly the season. He recommends the following apple, honey and citrus-rich autumn libation for the holiday upon us; not only delicious, it also may have the power to make family gatherings more palatable.
Rue St Catherine (his take on a sidecar)
St Remy VSOP 1 oz
Christian Drouin Pommeau de Normandie 1/2 oz (think of this as an apple wine)
Tempus Fugit Kina D'Avion 1/2 oz (like Lillet blanc)
Lemon 3/4 oz
Honey 3/4 oz
Berkshire Distillers worm wood bitters 2 dashes
St George Absinthe rinse
Served in a cocktail glass with a grapefruit swath
Lou Saban can be found behind the Oak Long bar at the Copley Plaza Hotel. Recently he found himself down south.
By Lou Saban:
Recently I took an investigative trip to the annual Florida-Georgia college football game, which is also known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (in the name of science, of course). This game is more than a football game, it’s a celebration of a rivalry that has existed since 1914 (the same year as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand) and was played at a neutral site in Jacksonville, Florida for the first time the following year. There is a lot tradition to be sure, but it wasn’t until the 1950’s that it was officially named the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. After some extensive research I can tell you for certain that those people know how to have a good time.
Having been one of your friendly neighborhood bartenders for years now, I can tell you one thing for certain: Boston is a cocktail town. We have a long and storied history with spirits dating back hundreds of years from when we helped pioneer the distillation of rum for the New World. Today we love rum, vodka, whiskey and everything else. Shaken, stirred, with and without bitters, egg whites, infusions, rinsed glasses, orange oil, and almost any pieces of advice written by our drunken counterparts from the 1800s. As a lover of both cocktails and college football I thought it would be a shame to miss this combination of both. So I decided to go right into the heart of darkness… that’s right … Jacksonville.
Despite being largest city (area, not population) in the United States, Jacksonville has a reputation for being just a bit nondescript. It was the host of the 2005 Super Bowl where it was lambasted by many writers and bloggers for its lack of amenities. While there may be some truth to this criticism, it’s also pretty unfair. No, Jacksonville is not New York or Paris but New York and Paris are already doing a great job of being New York and Paris. It’s a sunny, friendly place with beautiful beaches and Waffle Houses as far as the eye can see (stop reading right now if you are anti-waffle). If I had to describe Jacksonville in one word it would be: nice. Despite its shortcomings, once a year it becomes host to an estimated 150,000 tailgaters for a game that these guests really care about. My good buddy
Kyle Powell (of Backbar) and I flew down to see what people are so excited about and, more importantly, what they are drinking.
So what is cocktail culture in Jacksonville and at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party? Kyle and I interviewed about 100 people ranging from bartenders to cab drivers to fraternity pledges asking them two simple questions: What is your favorite cocktail? Why? The answers differed slightly but the most frequent response was a bewildered look followed by a sheepish answer of “…beer?” Other popular answers included: whiskey ginger, jack and diet, rum and coke, and the occasional bloody mary. It quickly became apparent that this was a question that these revelers had not only never been asked before, but also something that they had never even considered. Out of all the people interviewed we probably got about four drinks that had more than two ingredients. The responses did not change all that much when we polled the local bartenders. The majority simply gave us the “can you stop talking and order a drink?” face before saying they just drink beer. We did, however, discover some bright spots including Melanie at the Mellow Mushroom who loves a cocktail of her own recipe that is made up of gin, elderflower liqueur, basil, and soda. So why no Last Words or Vieux Carres? It became very apparent that in Jacksonville, it’s not what you are drinking but why you are drinking. Very few people were interested in the balance of acid and sugar in their drink or whether they should use one or two dashes of bitters to bring the whole thing together. They want something light, smooth, and easy to drink so they can get in the proper mindset to have positive social interactions. They want a sweet mixer to match the sweet southern palate. They want to cover up the flavor of the booze so they can drink without worrying about having whiskey face in the pictures that are going to be posted on Facebook the next day. There isn’t a big cocktail scene in Jacksonville because people don’t really seem to be that interested. It’s capitalism.
We are very lucky to live in a city like Boston where you have so many great options when you want to sip a well-balanced libation that hits parts of your palate that you didn’t even know you had. As a history-centric place we love not only the flavors but also the story behind the ratios and ingredients. At the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party they are more interested in the communal activity. The girls can’t wait to throw on their cocktail dresses and the guys can’t wait to show off the new addition to their tailgate set up. Kyle and I had an unbelievable time meeting new people and talking about their experiences and ideas. We drank their cocktails, laughed at their jokes, and didn’t really care that no one had ever heard of a Ramos Gin Fizz. This Keystone will do just fine thanks. If you ever find yourself in Jacksonville you might not find the Louvre but you can definitely have a great time. I personally recommend going to see the lovely and talented Jenine at Rogue Bar and hospitality expert Paul at North Beach Fish Camp. They will definitely make you feel at home.
So is it even a cocktail party? Nah. As one young lady said its just a fancy name for a trashy party. What the denizens of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party lack in sophisticated cocktails they more than make up for in good times. And whether you are dreaming about that next Natty Light or that Sazerac with a Pernod rinse, 8 dashes of Peychaud’s, lemon oil but no lemon garnish, and just a little bit of sugar, isn’t that really the point anyway?
What I like most about the cocktail culture today is the diversity of people involved- take Paul Costello. Not behind a bar, in fact running his own company, and yet making some of the best bitters around. He generously gives us a recipe at the bottom of his post below, any inquires to:
BeaconStBitters on Facebook or on Twitter @BeaconStBitters
Prior to cocktail hour, Paul can be found mixing up unique marketing solutions for brands like Kimberly Clark, Live Nation, Olympia Sports, and Hinckley Yachts at the Boston-based agency he founded in 2010, Agency 180 (BBJ "5 Startups to Follow"). He is Owner of Beacon St. Bitters, Co-Founder of Pure n' Raw (Caribbean artisan organic foods), an advisor/investor to local start-ups, and business school guest lecturer. He holds a BA from Dartmouth College, MBA from Babson and was recently named to BostInno’s "50 on Fire."
By Paul Costello of Beacon St. Bitters
Holidays and Sunday dinners at home have always been a very special time with
my family and are how I became interested in bitters. Before my siblings and I were old enough to join in, I loved watching my father prepare pre-dinner drinks – whether it was cracking out ice for Gin & Tonics or the curious process of opening a wine bottle. From their earliest dates, my parents collected unique restaurant cocktail stirrers – and I remember looking through the colorful collection as my dad mixed up something for company or my mother as she cooked. Often, it was an Old Fashioned, which involved the small, distinct Angostura bitters bottle.
Through college and the years after, I didn’t think much about bitters – though I was an avid homebrewer, toured any brewery within reach and tried any new beer I could find. Visiting Europe made me realize just how much a beer could tell you about a region and its history. I soon added the beautiful coffee table book Drinks by Vincent Gasnier to my beer tasting/cooking books. The spirits and cocktails section pulled me in.
Not long after, I began trying to make more than my old favorite: Gin & Tonic. It also helped that more bars/restaurants in my Boston and Chicago neighborhoods were focusing on both craft beers & cocktails. The first bitters cocktail to become a personal favorite was the “Joey Joe-Joe” at Silvertone – which I still order every time. I’m lucky enough to live around the corner from The Hawthorne and Eastern Standard- candy stores for the cocktail hunter.
After receiving a perfect gift for any cocktail lover: Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All by Brad Thomas Parsons, I was determined to make as many of the bitters cocktail recipes my bar could muster. It helped that a good friend took a job in London and was kind enough to leave me his ample bar, including: Campari, Luxardo, Punt e Mes, and all sorts of Gins and Whiskies.
