Next Tuesday, November 6th, get ready. You're invited to the Boston Fernet Branca Barback Games- judged by among others, me (I know, but it will be a good time nonetheless).
Local barbacks will compete against each other in a variety of challenges testing their speed and skill; the winner will walk away that night as the best barback in Boston. They will be flown to San Francisco to compete against other regional winners from New York, San Diego and San Francisco for the title of best barback in the country.
Adding to all the Fernet fun, house DJs 7L and Brek will be providing tunes and local legends Brother Cleve & TJ the DJ will be there. Best of all? Tickets for this event are FREE WITH RSVP: fernetboston.eventbrite.com
279 Tremont Street, Boston
During a big storm, people feel compelled flock to the store for milk, eggs and other deemed essentials.
That being said, with the treat of Halloween and trick of Hurricane Sandy upon us- I say we take advantage and stock up on candy, whiskey and old horror movies. At the very least, I'm going to watch Nouvelle Vague's music video covering the classic Bauhaus song 'Bela Lugosi's Dead.' Paired with a glass of Black Maple Hill Rye and a KitKat- definitely my Happy Halloween.
I walked into the fantastic and welcoming bar/restaurant Toro on a recent afternoon, greeted immediately by assistant general manager Katy Chirichiello (yeah, I had to ask her how to spell it). Friendly faces were everywhere, Jason Cheek behind the line, Garrett Salomon behind one end of the bar, and on the other, the man I initially came to see, Andy McNees. His bartending pedigree is prodigious- B-Side Lounge, Bukowski's, Eastern Standard, Green Street; so it is no wonder I've enlisted his help in learning more about shrubs. Not gardening mind you, the kind used in drinks; and, the best part? I got to sample a couple of delicious cocktails- hard work, I know.
Andy kindly sent over the following details and how-to; take it away Mr. McNees:
Shrubs: A brief history and recipe.
Shrubs are a tart, acidic, sweet syrup made from fruit, vinegar and sugar. They can be consumed on their own, or mixed with tonic, water or soda but, more often than not, most shrubs today are found as an ingredient in cocktails. The term shrub is derived from the Arabic word, sharab, to drink. In colonial times vinegar was consumed for it's medicinal properties and was also used as a preservative for fruits and vegetables. With the of addition of sugars a refreshing elixir could be made, and as with most things quaffable, alcohol soon entered the equation. Rum and Brandy, the most prevalent spirits of the day, were often mixed with shrubs in punches and other libations.
The advent of home refrigeration put an end to shrubs as a popular preservative but the rise of 'mixology' in the last decade has seen a revival as an ingredient in cocktail lists throughout the country.
1. Choose your fruit or vegetable. Sweeter choices usually require less additional sugar later in the process. Different choices will also yield more or less shrub. I was able to get 4 quarts of shrub from 15 lbs. of blueberries and 3 quarts from 5 lbs. of pears. De-stem, de-seed and get rid of any pits or stones, discard any fruits with visable rot and make sure your choice is ripe.
2. Chop your fruits or veggies up if they are larger, quartering should suffice. Berries are fine as is.
3. Put your choice in a non-reactive bowl or container. Make sure it has a deep enough volume for the vinegar you will soon be adding. Muddle the fruit or veggies until they are broken down (it is okay if there are still some chunks left). Some fruits muddle easier than others so the time can vary. The natural sugars will begin to ferment but since this recipe calls for a weeks time, any alcohol produced will be minimal.
4. Cover with vinegar. I have used different vinegars with different fruits. Apple cider vinegar goes well with pears and champagne vinegar mixes nicely with apricots but the choice is up to you. Plain white vinegar is a good standby. As you add the vinegar make sure to mix it in so it gets all the way to the bottom of the container.
5. After the vinegar has been added cover and seal the container. Saran wrap and tape work well. This will allow you to see how funky your shrub will look over the next week. Stir or shake your shrub for at least 30 seconds every day. Stirring is preferred but I once made a habenero shrub that was too scary to repeatedly open and stir- so a hearty shake can also suffice.
