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Cocktail History

Bronx vs. Ward 8

Posted by Josh Childs September 6, 2013 08:00 AM

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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 The Ward 8, similarly has multiple historical references, but most attribute the creation to bartender Tom Hussion at the venerable Locke-Ober cafe on Winter Street downtown (1898).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

Ward 8
2 oz Rye
.5 oz lemon juice
.5 oz orange juice
barspoon grenadine

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.

Cuba Libre!

Posted by Josh Childs August 15, 2013 07:22 AM

SUP8151_cuba_libre_C (2) copy 3.pngAugust 16th is National Rum Day. Perfect excuse for a daiquiri, tiki drink, swizzle. I, however, am drinking the classic, incredibly simple and tasty Cuba Libre. Stories date the drink back to the turn of last century, during the Spanish-American War, 1898, where Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders sipped it in Havana. Coca-Cola, however was not available in Cuba until a few years later so no one knows the exact origins, but certainly the drink was first consumed there as the Cuban Liberation Army's battle cry was "Cuba Libre!"

Bacardi white rum, cola, lime. That's it, everyone knows the recipe (try Bacardi Gold too). A few years ago my bartending colleague Michael Stevens and I dressed up in homage to Bacardi's ad campaign at that time, maybe we should do it again this week.

Cola (Mike) and Bacardi (me)

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Margarita Fever

Posted by Josh Childs August 8, 2013 08:02 AM

Drink history is a funny thing; I'm sure numerous people have independently come up with exactly the same cocktail at virtually the same time, with a different name, or sometimes, the same. Usually, the best story sticks. The Margarita continues this tradition of lore; the year was 1938, and showgirl Majoire King for some reason only drank Tequila- bartender Danny Herrera near Rosarito, Mexico obliged with a version close to what we would consume today. Next up in 1941, Ensenada, Mexico, Don Carlos Orozco makes one for Margarita Henkel, a daughter of a German Ambassador. Seven years later in 1948 Dallas socialite Margarita Sames apparently entertained her friends by coming up with a new Tequila drink in her vacation home in Acapulco. The same year, Santos Cruz made one for singer Peggy (Margaret) Lee in Galveston, Texas, 1948- I, of course like this last one the best. I imagine sipping one on the pier at the famous Balinese Room over the Gulf of Mexico while listening to "Fever," but that's just me.

The reality is that while all the above stories may be true, much earlier, during prohibition, a very popular drink was the Daisy: rye, lemon, orange liqueur and sugar. Near the Mexican border in Southern California as a "new" spirit became available, it would make sense that they would use lime and make a Tequila Daisy. Take one guess what daisy translates to in Spanish?

Summer is a perfect time to enjoy one and make your own historical conclusions. I've headed over to Allston's Lone Star Taco Bar for their El Diablo Margarita. "Rich and spicy. Reposado Tequila, Mescal, lime jalapeño agave syrup served over ice with a chili-lime salt rim." Whoa, that's badass. What would Peggy Lee think- fever all through the night?

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Hearst cocktail

Posted by Josh Childs July 16, 2013 07:17 AM

hearst.jpgSummer heat tends to make me lean toward lighter spirits, but I remembered a full bodied compromise the other day, the Hearst cocktail. The great David Wondrich credits the drink to the Waldorf-Astoria Bar where the drink came about to quench the thirst of "William Randolph's minions who were in the habit of dropping in at odd times when assigned to a story in the neighborhood." So, I guess, the old man himself may have never consumed his namesake drink- but I'm going to.

2 oz Plymouth gin
1 oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, orange peel garnish.
Gin's botanicals mix perfectly with the herbal and orange sweet/sour of the vermouth. Lighter for the warm weather, but still full bodied enough to please the Manhattan drinker (like me). Add a little Maraschino and you've got a Martinez, but that's a story for another day.

Steve Bowman's 'Murican

Posted by Josh Childs July 2, 2013 08:08 AM


America (or in this case 'Murican) and the 4th of July; I'm riding shotgun, driving is noted Campari enthusiast Steve Bowman who co-owns the forthcoming Fairsted Kitchen, opening Fall 2013 in Brookline’s Washington Square. Take it away Steve:

The ‘Murican: A Bitter Pedigree by Steve Bowman

Summer is the season of the aperitif. As the dog days swelter and the lithium rises, it’s time shelve the weighty, spirit laden refuges of winter and look for something new. Something light, something cool, something refreshing. Something you can quaff all day on decks and patios and still make it to dinner. Something like Campari.
Look around your favorite watering holes this summer and you’ll see its brilliant red hue shining like a beacon from within glasses and tumblers of imbibers in the know. Not only is the bright and bitter Italian infusion of herbs, fruits, spices, and barks a perfect on its own with nothing more than a little ice and a twist of citrus, but Campari is the proud papa of a whole family of thirst quenching aperitifs.