I like tinkering and figuring out how things work, so it was only a matter of time before I wanted to make bitters that matched the taste I wanted for certain cocktails. It also helped that my office is close to both Christina’s spice shop and the Boston Shaker – constant sources of ingredients and inspiration. With a bit of effort and patience, you can make great bitters at home – most recipes include 3 primary parts: high proof spirit (usually 100 proof vodka or rye), flavoring agents (e.g., dried orange zest for orange bitters) and bittering agents (e.g., cloves, cardamom, allspice).
Not only did starting to make bitters satisfy some personal curiosity, it exposed me to the creative underworld of Boston mixologists and small batch distillers. As Jackson Cannon noted in an interview a while back, the cocktail scene in Boston is a bit unique in that it is one of collaboration and stimulation between these talented individuals. The fact that a marketing agency president can start Beacon St. Bitters and participate in this dialog around new recipes and ideas shows you just how inclusive this local industry can be.
I’ve come to enjoy bitters for their sense of history – their connection to the classic cocktail culture of the past (another great book To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion by Philip Greene). While at the same time, they serve as the “salt & pepper” for the amazing new phase of cocktails being created by industry pioneers. Add to this, they are seasonal in their flavor profiles, and new ideas constantly present themselves- Lavender or Grapefruit bitters with a Gin & Tonic in the summer, leading into Cherry Vanilla or Toasted Orange bitters with Rye-based drinks in the winter. These attributes make bitters a great conversation piece, and their bittering ingredients a natural hangover cure when added to club soda.
One of the most popular Beacon St. Bitters experimental flavors this summer was Blackberry Pablano Ginger- a perfect enhancer to most tequila-based cocktails:
Beacon St. Bitters- Blackberry Pablano Ginger Bitters
Makes about 20 ounces
1.5 cup fresh Blackberries- clean, muddle in 1 Quart mason jar
1/8 cup Hot pepper (Pablano & Scotch Bonnet work well)- clean, remove seeds and dice
1/2 cup Ginger- clean, peel gently with spoon and slice
1/8 cup Orange peel- zest and allow to dry
Heat on 300 for 5 minutes on cookie sheet to start release of oils
- 1/2 tsp Juniper
- 1/2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper
- 1/2 tsp Coriander
- 2 Green Cardamom Seeds
- 2 Cinnamon Sticks Crushed
- 1/2 tsp Quassia Chips
- 2 Cloves
After heating, move ingredients to mortar and gently crush with pestle- add to mason jar
Add 2 cups high-proof vodka, stir mixture, seal, store in cool dark place- shake once a day
After 3.5 weeks, add:
3 oz of water
75 oz agave nectar
After 3 days, filter, decant bitters into small bottles and label- bitters should be used within the next year for optimal flavor
Try 3 dashes in your Margarita or favorite off dry Tequilla, Gin or Vodka cocktail.
From what I witnessed firsthand, Thirst Boston was a tremendous success. “The Thing” began the long weekend with a bang on Saturday night at the historic Harvard Club on Commonwealth Avenue. Guests, dressed to the nines, were able to drink from various bars with great bartenders from all over Boston at their peak game. Why they invited me, I’ll never know, but I got to be pouring between Chad Arnholt (now of Trick Dog in San Francisco) and Joy Richard of Citizen. Watching us at work was proof positive that those two can easily make up for my short comings.
We poured the classic Ward 8 (rye, lemon and orange juice, grenadine) made with George Dickel Rye and Old Fashioneds (rye, sugar, bitters, lemon peel) with Bulleit Rye; what a delicious way to start the evening, particularly appropriate in the venerable architectural space.
After my short hour and half shift, I sadly had to leave, but not before witnessing a pop-up of legendary proportions. Andrew Dietz has championed daiquiri’s with his DTO mantra, which is really a way of life. Daquiri Time Out, in this case occurred when the doors swung open to the old front bar revealing legends Misty Kalkofen, Jackson Cannon and John Gertsen in a hail of cocktails and hip hop. Boom.
Let's do this again next year.
Slammed by Justin Stone
Once upon a time, I had a job with a chair, a desk and a door – a job that required nothing more than my presence, contribution and consistent delivery of what were called “deliverables”. Some of you out there in the readership may have this sort of position at your workplace. There may even be some in the food and beverage industry holding management positions who also do a fair amount of clerical desk work during the early afternoon or wee hours while at the restaurant, years past their last floor shift. As a manager at Tavern Road, I spent a good part of my late night ensconced at table 61, click-clacking away at spreadsheets, reports and ScheduleFly while my bartenders poured endless glasses of libations till the bitter end of 2:00 AM, commencing a 13 hour shift with aplomb. On Friday, October 4th, the tables turned (no pun intended) and I found myself back behind the bar in an apron carrying two buckets of ice, a bar back once again.
I have been considering apt cinematic comparisons for my return behind the bar over the past three days while my body ached and cracked at all the hinge points. Eastwood's “Unforgiven” comes to mind, as does Disney's “Fantasia”. At its worst, the job reminds me of the rooftop finale of Ghostbusters, four guys debating whether or not to cross the streams [read: whiskey]. Two nights ago, during a fitful sleep, I had a dishwasher dream, cycling glassware in some kind of Cohen brothers Lebowski abstract hallucination. My Chuck Taylor Converse have gone from clean, comfortable things I wear to the bar on Sunday afternoon to some vague semblance of the footwear chosen by coal shovelers on a steam engine. I can hear the smack-slam of John Henderson's tins in a double shake over and over in my head like the inner-workings of the Iron Giant. Smack-slam-shake. Visions appear, a panoply of three-deep needy faces, their eyes desperately trying to make contact with mine while I dodge their lasers and look for dirty glassware, a sci-fi zombie movie of sorts. And the yoga poses, all of the odd positions required of the bar back, a less-than-rejuvenating series of vinyasa-esque motions: the “duck under service bar”, the “third shelf bitters reach”, the “dishwasher to dry rack pivot” and the all-important, “behind you” slide. I am not built, both mentally or physically for this, not yet, and at 34 years young, I still have a lot to learn.
“How's it going?”, asked a line cook as I skid-slid my way through the dish pit towards the walk in, on a mission for an emergency ration of olive brine. “Feels like a snowball fight,” I replied as I feverishly searched the shelves for a funnel to separate the brine from the giant gallon jug in the fridge. The bar, only 12 seats plus another four or so for standing room, filled up fast that Saturday night following my initiation on the 4th. The bartenders and I had a bit of a hurried start, with football fans and random Fort Point wanderers filling the bar at 4:30 PM and not desisting until the witching hour of last call. Friday night was a beating that I had not anticipated on my first night back behind the stick. The bartenders were grateful that I'd been there as support, for it truly was an consistent stream of tickets and revelers. That numb sense of awe that you feel when the drinks and bodies keep coming, well, it wore off on Saturday as I returned to the bar with a sore back and five hours of sleep. On Saturday night I was a man behind the black ball, from start to finish. All three bartenders and I played catch-up during the shift, the bar a Maginot Line, constantly tested by our guest's persistence. The novice does not realize the atrophy one night of high-volume bartending can have on the next night. If your resources aren't reinforced and replenished, the following night will be a consistent 86 of massive proportions. It's a bar back's responsibility to make sure this does not happen, whether it's before, during or after the shift. Fire, reload, repeat.
