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!”