It all starts with in Gaspere Campari’s little cafe in Northern Italy in the mid 1800’s where he crafts his soon to be famous eponymous liqueur. There he serves a simple mixture of Campari and sweet vermouth called the Milano-Torino. The Campari is from Milan, the vermouth, either Martini & Rossi or Carpano, is from Turin. Soon enough, an enterprising bartender adds a top of soda water and serves his creation long in a highball. He names it after the American tourists that flood Italy after the first world war and the Americano is born.

But it takes a true rogue, a member of what cocktail historian David Wondrich calls the “Sporting Fraternity” to create a classic both modern and timeless. Florentine gentleman Count Camillo Negroni, aristocrat, rodeo cowboy, gambler, and barfly extraordinaire, is no stranger to the Americano. But one day between 1919 and 1920, Count Negroni finds himself craving something a little stronger. He stops in at his local, the Cafe Casoni, and directs the barmen to replace the soda water in his Americano with a little gin. Soon enough, locals start requesting their Americano in the “Negroni way”. That recipe of equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, has stood the test of time to become a standard of the cocktail craft.

But history doesn’t stop there. From the hands of adventurous barkeeps you can now enjoy a Negroni Sbagliato, a “wrong” negroni replacing the gin with prosecco. Or Negroni riffs based on genever, whiskey, or tequila. I’ve even seen a Negroni sorbet. Inspired by the traditions of Gaspare Campari and Camillo Negroni, I present my answer to summer's oppressive heat: The ‘Murican. Find the biggest glass you have, add equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth and fill with lots of ice. Top with America’s finest champagne of beers, Miller High Life, and garnish with freedom. Or a slice of orange. Whatever you have on hand.

Algonquin Cocktail

Posted by Josh Childs June 3, 2013 08:48 AM

The Algonquin Hotel in New York City was built in 1902, and although technically dry in the early years, held court to a group of poets, editors, actors, playwrights and humorists; most notably Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley during the 1920s (they were called the Vicious Circle). One of Ms. Parker's most famous quotes "I like to have a martini, two at the very most, after three I'm under the table, after four I'm under the host" leads me to believe that's what they were drinking, not the hotel's namesake cocktail. Of course no one may have been allowed to drink in the hotel during prohibition at all- but I think they probably were, right?

So, anyway, it's uncertain (and unlikely) if any of them drank Algonquin cocktails in the Algonquin. But I do know that Algonquin peak is the second tallest mountain (5,115 ft) in the Adriondack High Peaks of upstate New York, just below its neighbor Mt. Marcy. That's where I was over Memorial Day weekend, so we had to make the cocktail- why not drink an Algonquin looking at Algonquin? As the lovely and talented bartender Emma Hollander would say: "I mean, obvi."

Matt's Algonquin.jpg

Photo by Matt Murrell

Algonquin Cocktail
1.5 oz Rittenhouse Rye
.75 oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
.75 oz Pineapple juice
Lemon peel garnish if desired.

The drink is pretty easy quaffing, maybe not as complex as the Vicious Circle, but probably goes down a whole lot easier.

Negroni Week

Posted by Josh Childs May 27, 2013 02:48 PM

Gaspare Campari (yes that Campari) invented the famous bitters in his bar sometime in the 1860s. The herbal liqueur was most famously mixed with vermouth and soda, called the Milano-Torino. (Campari is made in Milan and Cinzano Vermouth hails from Turin). Somewhere around 1910, American tourists seemed to have an insatiable thirst for the drink and it became better known as the Americano. Was this an homage to Americans or perhaps that Americans couldn't pronounce Milano-Torino?

The drink continued it's transformation in the 1920s when in his local in Florence, Count Camilo Negroni asked for his favorite drink to be fortified even more by adding gin instead of soda water and an orange peel rather than lemon to visually distinguish the two. Boom, cocktail.