It's the physical objects, not the guests that end up getting you down. My enemies on Saturday night were a rag-tag bunch of mechanical, man-made dungeon implements and torture devices, from shattered glassware, to the POS and the unmerciful liquor cage lock. The man-killer was a guillotine-styled device that some know as “the service bar”. There are various kinds in the bartending world. You have your average, “over counter” static service bar, where servers pick up their drinks as they are passed over the bar. Easy done, but frequently in the way of guests, either to the right or left of an elbow. Many bar designers place their service bar towards the end of the L shape on a hinge, away from the reach of guests, in such a place that limits the transit of the bartender freely from behind the bar. Our select species of service bar flips up to allow walking access to the bar. Good for the servers, but a portal straight to hell for the 6'7'' bar back.
I have not traversed a lot of sewers in my short time on this fair earth, but on Saturday night I was under that service bar at least 20 times, in and out like a Ninja Turtle. To add insult to future injury, both trash barrels sit right in front of the pass, along with the service wells and ice pit. It's a wet, filthy, three-foot high world of knees and crotches. To get under the service bar without toppling the cocktails resting above my head, I have to pull some kind of “Dwarf in The Hobbit” rabbit hole maneuver that's meant for no more than the mightiest of penguins. One false move to raise myself back to standing height and your “Carroll Gardens”, Allagash Black and prosecco split turns into a Newtonian physics experiment. When the going got tough, we had guests standing directly in front of the service bar exit, me a troll from the underworld in a wet apron asking them politely to move or else be trolled. Here's a good ergonomics experiment for those in the business – How does one get two buckets of ice under the service bar in a full crouch, past a busy bartender without tipping six drinks and tripping on the mats? Answer: you can't, but I managed to get it done in some odd mish-mash of parkour and brute force altruism. I'd like to thank my bartenders for accommodating my passage into and out of Hades throughout the night and I'm looking to Advil as my next corporate sponsor.
All jokes aside, high-volume bar operation is a ballet fit for only the mightiest of hospitality pirates. Servers cannot relate, nor can managers. At the end of the night, the very bitter tip of the cigarette break at 4:30 AM, the bartenders magically transform into placid money counting machines, dolefully recounting the night's highs and lows: “The girls at 10-13, how did you not get a number?”, “Did you catch that chick putting her cocktail in her purse?”, “Anyone know that pizza delivery we got the other night?” At the end of a 14 hour shift, there's nothing to do but reflect, call a cab, count your money and if you're lucky, crack a High Life, put your feet up for a while. Me, I walked it off around the dining room, marveling at how in just a week's time, I went from administrative paragon to whatever you want to call bar-backing (Russian factory proletariat?). There is some nobility, a vague reward that you served your guests in the most physical of manners. The journey of clean, chilled glass to cocktail, into a guest's hand and back onto the glass rack is quite the tale. It's worthy of a children's picture book at least. I wish Maurice Sendak was around to capture it, maybe we could call it The Night Kitchen, although I believe that's already been done.
Thirst is just over a week away, and one event not to miss is on Sunday, November 10th, 8:00-11:00pm at The Esplanade (Hotel Commonwealth 2nd floor). Blender Bender. The best bartenders in town with frozen drinks for the ultimate brain freeze, my kind of night.
Cost: $50.00 (includes a bitchin’ tee shirt, island-inspired snacks, frozen drinks & Red Stripe). Tickets HERE.
From the lovely Brandy Rand:“Pull out that Miami Vice outfit, Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops as 1980s-meets-Tiki attire is strongly encouraged!”
What's not to love about Italy? History, food, wine, art, architecture, and appropriately for drinks, of course, aperitivos and vermouths. To me, affection also extends to our local bearded baseball hero and Italian-American Mike Napoli. I think a drink and a toast to him is certainly in order- liqueur, vermouth from Italy and the base spirit from America.
1.5 oz Old Overholt rye
.75 oz Cinzano dry vermouth
.5 oz Amaro Montenegro
.25 oz Luxardo Maraschino
Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a coup or cocktail glass.
Garnish with and orange peel.
Spice and backbone of the rye, bittersweet orange from the Montenegro, balanced with herbs and fruit from the light dry vermouth and cherry from Luxardo- it might not make you hit a 480 foot home run, but it will taste like you have.
Go Sox in St. Louis and Cin Cin!
Right after prohibition, James Beauregard Beam rebuilt his famous distillery in Clermont, Kentucky in a few short months. In tribute, I make the following fall drink with
Jim Beam Rye (spicy but leans to the sweeter side), so the cocktail's name makes a little more sense than most things I do. The other primary ingredient (a liqueur) in the mix is as uniquely American as its Kentucky counterpart, but made in New York State, Schoharie Mapple Jack. It's a blend of Apple Brandy with maple syrup, not overly sweet still at 65 proof- perfect for the season upon us.
1.5 oz Jim Beam Rye
1 oz Mapple Jack
.5 oz apple cider syrup (cider with half part sugar)
.5 oz lemon
2 dashes Angostura bitters
I don't know if Mr. Beam ever ventured into upstate New York, but we can combine the two, at least for a sip.
I most certainly am not the first bartender to think of this gesture, but have been doing it for about a decade. In fact, it probably started when the smoking ban went into effect in 2004. A guest would leave a half full beer on the bar to go outside to grab a smoke; all the while, unfortunately their cold beverage gradually began to warm up.
My solution was to turn a Boston shaker into a champagne or wine bucket of sorts to keep it cold. Trust me, this continues today to make everyone smile upon returning to their seat- better than mixology, in good bartending, it's the little thoughtful things that matter, right?
Get ready, Thirst Boston is a month away, beginning Sunday November 10 (although I hear there is a party really kicking things off the night before). The word is used too often, but prepare for an epic celebration of bartenders, industry professionals, spirits, history and of course, all things cocktail. The founders, Maureen Hautaniemi, Brandy Rand, Andrew Dietz and TJ Connelly are a team of all-stars ready to knock this out of the park, in fact it's all happening steps away from Fenway. From tastings, seminars and blow-out parties this is not to be missed. Rumor has it I might even be bartending and helping in a seminar with some real legends: I better start studying. But all you have to do is check out the site, pick out events and get over to Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square- see you there.
The arrival of fall brings with it the nesting season at Chez Stone. We have always been a wandering tribe, a move marking the end of the summer; whether it was relocating to Seoul, Shanghai or Yarmouthport. This season, I have an actual house to call my headquarters and a host of accoutrements which complete the domestic experience in such a way that I can surely spend my nights off comfortably ensconced in the living room. The nomadic, off-site nature of dining or hospitality professionals tends to lead us to rely on our restaurant kitchens and satellite bars for sustenance. We rarely see a full fridge with fresh produce filling the crisper drawer. The bottle of Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth tends to linger on the door next to a bottle of Fever Tree tonic. Strangely enough, on my nights off, I'm usually found out on the town, paying tribute to friends behind the stick or catching a bite on the bar at my usual haunt. The dishwasher is always empty and my glassware rarely moves from its place in the china cabinet.
Yet with a new home and roommates comes the chance that old habits might fall by the wayside and give way to a more conservative way of living. A little more space goes a long way, as does the opportunity to share that space with friends and family - to entertain, imbibe in the comfort of the dining room and maybe watch some football at home for once. I was raised this way. Never throughout my teens and early twenties did I ever feel the propensity to flee the home, post up at the local tavern and stare into the backbar mirror. This was a habit developed over years of nightlife work, not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely not the base material for building any sort of affable home environment.