6. After seven days pour the contents of your container into a large pot and add sugar. For a 5 lb. batch of fruit I usually add 2 cups of sugar. Boil on a low temp. for an hour, stirring occasionally. The shrub is now ready to be strained off. Make sure to muddle any larger chunks of fruit that have not been broken down, there is good shrub in there! Taste before your shrub cools down. If you think it is not sweet enough just stir some more sugar in.
7. Let your shrub cool down before you refrigerate. It should stay fresh for a couple of months.
So, I am going to try raspberry, what are you going to use? Next time at Toro let Andy know your results- here are two terrific examples of what his can do:
La Silva 1 oz Fig Shrub, 1.5 oz Rittenhouse Rye, 1 oz Maple Liqueur, .25 oz lemon juice
Bartlett 2 0z Laird's Applejack, 1 oz Pear Shrub, .5 oz pear syrup, .5 oz lemon juice
Maybe I'm not meant to like this stuff so much- but I'll bear my soul- Lazzaroni Amaretto is simply delicious. Made in Saronno, Italy since 1851, and unlike its counterparts, uniquely infuses the world famous Amaretti di Saronno Lazzaroni cookies with a base spirit (brandy).
Viscous and mildly sweet, it is not cloying, and has a wonderful almond cookie, biscotti flavor- no wonder they are celebrating 150 years. Further, a 750ml bottle should run you under $25. Our sweet loving culture has forced drier palates to often carelessly shy away and overlook dessert wines and after dinner liqueurs- we're all so used very sweet sodas. But, I'm telling you, pour an ounce and a half of this for your guests after dinner and watch the smiles.
I prefer it by itself, but let's get old school for a minute. I've recently been making these again (after a hiatus of a decade or more) for customers- yes, you Stephanie- with much success.
Troy Clarke and Elizabeth Powell are helping redefine the hotel bar at Artbar in Cambridge; to call your seasonal drink menu "Artbar Fall Canvas" is ambitious, to succeed is dramatic. For the cocktail adventurous, tucked in the northern side of the Royal Sonesta Hotel, this place is, I'm telling you, worth a trip.
What I think I like most though, is the fact that you can find a cocktail geek sitting next to a business traveler (or guy like me) drinking a Corona. Now, that's New England hospitality.
Try these from the Paint Box:
How great is this story:
"In the summer of 1981, Ansley Coale picked up a hitch-hiker along Highway 101, north of San Francisco. Hubert Germain-Robin came from the Jules Robin family, cognac producers since 1782. Hubert told a sad tale: ancient hand-methods of distillation were disappearing as huge firms applied "improved" high-volume methods. Hubert wanted to go back to craft-method distillation, techniques handed down for centuries from master to apprentice."
Mr. Germain-Robin and Mr. Coale were thankfully forward thinkers by bringing Cognac brandy making practices and techniques to Mendocino; a great idea long before craft distilling was in vogue. An antique Cognac pot still? Check. Cellared in Limousin oak? Check. Neutral acidic grapes like Ugni Blanc for distillation? Well... not so fast. The major difference between Germain-Robin brandies and the brandies of Cognac is they use premium varietal grapes like Pinot Noir and Semillon. The result is a rounder, smoother spirit. Dare I say it? Their brandy is a lot more elegant than many Cognacs, particularly mass marketed Cognac's younger versions.
Tony Morello and Molly Stapleton of Winebow were kind enough to bring in three separate bottles the other day for me to try. I know, I know, these are the perks of the restaurant business; though I have to remind myself of this when cleaning a bathroom on a busy weekend night.
First up was the Lot-numbered Craft-method Brandy. Comparable to a VSOP (very special old pale) Cognac its age is 6 to 8 years, made with Colombard, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Zinfandel. Rich fruit of apple, pear jump out of the glass.
Next was the Coast Road Reserve, with considerably more age- 8 to 22 years. Distiller Joe Corley calls this blend "dark and brooding." I think richer, spicier, more complex. One might use the Craft-method for mixing in cocktails and the Coast Road for a sip after dinner.
While Germain-Robin makes some single barrel brandies from select years I haven't tried, I did get to taste the Select Barrel XO (extra old- those letters are not as scary as they seem). Average age 15 years, mostly pinot noir grapes, and blended from many separate casks of individual "congruent" brandies. The pinot noir gives a wonderful complex yet soft finish. Which, I might add goes on and on, with vanilla spice and soft red fruit flavors.