So famous the drink that Imbibe Magazine is encouraging National Negroni Week this week, so let's follow suit and order one out! While I don't know of any bars specifically celebrating, I roped social media guru and bon vivant Rebecca Jane Millette to sample a few and send me photos back (pictured below).

Negroni 1 oz Gin, 1 oz Sweet Vermouth, 1 oz Campari, straight up/rocks, orange garnish.

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Coppa, South End

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Deep Ellum, Allston

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Silvertone, Boston

Daiquiri La Floridita

Posted by Josh Childs May 20, 2013 10:05 PM

I imagine Cuba of another era, heightened by imagery I've seen from black and white sepia toned photographs; and I'm sipping daiquiris at the famous La Floridita in Havana. The namesake cocktail is a slight variation on the classic- it adds wonderful depth with the addition of Maraschino liqueur.


Daiquiri La Floridita
2 oz White Rum (try the local Privateer)
.75 lime
.5 simple syrup
.25 Luxardo Maraschino liqueur

Hemingway himself varied it further, added grapefruit, removed the simple syrup. Rumor has it he would order a double which got the name Papa Doble. Order either version (or make it on your patio) as the warm weather hits and you don't have to pretend, you'll be sipping a taste from another time that holds up just as well today.

Tracy,_Hemingway_in_Havana.jpg1955 Ernest Hemingway Collection, JFK Library, Boston, permission by public domain

My first Fernet Branca

Posted by Josh Childs May 10, 2013 10:19 AM


Amaro, Italian for "bitter,” refers to an herbal liqueur category, usually consumed as an after-dinner digestif. With an alcohol content between 16% and 43%, they are bitter-sweet and range in syrupy viscosity. Similar products are available throughout Europe, but tradition and focus here in Boston, Italy sets the standard, and that brings us to
Fernet Branca.

When you see a group of bartenders, with the bar customers six deep, stop everything their doing at 11:00pm on a Friday night, and do a shot, I’ll bet 5 to 1 it’s Fernet- although it’s really meant to be a stomach ailment panacea. It has developed far beyond an industry cult following, can be seen everywhere, locally behind every cocktail bar. On the higher end of the alcohol spectrum, it clocks in at 43%, is bracingly bitter, mint and licorice flavors dominating. Italians really only take it as a sip or two after dinner; I remember being in Rome a few years ago and doing a shot at a cafe in the afternoon to stares that said "that American is crazy."

The history of Fernet Branca revolution in Boston can be pretty much traced to two men. Before the tremendous success of Eastern Standard, ICOB, The Hawthorne and soon to be Row 34, Garrett Harker worked in San Francisco, where he and fellow restaurant workers maybe took sips of Fernet out of espresso cups before service. Traditions tend to follow us, some more than others, and while at No. 9 Park he and Tom Mastricola, then bartender, would come visit me on a nightly basis (we were all a lot younger then). "Josh, could you get us a bottle of Fernet? We'll drink it." I had no idea what they were talking about, but of course ordered a single bottle the next day. A single bottle. In 1998, we were pouring a case a week (12 bottles), and while that didn't touch the present volume of ES, Citizen (Joy has it on tap) or even JM Curley down the street, the fire had been started.

What makes this business rewarding is what comes around goes around, and Kitty Amann, our local Fernet rep to the stars, brought Count Eduardo Branca down for an event at Silvertone this week. What an honor to have the sixth generation of the famous family in the room, I just hoped I wouldn't get in the way. Tremendously gracious and unassuming, he also showcased their other brands, the spectacular Carpano Antica and Punt e Mes vermouths. Time to make some cocktails.

John Nugent (Silvertone, Citizen, Brick & Mortar, Franklin) poured his crowd pleasing Home Wrecker cocktail: 1.5 oz Rye, .5 oz Punt e Mes, .5 oz St. Germain, .5 oz lemon. The drink is delicious, spicy from the rye and vermouth, lechee sweetness from St. Germain, and finishes with the bright lemon and orange flavors. Vermouth works surprisingly well with citrus, so with that in mind comes my version of a classic. My daughters call me Papa, so obviously I poured Papa's Americano, 1 oz Carpano Antica, 1 oz Aperol, .5 oz lime, soda. Perfect for a sunny patio, or at least I think so.

Legendary musician, dj, bartender Brother Cleve pulled an on-the-fly recipe from 1909 out of his vast repertoire, the Fernet Cocktail. 2 oz Carpano Antica, 1 oz Fernet, bar spoon Orange Curacao, orange oil. A full bodied precursor to the Americano, maybe its grandfather.