It took a new roommate to prove to me, through the simple act of leaving a trail of metaphorical breadcrumbs, that a cocktail at home is just as good as one on the road or in the city. You can take that any way you like, but as a writer and hospitality professional, I often define scenarios by the evidence apparent to my eyes. Just ask your local bartender or service industry friend, when they walk into a bar or restaurant, the goggles turn on. We check out the glassware, the bar top, the settings on the tables, details. It is how we begin to build the story of our evening. Call it a survival mechanism, call it compulsion after years of prepping environments to receive guests. We care about the signs and when the tea leaves read positive, there's something fine just around the corner.
So, what was this constellation of domestic breadcrumbs that lulled me into a sense of joy and optimism for the coming fall and beyond? It was a simple collection of beaker, bar spoon, strainer and glassware, a cocktail set left in the sink from the night before. The sight of it struck me in the way a good Garrison Keillor story does: with charm, a certain niche sentiment of domesticity and the reflection that I live with people who care enough to remain here on an off night, mix a drink and enjoy the splendor of our space. Call me a sentimentalist, but when you've spent the past six or seven years in various living spaces, from a 400 square foot apartment in Korea, to a barren two bedroom flat in Shanghai, a little cocktail set sitting in the sink says, “People live here and they like it. You should too.” As I said, I spend my nights out, but now I've got a perfectly good excuse on that mid-shift day to scoot home at 10:30 PM, drop a couple of cubes into a beaker and stir up a stiff drink in the quietude of my home. How novel, how old-fashioned.
Maintaining a home inventory of tools and mixing supplies is just as important as keeping a couple of nice reds and whites around for a dinner party. The days of Captain Morgan handles and liters of Coke are so far behind me that their pictures fade in my scrapbook of memories. I might even be in the place to deny they ever existed and get away with it. I know enough of spirits now, and their proper partners in mixology, to fix a drink for myself, maybe a friend or two and catch the second half of a Sox game. I have gone from being a passive bar denizen to an active bar enthusiast. Now, you may just call that a fancy excuse for copious beverage consumption, but I could prove you wrong in a kitchen debate. I have never lived my domestic life with a bottle of Angostura bitters, nor have I ever chosen to keep more than a bottle of bourbon around for more than a week. It's just medicine, after all, good for a swig after a long night's working on my feet. Wrong.
Even if it's five bottles of spirits, a couple of mixing ingredients like bitters, liqueurs or fresh juices, maintaining that home inventory is a critical part of your cocktail repertoire. For every night that you spend at J.M. Curley, Citizen or Backbar, you could be taking in the change of the seasons with a window cracked, a small pitcher of batched sazeracs on the table and a decent album on the speakers. What a novel suggestion for your friends as well: “How about we meet at my place tonight after dinner for a round or two of Corpse Revivers and a couple hands of hold 'em?” At first mention, you may sound like your grandfather, inviting friends to the VFW for cribbage, but with a little nudging, the prospect of homemade drinks and curated company might sound like a welcomed relief. I know that my “married with children” friends understand the necessity of this. I'm looking at the bachelors out there, the ones posting up night after night with a colleague, dropping $11.00 on a few outstanding, yet easily made beverages and fighting the throng of financial district commuters for space by the service bar. Gents, pitch in for some gear, buy a decent ice mold and once a week, make your cocktails at home. You might find the conversation slightly more challenging, in a good way, or the view from your apartment just that much better with a drink in your hand. Homes aren't hammocks, they are, as the good old Corbusier said, “a machine for living.”
When I met John Nugent he had never been really behind a bar before. How things have changed, now headed back to his hometown of Seattle to open a new spot and keep making the killer cocktails he's been doing here in town most recently at Citizen, Silvertone and dozens of events. I'm sure he will be king of the cocktail scene there before you can say Old Fashioned Old Fashioned, but like an older brother (or maybe father) I'm going to keep giving him a hard time reminding to always be nice first and foremost- I mean, there's only so much cocktail talk I can take.
Rumor has it as one of his last acts in town John will be the MC for
The Facial Hair Fiasco at the Middle East this Saturday October 5th, sponsored by Narragansett. So, you can still see him and his beard one more time.
My toast goodbye:
I will always have a High Life on the bar for you my friend, and miss you like the deserts miss the rain.
For a long time Downtown Crossing has always been "five years away" from being a hot destination. When I opened a bar on Bromfield Street almost 17 years ago, the Suffolk Law School building was a hole in the ground and Hotel Nine Zero was a pile of rubble from a restaurant that had closed a decade before. Just as things were improving, 9/11 dramatically impacted the economy everywhere and our area, of course, was no exception. Filene's closed. Many retail businesses did the same.
But there's light at the end of the tunnel. I've always said (to anyone who might care to listen) that restaurants and bars just might be the savior of downtown. Recently, Stoddard's and JM Curley on Temple Street have entered that void. Now, go a bit further up Tremont Street and turn left. Enter Carrie Nation at 11 Beacon, running with the baton of renewed area nightlife interest, particularly in regard to cocktails. The space is very big and beautiful too, which is a little deceptive from the exterior. But to me, that's what is great about old downtown, old facades, businesses tucked around a corner just off a main street.
Industry veteran Brian Mantz heads the bar program, and he's like a kid in a candy store. "Josh, this is a dream job, I get to do my hobby for a living!" is one of the first things he says to me when I walked in interrupting his lunch (working a double) the other day. His enthusiasm is clear by a great cocktail list and a very extensive American whiskey selection. His side job clearly helps- he is a brand ambassador for one of my favorites- Angel's Envy Bourbon. As we sat together looking over his list, I suggested he maybe make a drink or two. He pulled out classics, much like the space and overall restaurant itself.
He does an Old Fashioned Old Fashioned, Bulleit rye, sugar, bitters. If you like, he puts an orange and a cherry on the glass. His Sazerac is very old school too, not made with rye, but Cognac. Hennessy, Pechaud bitters, Demerara simple syrup, Herbsaint rinse. However there's also new: try The Million Dollar Cup, Hendrick's gin, lemon, Chambord, egg, raspberries and bubbles.
Carrie Nation is named, of course, after the temperance movement crusader, who would enter a drinking establishment with a hatchet, creating obvious havoc. No ghost of her here (although she may be rolling over in her grave); the front room is large and beautiful, with a nod to the past- red leather, turn of the century fixtures. Even more my speed, check out the dark and well appointed back room, complete with two old billiard tables- you'll fell like it's 1915 and Carrie herself might bust in at any moment. Fear not though, Brian will just fix you another cocktail.
Produced by Whisky Magazine, a British publication, Whisky Live Boston is coming up next week: on Wednesday, October 2nd at the Park Plaza Castle. Now that whiskey season is officially upon us, it's high time celebrate the spirit in all its glorious styles- over 150 examples. Tickets are at www.whiskylive.com, and because you're reading this, enter the code "Boston" at checkout for a 20% discount.
This year's event will also include the debut of the Indie Spirits Expo, featuring small spirits entrepreneurs- gin, mescal, vodka, liqueurs and more. The event is topped off with a lavish buffet dinner. 6.30PM until 10PM, tickets are $119. VIP tickets are $149. The event starts for VIP ticket holders at 5PM. Every guest receives a complimentary Glencairn crystal tasting glass.
I'm usually pretty good about being detail oriented. However, I've been meaning to post for well over a month that I was treated over the summer to a wonderful seminar run by the Hawthorn Beverage Group, led by Josh Durr and AT Howe at Citizen Public House. The importer Lyons Brown of Altamar was there too and of course, the ever-present John Nugent was pouring some terrific cocktails- maybe he and the topic had me hallucinate and forget- Kubler Absinthe.