Using Germain-Robin in cocktails is a no brainer, obviously with drinks like a Sidecar. But also try as a Bourbon or Rye substitute in a Manhattan. I have made a tasty (at least I think so) Cognac after dinner cocktail for years, I hope it does Germain-Robin justice. The famous nineteenth century bartender Jerry Thomas made a delicious drink called Japanese cocktail, celebrating a Japanese delegation and their mid-1800's visit to New York. His drink was Congnac, Orgeat (almond syrup) and bitters.
Here's my take:
1.5 oz Germain-Robin Craft-Method Brandy
.5 oz Cointreau (or other orange liqueur)
.25 oz Orgeat (use .5 oz if you like it a little sweeter)
4 generous dashes of Angostura Bitters
Shake- I know this is an exception to the rule of stirring as it does not have any fruit juice, but I think it works. Pros might double strain (pour through a sieve) to remove all ice flakes, although I kind of like them as is in this drink.
Use a lemon peel zest over drink, the acid and brandy are a nice foil to the sweetness of the orange and almond.
During the Boston Cocktail Summit last Friday (hard to believe a week has gone by), Bacardi held its Legacy Cocktail Competition. The winners were Bill Codman from Storyville and Sam Treadway from Backbar. They will travel to Miami in February and compete against other regional winners (New York, Chicago and Miami) to determine who will represent the US at the Global Finals in Puerto Rico.
These two pros came up with terrific drinks from opposite directions. Bill seems to herald the idea (a good one I might add) of keep pretending it's summer (or at least I imagine sipping it somewhere in the sunshine). Sam celebrates the fall; drink while watching the turning colors of New England.
2 parts Bacardi Superior
Half part Meletti Amaro
Half part Demerara syrup
1 whole egg
Pinch of Amercian Oak wood chips
Sprtiz of clove-infused Bacardi Oak Heart
1 part Bacardi Superior
1 part Bacardi Gold
1 part Pineapple Juice
Half part Chartreuse Yellow
Half part Demerara Simple
Rock and Rye can be traced to early bar days of a growing nation; a patron would order a shot of rye whiskey (widely available) and add their own rock candy. Was this a precursor to one of our foundation cocktails- The Old Fashioned? Surprisingly, midway through the 19th Century and into prohibition it segued from bar to pharmacy and was claimed to cure a variety of ailments. Basically it's rye, sugar, citrus (I imagine whatever a bartender had left over or available).
Famously, in song, Earl Hines had a hit with "Rock and Rye Rag" in the '30s and Tex Ritter a country tribute called "Rock and Rye" in the '50s. My personal favorite reference occurs during the classic road-trip scene in the movie Animal House. 'Boon' goes up to a bartender and orders a "Rock and Rye" as Otis Day and The Knights play "Shamalama Ding Dong" on the dimly lit lounge's stage. While barely made anymore (Mr. Boston's, Jacquin's and Hochstader's still do manufacture versions) and not very visible, it's pretty fun to bring it back- even in a small way.
So below find my version, I encourage you to make a bottle yourself.
In a half gallon mason jar, add:
1 liter bottle of rye (Old Overholt, Jim Beam)
1 sliced orange
½ of a sliced lemon
6 inch strand of rock candy
1 oz of Angustura Bitters
Shake a few times daily, in approximately two days the rock candy will be completely dissolved. Strain into a separate vessel and then use a funnel to return to the original rye whiskey bottle. Serve over a couple of ice cubes, no garnish necessary.
So, for the Cocktail Summit, I convinced Tom Mastricola (now the GM of Clio), John Gertsen (Drink), Ryan McGrale (Storyville) to do a seminar with me at Silvertone, in the Chez Freddie Room. The connection? Back in the early days of the cocktail scene (1998) No.9 Park was getting things rolling, and every night (and I mean every) they all made there way down to Silvertone for a nightcap, well, several. In relation to No. 9, we were kind of the little brother who partied later in the night. But that comradery led to discussions on drinks, a group collective of ideas and techniques.
photo by Ian Strickland.
