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.