It has a remarkable reputation, many mistaken identities, one of which I just jokingly mentioned. Kubler, founded in 1863, is the only one that can claim authentic recipe and continuous operation in the birthplace of the spirit- Val-de-Travers, Switzerland. Painstakingly made in a unique micro-climate bordering France, with herbs grand wormwood, anise, hyssop, lemon balm, star anise, fennel, mint, among others- the original formula. No sugar or artificial color added, bottled at 106 proof, it's powerful but not nearly as mind altering as mistaken historical facts would dictate. Although only relatively recently did a direct descendant of J. Fritz Kubler, Yves (fifth generation), effectively lobby to lift the ban here in the states. Misinformation, temperance movement, myths and smear campaigns virtually eliminated the product for a century, but it's back and ready again for cocktails.
First, with huge credit and thanks to Josh form Hawthorn Beverage, a little timeline history.
AD- Pliny The Elder mentions that Roman Chariot race winners are given wine steeped in wormwood as a reminder that victory is bittersweet.
Hippocrates recommends wormwood for a number of ailments.
1769- Val-de-Travers, Switzerland a consortium led by Mere Henriod comes up with possibly the original recipe for "bon extract d' absinthe."
1769- Pierre Ordinaire makes a medicinal extract of wormwood "elixir d'absinthe" at 136 proof.
1798- The first commercial absinthe distillery in Couvet.
1805- Henri Louis Pernod needs to enlarge the facility and to avoid high Swiss taxes moves his operation to Pontarlier, France.
(The French style incorporated a maceration to achieve the green color)
1840s- French foreign legion soldiers use absinthe against malaria and other maladies.
1859- Edouard Manet's first original painting is "The Absinthe Drinker."
Late 1800s- Phylloxera wreaks havoc on wine production and with scarce availability, absinthe's popularity rises.
1871- 1914- Belle Epoque (beautiful era) Manet, Degas, Picasso, Tallouse-Lautrec often include absinthe in their work.
1905- Moral panic against absinthe starts to rise, led in part by Jean Lanfray murdering his family in Switzerland after a drunken rage. Ironically police revealed he drank brandy, wine, and other hard liquors yet only two ounces of absinthe- which took the blame.
By 1915- Bad science and prohibitionists led the way for banning absinthe in much of Europe and the US. Thujone has been blamed for the psychedelic effects of absinthe, but wormwood contains such small quantities that this is unlikely. In fact, while dangerous in very large quantities, chemists have determined it's not a psychedelic at all.
2001- Swiss ban is lifted and Yves Kubler revives the brand.
2007- US finally lifts the ban, it is approved safe and the label is accepted with the only stipulation that the word absinthe cannot be larger than the brand name. "Absinthe is in my blood and genes. No compromises are made regarding the quality and integrity of Kubler an authentic Swiss absinthe" -Yves Kubler.
Traditionally one would consume absinthe 3 to 5 parts water to one part absinthe, place a perferated spoon with a sugar cube on a glass and drip water over it. The water transforms the absinthe from clear to opaque in a process called "The Louche." Even if you don't think you love the licorice aspect of the spirit, try a few dashes in your next rum cocktail (you'll find it in a ton of great tiki drinks- think Don the Beachcomber). Harry Craddock got it from Spain in the 1930s, and it appears in many of his original Savoy recipes.
During the tasting, I particularly enjoyed a Strawberry Frappe, with Kubler, Luxardo Maraschino, diced strawberries, Angostura bitters, simple syrup and mint. Not overly sweet as you might imagine, the herbs in the absinthe perfectly balanced the tart-sweet strawberry and simple. Luxardo with the Kubler gives a wonderful viscous texture, and bitters always help bring the whole thing together. Delicious.
John Nugent poured The Improved Boulevardier, which was indeed! Bulleit Bourbon, Campari, Cocchi Torino vermouth, Kubler, Luxardo Maraschino, Angostura. Noticing a trend here? Use a dasher or olive oil pourer, include 1-2-3 proportions of Kubler Absinthe, Angostura bitters, Luxardo Marashchino. I'm telling you- use some in your favorite cocktails, you'll be a believer.
Oh, by the way, in regard to this post, at least my tardiness wasn't like the sad absence of absinthe for a hundred years. Now we can all taste a piece of history.
Tyler Wang could easily be called a top mixologist (a definition I'm not particularly fond of by the way), but prefers, as his new title indicates, lead bartender at the very recently opened Kirkland Tap and Trotter in Somerville. His theater major background comes into play as he is on stage nightly, his skills honed by advice and mentoring from Jackson Cannon and two years at Drink under the tutelage of legends John Gertsen, Misty Kalkofen and Scott Marshall. From there he was onto No 9 Park, continuing an extremely impressive resume. At Kirkland (which opened Monday) he sees the future of bars- a simple, local joint with Tony Maws incredible food at the forefront. We sat down over coffee at Block 11 in Union square last week.
How did you get started in the business?
I worked at Haru by Prudential, and began to fall in love with the business, and wanted to continue on but didn't really know much about classic cocktails, at all. I turned 21 and someone told me to go to ES and Hugh served my first ever- a Sidecar. Jackson then made me an egg flip and was surprised I actually enjoyed it. It was all downhill from there (wry smile). I'd continue to go in an ask questions, reading endlessly through their books while a drink in hand. I was lucky to stage with them, but Jackson also thoughtfully sent me to check out Drink- I interviewed, and became part of the family there- (big credit to him) and dove in with John and crew. Eventually I made the step to No 9, and was so happy to continue my education.
How did you end up leaving Barbara Lynch's Grupo?
They are the best.
But I was looking for other experiences in the business, Patrick (Sullivan) and Misty (Kalkofen) together with Tony coming to me was heart warming and humbling to say the least, the best possible team I could imagine.
General philosphy at Kirkland?
Hospitality. I want to work in a place I want to go on my day off and I'm really excited to continue that first and foremost. Cocktailwise, Tony has stressed simplicity. 6 cocktails, changing seasonally and being able to execute efficiently. We want to take care of the guest. There will not be 6 minute plus cocktails. Prep heavy, we hope to get creative drinks to people in a timely fashion as fresh and beautifly as you can get. I want to do what makes people happy. We're about pacing ourselves to work faster.
So not an extensive cocktail list?
With the current climate of bars in this city, we don't need to be a temple of cocktails. we need to care and take care of guests- If they want a Vieux Carre we certainly can make it. Thats it. What more do we need to aspire to?
Eventually you realize a simple 3 ingredient drink can be very satisfying. Be many things to a customer. Complex drinks, yes. But really come in and have a beer too. Pop a great bottle of wine. Balance: a place you can geek out one day, quick house shot another.
Yes, absolutely. Although I'm looking forward as dinner winds down and music goes up, we are a bar too. The space is beautiful, a bit of a English pub, racing green, not dainty in any way. Heavy wood.
While Tony's reputation will bring customers from everywhere, as a neighborhood bar, I also want to pay particular attention to and be part of the community- which I'm part of- I live only 4 1/2 minutes away.
A cocktail you're doing you can tell me about?
The Cityline (we're on the border of Somerville and Cambridge) pineapple celery soda will showcase what we're doing.
Pineapple syrup, celery seed, citric acid, co2, Mezcal, that's it… I'm really excited.
For the record so am I, and now you can go in and try one too.
I've talked about the classic Blood and Sand cocktail before, but to recap, it was made for the celebration of the screening of the Rudolph Valentino movie of the same name in 1922. Equal parts Scotch, Sweet Vermouth, Cherry Herring and orange juice- a seemingly preposterous combination that ends up working perfectly, balanced sweet and sour, with smoke and heat from the whisky.