Tom talked about his decision at the beginning to opt for fresh juices and small batch spirits; it was the clear way to set the same high bar for the beverage program that Barbara Lynch did for the food. He often does not take the credit, and in fact often deflects it- but he is as responsible for craft cocktails in Boston as anyone.
I must confess, it took years, but he convinced me.
We referred back to the classic Locke Ober Cafe drink the Ward 8, supposedly created in 1998 celebrating Martin Lomsaney's victory in the state legislature. The real story may be far different and created earlier, but as John Gertsen pointed out "sometimes the best bar stories are the ones to go with." The year was important- 1898, as a century later, in 1998, Tom pushed the cocktail culture in town with his Palmyra, basically a mint Gimlet. But fresh ingredients, garnish, presentation and glassware changed how customers viewed drinks. Remember, at that time you would likely only stock Rose's lime juice behind the bar.
Palmyra 2.5 oz Rain Vodka, .5 oz fresh lime, .75 oz mint simple syrup
Ryan championed the No. 9 #10 cocktail, a refreshing take on a Negroni, also an early No. 9 staple. Again, it may seem obvious today, but in 2000, a fresh take on a classic was not the norm- a Blueberry Martini was more typical.
No. 9 #10 2.5 oz Tanquerray Ten Gin, .75 oz ruby red grapefruit, .5 oz Campari
John continued to regale us all with stories ranging from techniques handed down from Dale Degroff to drinking with David Wondrich. Tying it all together he aptly served an original old fashioned with Cognac instead of Rye, Demarara sugar cubes, bitters and lemon. Boozy and delicious, I was back at the turn of the century- funny how drinks can do that.
I had to bring us almost all the way back to the present but stopped short in 1998- yup, a shot of Fernet Branca and a Miller High Life.
Now that really is living the dream.
Drink & Tell is not a big, glossy, coffee table cocktail book. It doesn't have to be. What Fred Yarm has done, importantly I might add, is assemble a personal modern history of drinks around Boston. Basically, he has used his years of research (appearing on the cocktailvirgin blog) and given it to us in one concise reference. Often I have had customers ask something like "can you make me a Fort Washington Flip? Misty made it for me a few years ago at Green Street." Instead of being completely dumfounded, I now merely access Fred's book- presto, there it is.
Fred Yarm is a Biochemist by day, not officially a bartender. Although that poses an interesting question: if one is enamored with cocktails and the historical techniques of making them, aren't we all bartenders? His scientific note taking reflects his background in focused precision. He told me: "my wife and I always had a two hand rule at the liquor store," never leaving with more than a couple bottles- focused. The extension, in Drink & Tell makes sense, "I wanted to make a drink book I would like to buy... and if it's a good drink I'll write about it."
I inquired if he had an "aha" moment that propelled his love and fascination with cocktails. "It mostly was a mix of going to places like Green Street and Eastern Standard in the early days. But a turning point certainly was when I made a Pegu Club at home (Gin, orange liqueur, lime, Angostura bitters). How can lime and bitters become grapefruit-like flavors?" This question added to the fuel that was already accumulating to propel him further into cocktail culture and drink execution.
Do you have a touchstone foundation cocktail?
Fred: For a friend's wedding I was asked to stock the bar and recommend some drinks. There was surprise when I suggested a Manhattan. But, really, you can get a good one, or walk the bartender through a good one, pretty much anywhere.
You can't always want cocktails, so what else?
If I take a break, it's a beer.
Ok, now I'm putting you on the spot. Any guilty pleasure cocktails?
Well, years ago, early '90s, I might panic and order a Red Death. I quickly went to the Manhattan- I needed a business appropriate drink. Of course my palate's gotten a lot drier.
A Rusty Nail. And it's still a legitimate drink.
Fred's mission is to help Bostonians learn what's out there and add to their personal drinking experiences. He highlights the cocktails and those making them as a culinary art "done in front of you at a bar."
Hmm, sounds like there's possibility for a second book. In the meantime, Drink & Tell can be purchased at the Boston Shaker in Davis Square, and Amazon.com.