Legendary social media maven, Rebecca Jane Millette has brought it forward- I have been substituting Mezcal (Tequila's counterpart from Oaxaca with smokey character from the smoked pina of the agave plant) for the Scotch and it's quite delicious. So good, in fact, that the menu at Silvertone proudly boasts "Becca's Blood and Sand." This is where the trouble starts: the awesome Nick Korn had also been whipping up a Mezcal version across town at Citizen, and he always has a secret ingredient (or two) up his sleeve. He's also a better bartender than me, damn it. So when challenged, I had to take the bait, although I was nervous to get in the ring with him- I wonder if it's how an aging Ali felt facing a young Leon Spinks. Hell, most of my career I've been popping open High Life and pouring shots of Fernet, but sometimes a seasoned, cagey veteran has a few moves left, a little magic with a bar spoon. Offsite events presents: Blood, Sweat and Sand…ladies and gentlemen, let's get ready to rumble.
We were kindly given the tools to work with: La Puritita Joven Mescal from Piedre Almas, Carpano Antica and Punt e Mes sweet vermouths courtesy of Fernet Branca. Our big differences were proportions and the cherry brandy, or in this case, substitutions we used. I picked Maurin, a French Quinquina (aperitif) that has loads of cherry, and Nick being a superstar made his own Croatian wine (vinified from cherries) reduction- I was in trouble. The crowd was there, scorecards held by four judges with categories like "moxie" and "pluck"- Blood and Sands began to flow.
.75 oz La Puritita
.75 oz Maurin
.75 oz Carpano Antica
.75 oz orange juice
Luxardo cherry garnish
1.5 oz La Puritita
.5 oz homemade cherry reduction
.5 oz Punt e Mes
.5 oz orange juice
flamed orange peel garninsh
With the Rocky theme song "Gonna Fly Now" in my ears, I relied on the classic equal proportions, which makes the drink a bit sweeter than Nick's (he's more "Eye of the Tiger"); of course it all really comes down to personal preference. Both were delicious, one could tell by the amount of people trying each a second time. As a friend pointed out, how often do you see people two-fisting Blood and Sands? Apparently when there's a fight. With the scorecards tallied, MC John Nugent declared me a winner by a mere point. One point.
I guess and old guy can still pull it out every once in a while.
Justin Stone is currently a manager at the DiBicarri brother's Tavern Road in Fort Point, Boston. He has worked in the hospitality industry as a doorman, busboy, maître d', server and bartender. In the fall, he will be part of the front of the house team at
Alden and Harlow, Harvard Square, Cambridge.
“Drinking through the Apocalypse” by Justin Stone
The lockdown imposed upon greater Boston and its environs during the post-marathon manhunt spawned a host of unusual scenarios across the city, many tragic and frightening, some, downright awkward. Esquire's Dan McCarthy detailed his own personal lockdown with a one-night stand in hilarious fashion following his release into the wild after the “shelter in place” order was lifted. For many of the city's thirsty citizens, the travel restrictions introduced us to an unusual situation – What do you drink during a siege?
This may surprise some of my bartender friends, but I don't keep a liquor cabinet at home. I never have. A half-case of wine, a six of High Life is the most I have ever stored in the fridge or pantry. A bottle of wine has always been just enough and not too much. Keeping liquor bottles around seems like overkill, for I get my suitable fix from my talented friends around the city and prefer to keep it that way. I cannot imagine what glorious damage I could do with a proper mixing arsenal, five bottles of spirits and some really nice ice in the freezer. It could be that my college years, vodka in the freezer, handle of Jack gathering dust above the cupboards, turned me away from the practice of maintaining an inventory at home. It seemed trite and superfluous. I like my drinks to be taken in bars, amongst the throng. Also possible is the fact that I am insatiable, spontaneous and prone to flights of late night boozy fancy.
I arrived home late on the night of the chaos in Cambridge and Watertown. My brother, an officer in the city, called me around 11:30 and told me to get home and stay home. I woke the next morning to my roommates gathered around the television, one of them said, “Well, I guess you're not going to work today.” The feeling of confinement sunk in over the next hour, coupled with tension of the night's events. I didn't know exactly what had happened to my brother and his friends on duty. Restless, hungry and in need of a stiff afternoon drink, I began to take inventory of what I had on hand to survive the unfolding anxiety and ultimate drudgery of television reporting. In the pantry, ramen noodles, beef liver pate, shallots, gochu-jang, bitter greens and a single, lonely bottle of Bully Boy White Rum.
Needless to say, I had been a poor steward of my pantry. The Bully Boy came to me as a present from my friend Brendan Draper of Island Creek Oyster Bar after I helped him move into his apartment. Fact: If you help a bartender carry his home liquor inventory up three flights of stairs, a bottle is fine compensation. Bully Boy White Rum was a member of our bar inventory last year at Pain D'Avignon in Hyannis along with their lovely American Straight Whiskey. It throws wonderful hints of vanilla when served over ice, but should really be used as a base. I had no choice but to take it, as Thelonious Monk would say, straight, no chaser. We hadn't a mixer suitable for the rum in the apartment, so I took to managing a long day in and out of the Internet and television with the rum served on the rocks, nipping while I clicked my way through news stories. It was a welcomed lubricant for the day's bizarre unfolding, but I sure as hell wished I had a better supply of spirits on hand.
Once I am through this summer's move, I will make it a point to stock up on some essential bottles. I am not going to get carried away. Five solid options are all I need. I am a classicist when it comes to spirits. Brands will be important, as there are an ever-expanding list of options out there for the home mixologist. Gone are the days when I'd rummage through the cabinets for an aged bottle of warm Martini and Rossi sweet vermouth. Let's talk curating a personal cocktail party at the end of the world.
Note: The only guidelines are as follows: Ice is available, one bonus item [Bitters, Lime Juice, Simple Syrup] is allowed, the presence of tins and tools is assumed.
Stephen Shellenberger, Pomodoro: His private collection.
Palmer Matthews, Drink: Linie Aquavit, Old Overholt, Beefeater, Campari, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Angostura Bitters [bonus]
John O'Toole, Universal Exports, Hong Kong: Buffalo Trace, Junipero, Goslings Old Rum, Hibiki 12, Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia
Brendan Draper, ICOB: Macallan 18, Bully Boy Boston Rum, Whistlepig 10, Chartreuse 111, Delamain Vesper
Ryan Noreiks, formerly of Yucca & The Alchemist, Shanghai: Highland Park 30, Murray McDavid Jamaican Rum, Chinaco Blanco, Henri Bardouin Pastis, Lillet Blanc
Ran Duan, Sichuan Garden II: Chairman's Spiced Rum, Del Maguey Espaden Mescal, Weller 12, Ransom Old Tom Gin, Campari
Ryan McGrale, Tavern Road: Rum Pompero Anniversario, Pappy Van Winkle 13 Rye, Campari, Cinzano Sweet Vermouth, Lemonhart 151
John Henderson, Tavern Road: Amaro Averna, Beefeater, Old Monk Gold Reserve, Lillet Rose, Don Julio Reposado
Junior Ryan, Clyde Common, Portland, Oregon: Chamucos Blanco, Rhum JM 12, William Larue Weller Bourbon, Lillet Blanc, Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength, lime juice [bonus]
Sam Gabrielli, Russell House Tavern: Smith and Cross, Fernet Branca, Black Maple Hill, Bombay Sapphire, Midleton Irish Whiskey
Ms. Emma Hollander, Trina's Starlite Lounge: Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 23, Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia, Pimms #1, Old Monk XXX, Canada Dry Ginger Ale [bonus]
It's that time of year, who doesn't like the storied Red Sox Yankees rivalry? Or, more my speed on the horizon, Patriots and Jets. I got thinking about a cocktail version of this epic battle, which is almost too obvious, and yet fantastic. New York vs. Boston: The Bronx vs. The Ward 8 (I know the Manhattan would take all comers, but bear with me).
The Bronx has been attributed to Joseph Sormani who discovered it in Philadelphia (1905), and brought it back to his Bronx restaurants. His NY Times obituary even credited him with originating the drink. A more popular version has Johnnie Solon working his mixing prowess at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel pre-Prohibition (1899-1906) after being challenged by a customer to come up with a new drink. Soon, the hotel was going through at least a case of oranges a day, and Johnnie named the drink after the zoo. The Ward 8, similarly has multiple historical references, but most attribute the creation to bartender Tom Hussion at the venerable Locke-Ober cafe on Winter Street downtown (1898). Mr. Hussion celebrated the election victory by Martin Lomasney in the Boston's Eight Ward. I love that until it sadly closed recently you could actually still order and enjoy the drink there.
Enough history, let's get to the battle, first the recipes.
1.5 oz Gin
.5 oz Sweet Vermouth
.5 oz Dry Vermouth
.5 oz orange juice
2 oz Rye
.5 oz lemon juice
.5 oz orange juice
Both drinks are pretty simple variations on other classics, the Bronx a Perfect Martini with the addition of orange juice, the Ward 8 more or less a Whiskey Sour with grenadine. The Bronx is more complex with orange juice giving a silky character to the drink- the Ward 8 very tasty but more of an easy quaffing beverage.
Although I so want to pick my hometown, New York wins this one, let's just hope it's their only victory.
Adventure Day by Patrick Gaggiano
There comes a time in every person's work week, month, busy schedule, that they may feel a need to break the mold. An itch to do something exciting, preferably in a place that is somewhat new and unknown. Maybe a chance to channel one's inner Hemmingway or get in touch with their lost Hunter S. spirit. A rare occasion with a day or two off? A little extra cash found? Time for what I like to call: Adventure Day. It can be done in your current town, a short drive away, or a plane ride across the country, but must consist of three things: little planning, visit places/things you are not yet familiar with and once there, going only off of tips from bartenders, regulars, locals. In a sense, it's the old way- ditching your phone and walking until you see something that peaks your interest, actually talking with people and realizing it's okay to get lost.
The things you can stumble upon on Adventure Days can be quite interesting, whether in your back yard, or a trip to visit some relocated roommates in Puerto Rico. On a Sunday afternoon I booked a flight out of Boston to San Juan: 1) it was surprisingly cheap, 2) I've never been and had a place to crash (I hoped) and 3) it was the dead of winter here. 3:30pm, after finishing up a work shift, I grabbed a beer and a shot, called a cab, and arrived at the airport for my 6am flight.
In Puerto Rico around 10 something, I called my buddies to let them know I was at the airport- and to my good luck- they still were agreeable to have me crash on their couch for the next 48 hours. I had zero Spanish speaking knowledge, my MA ID, credit card, cell phone and whatever cash was in my back pocket. I also had a button down, hat, jeans, and flip flops (my only real planning detail). While fielding a phone call from my parents asking how Boston was (I said we were having quite the heat wave), I headed down the street with a borrowed pair of shorts and introduction to Barrilito Rum. Walking past the beautifully colored houses, we stumbled into our first bar- El Batey. In every way, the place confirmed that, in fact, I was indeed no longer in Boston. The bar was a hole in the wall covered with graffiti from Sharpies, an old man at the bar and a surly looking gent behind it who did not seem in much of a talking mood- all the more perfect in our book. In Old San Juan, no one does straight shots, so after skating by in broken Spanish, we ended up with the town favorite- a Chichaito (anis and white rum), layered, no chill, no shake, in what seemed like a water glass. From there we walked down around the hill and found a sign at Barrachina Restaurant, informing us that, in 1963, the Pina Colada was invented there- interest peaked. Walking past the cages of vibrant parrots everywhere you reach a courtyard bar where bartenders in white tuxedos make your Pina Colada. And you know what? It was actually the best I've ever had- Adventure Day.
From there we wandered down to the water for what might have been the most magnificent sunset I've ever seen. Got a little geography lesson on where Bacardi and such was located, and decided to hit the beach. In the tourist parts of San Juan, you can stumble upon any of the private resort beaches because they assume you are a guest- and after a quick story about how "I left my room key upstairs and didn't want to wake my wife, but had some cash" with the bartender, we had an open line of credit on the plethora of fruit, frozen, and tiki drinks at the resort bar. Adventure Day.
After a defeated fight with the waves, and a quick beach walk- we stumbled upon an amazing looking building right on the water, which turned out to be La Concha casino. Perfect- betting after a long stint on the beach posing as Mr. Doe in a casino where I don't speak the language. I quickly found that when at Puerto Rican casinos, you get free drinks- Medalla Light became my best friend- and in 10oz cans makes it the perfect beer of choice for moving around a lot. In addition, I also got the offer to enjoy many complimentary ham and cheese panninis- dinner was served. Then shots with the bartender friend we made, a big hit on craps (still not sure how that happened) and a dare on who would get a tattoo first- well, let me stop there in case my Mom is reading this.
Adventure Day, traveling to an unknown place, with the only intention of making everyone your friend and become a local for a day. Step out of your element and immerse yourself in the life that is going on around you. To quote Neale Donald Walsch "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." So next time you find yourself with a few days to kill, step out of the box.
What could be better than enjoying the end of summer and Labor Day in beautiful Provincetown? I know- being there and having a cocktail made by David Flower at
Ten Tables. They have a full bar at this location, and David works directly with chef
Eric Cooper to design a bar program that works hand in hand with the dinner menu. David says "I sit down with Eric every week and review produce that he will be using in his dishes to see if there are any selections that might work well in cocktails. We often share ingredients that way, it's such a pleasure to work in synch with the kitchen." With this in mind I'm drinking his Beet Martini- unexpectedly delicious with ginger, citrus and mint. David does recognize that "people have a love or loath relationship with beets. The ones that don't like them always say the same thing- 'they taste like dirt.' I think they taste sweet and savory." A lot of people seem to agree (me too), it's one of the most popular drinks on the list.
Beet Martini by David Flower
2 oz Beet Infused Vodka (I use Ketel)
.5 oz Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
.5 oz Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
.75 oz of Domaine Canton Ginger Liquor (you can also make your own ginger infused simple syrup)
dash of Fees Brothers grapefruit bitters to balance the sweet and sour (optional)
fresh Mint Sprig
Shake all liquid ingredients in a shaker over ice. Slap the mint sprig and place in a chilled martini glass. Pour shaker into glass and serve.
Justin Stone is currently a manager at the DiBicarri brother's Tavern Road in Fort Point, Boston. He has worked in the hospitality industry as a doorman, busboy, maître d', server and bartender. In the fall, he will be part of the front of the house team at
Alden and Harlow, Harvard Square, Cambridge.
“The Lexicon” by Justin Stone
I would like to take this opportunity to first congratulate the people behind Drink on Congress Street in Fort Point for their accolades at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. They are neighbors of Tavern Road, where I make my nights, and have shown us both outstanding neighborly charm and great hospitality when we stop by for a beverage after work. Good neighbors in the restaurant industry are hard to find. In fact, John Gertsen's parting words to me after I met him were “Let us know if there's anything we can do for you.” Not an ounce of insincerity there. All hospitality aside, those words ring through to a deeper sense of meaning for those in the beverage service industry. The Drink model, from what I've learned through a handful of visits, puts the responsibility of composition in the hands of craftspeople who excel in their knowledge of ingredients, methods and assembly. We all know that there's no list at Drink. Some of us in the industry know why they're not offering something so traditional as a list. At Drink, the people behind the bar are required to be walking lexicons of cocktail knowledge. Yes, their tendencies lean towards the classics, which are my wheelhouse, but I'm always impressed by their ability to tweak a drink here and there and put something novel in front of me. I am a curious consumer, one who appreciates the odd or unexpected learning experience while out for a night. There's a cocktail for every day of the year and beyond. I question the necessity of the lexicon: Why is variety necessary, who cares, and when was the last time you ordered a “Sex on the Beach”?
Variety happens in nature. It's an inescapable facet of human behavior. In the search for individuality, most humans conjure something they believe is unique, they name it “The Mojito”, serve it to some expat transients in Cuba and a hundred years later, some 21 year-old bartender in South Korea is making his mojito with soju, kaffir lime leaves, hyssop mint, pine soda and Demerara syrup and calling it “The Kojito”. Is a soju mojito delicious, I'm not one to know, but in mixology, bartenders love to put a ring on it. Now, whether or not it's useful for a class A bartender to know the entire PDT lexicon or the catalog of drinks in The Gentleman's Companion is a debate left for closing time. I will venture to say that cocktail variety can go two ways, in the hands of the customer or the hands of the craftsman. It's a situation based on inventory, context, audience and sometimes even whimsy.
A few years back, before my journey to China, I held a brief position with the lovely folks at La Morra, a fantastic Italian restaurant in Brookline run by the Ziskin family. They were kind enough to give me Sundays behind the bar. I had to spend the greater part of my early days learning their drink list, their take on the Negroni and Manhattan. It was great to be back mixing again under the tutelage of Bernie Keavenany. Shortly after my first week behind the bar, my aunt sent me The Bartender's Black Book by Stephen Kitteridge, a friendly gesture as it'd been some time since I tackled the tickets. The book is rather ubiquitous at many of the bars I've worked at over the years. It is not a tome based on brevity or curating, but mostly based on gathering the who's-who of cocktails into an easy reference guide. It's a rookie's best friend, a bible where one is just as likely to find five drinks that include blue curaçao sitting right beside classics like the Sidecar or the Ward Eight. Flipping through the book is like thumbing through the old Yellow Pages tossed at your grandmother's doorstep. As a reference guide, it does the job, but as a statement of craftsmanship, there are other classic volumes that most bartenders would recommend.
I have never delved into the importance of lexicographical cocktail knowledge with my bartender colleagues. Most American customers do one of three things, I've observed. They either go “vodka soda”, they shoot off the cocktail list - “Tartini Sling” at Tavern Road, or they have some kind of classic in mind that they prefer made with a certain spirit, “Bulleit Rye Manhattan”. The need for bartenders to possess more than 20 or 30 drinks under their belt is rarely necessary for the general watering hole, but there is a trend lately, because of the abundance of information on cocktails, for the customer to let the bartender “make them something delicious.” The ladies and gents at Drink thrive on this model and are trained to work with it from the ground up. Yet I wonder, sometimes, what I'm missing. How many variations on the rye Manhattan can I find? I can tell you that I have been searching. I can also tell you that because of the nature of all this “research”, I have to start writing down recipes when I encounter a doozy.
Are we, as consumers, stuck at the extremes? What kind of customer has the sand to step into a place like Death + Company in NYC and tell the bartenders there what to do? As much as I like visiting some of my favorite mixologists in the city and let them take the reins, I too would like to possess some kind of control, beyond the cocktail list, over what I'm having and how I would like to have it. It's a tough line. Bars that have lists tend to get customers ordering off the list – not a bad thing, according to Mr. Childs. Lists, as I stated in a previous column, are a bar's mission statement of sorts. However, out there somewhere is my perfect whiskey drink and I don't want to get my wheels stuck in the mud drinking either something that I know, like the Toronto [a drink not every bartender knows, I've noticed] or something close to a Manhattan-style drink off a list. You won't find me carrying around a Moleskine with recipes nor will you see me take out my phone and look up the ratios for the Revolver (2 oz Bulleit Bourbon, 1/2 oz Stirrings Espresso Liqueur, 3 dashes Fee Brother's West Indian Orange Bitter). That's a kind of pretension I'm not prepared to offer to some professional that has a two-deep bar of customers and tickets popping like Jiffy.
Frankly, I would like to have it be a more complicated affair. However, most nights, I am just as content with a Vesper or a solid Sazerac, two drinks that are just right for my discerning palate which veer on the classic side. Palmer Matthews at Drink would be happy to mix up either of these beverages on any given day. However, I can't say that some of my land lubber friends could just rattle off a drink like the Carroll Gardens and expect any bartender from Boston to Philadelphia to know the deal. We, the general consumer, must rely on this thin line between the lexicon and the whim of the bartender. Some people just don't give a damn, and that's fine with gents like me or any of the bartenders at Tavern Road. The goal is to make you happy, right? I have spent enough years in this business to know that most customers have a short road to their contentment. Much like Mr. Childs, I am happy with a High Life and a whiskey back on any given night. At my beloved Quarterdeck in Hyannis, there's really no other way you should go. Jimmy or Buster would most certainly whip you up a fine cocktail if you requested it, but their specialty is cold, quick beer. I would never pop into the QD and ask for anything beyond a shot of Woodford Reserve, with a couple cubes of ice to loosen the flavors. When I am in the presence of skill and greatness, I let the bartenders have their way, or, on occasion, will riff off of my first round. My point is, don't carry around recipes, be flexible and always trust your bartender.
Even though Drink pioneered the model of “bartender's trust” by hiring staff with a propensity for learning and development, the trend exists throughout most major American cities. You need to do your homework if you want to explore the edges or even the true classics of the cocktail world. It's also necessary to engage the bartender, to ask questions. The bartenders at Tavern Road, Drink, Eastern Standard or West Bridge are happy to ask you about your preference of spirits and flavors. Yet it is far more entertaining for you as a customer if you come prepared. If you're into the cocktail scene these days, if you're a customer reading this column and love what recipes Josh has shared, learn a couple, find what you like. Expanding your personal lexicon of spirits and concoctions is just as easy as ordering a non-fat, half-caf, soy latté with extra foam. Maybe one day, you'll find yourself in Ward 8, drinking a Ward 8 and it will make all the difference.
Ever wonder who creates National "drink, food, specialty, etc." Days? I sure do. It seems like there is a day for everything, but to their credit those folks behind the scenes have certainly won the game- I'm in, promoting and encouraging yet another. August 25th, National Whiskey Sour Day: yes, you heard me right. If a classic whiskey drink like a Manhattan is Paul Newman, a Whiskey Sour is more Paulie Shore. Wait, that's not really fair, a sour is a delicious drink, what the hell do I know- I've been pushing the Amaretto Sour for years.
Let's make it right though, here's my advice: 2 oz Rittenhouse Rye, .75 oz lemon juice, .5 oz simple syrup. Shake all ingredients with ice and strain over fresh ice in a double rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon (or orange) and a maraschino cherry.
Hits the spot at the end of a hot August day, like a grown-up boozy lemonade even
Cool Hand Luke would enjoy.