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Home Wrecker, Papa's Americano, Fernet Cocktail

As we toasted with Fernet Branca to Fernet and the Branca family, things had indeed come full circle. Garrett Harker raised his glass in the center of the room with Eduardo, just as he had showed me the way 16 years earlier.


Lou at The Savoy

Posted by Josh Childs April 29, 2013 08:27 PM

You can find Lou Saban behind Oak Long Bar at the Copley Plaza Hotel. Lucky for all of us recently he found himself abroad, and penned the following piece.

By Lou Saban:

Bartending is a real mixed bag.
When all is said and done, it’s pretty nice holding the keys to the stuff that most adults use to make themselves feel better about their spot on the planet. Unfortunately, for every generous tip or compliment on a well-balanced cocktail, sometimes you also have to answer the question, “So, what’s your real job?” In my head I respond, "when I am not doing this, I’m the CEO of a non-profit organization that provides neurosurgery for puppies."
Still, it’s a gig with a lot of cool benefits. In my mind, the greatest perk is the sense of community with your fellow barkeeps. If you do this job long enough, you start to recognize the people who also make their living pouring things into glasses. You always love to see these people sitting at your barstool because they tip well, are low maintenance, and can always relate to the condescending sneers that you may have received that day. Camaraderie is a beautiful thing.
What’s even better is that this bond doesn’t just stop at the nation’s borders. I am lucky enough to work for a hotel chain that has many locations around the world. When I noticed that there was one in London, I was interested. When I noticed that it was
The Savoy, I was elated.

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First Edition Savoy Cocktail Book from 1930

Most bars worth their salt will have an old copy of the Savoy Cocktail Book somewhere on their shelf. It was written in 1930 by an American named Harry Craddock. Craddock flew the coop from the prohibition-afflicted United States in 1920, and became the head bartender at the American Bar at The Savoy in London. He spread the joys of the American cocktail to Europe and used his cocktail book to preserve recipes that may have otherwise been lost to antiquity. Despite a few renovations, the American Bar is still there, and it is really something.

dark American bar.jpg

Dark, yet infinitely charming

When you first walk in, you notice the beautiful black and white sign that looks like it could have been there in 1920 as Craddock walked in for the first time. Immediately to your left, there is a small museum (you heard me right, this bar is so cool it has its own museum) full of old placards and menus from its many decades of existence. There are also telegraphs for Charlie Chaplin and Georges Clemenceau, bills for Sir Lawrence Olivier, and countless pictures of Vivien Leigh, John Wayne, Winston Churchill, and essentially anyone who was anyone in the last century.

All of that is well and good, but the real stunner is the case of vintage booze. Inside this treasure chest contains Gordon’s Gin, Pernod, Luxardo, and Carpano Antica from the 1950s; Van der Hum from the 1940’s; and a Jourd Cordial-Medoc from 1933. The crown jewel of the whole collection is this: a bottle of Sazerac de Forge Cognac from 1858. I wasn’t even aware that something like this existed, but there it was right before my very eyes. This bottle is pre-Civil War. Its nine years older than Canada! More notably, it’s a time capsule of what French grapes tasted like before they were nearly destroyed by the Phylloxera parasite in the late 19th century. It’s so beautiful that it even makes even its neighboring bottle of Moet Chandon from 1884 pale in comparison.

craddock cognac.jpgOnce your head stops spinning, you proceed into the bar for a dozen or so of London’s finest cocktails. The bar consists mostly of a large lounge with a piano player to your immediate right. The bar itself is very small; only four seats with no standing room allowed. There is one man on service bar, and the friendly and knowledgeable Tom Walker for the rail. The small setting ensures that the drinks are made at a deliberate pace to ensure that nary a step is missed in both the creation of the drink and the presentation. The result is a simply wonderful libation.

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Just your average every day speed rack

The menu is a mixture of Savoy originals from the White Lady, to contemporaries such as the Green Park, to the totally outrageous. Remember that cognac that I mentioned earlier? They use it to make an original Sazerac cocktail along with the Pernod from the 1950s and Peychaud’s Bitters from the early 1900s. Its 5,000 GBP. Depending on the exchange rate, that’s about $8000 USD. For one cocktail. Once I picked myself up off the floor, I decided this cocktail was only for people who have absolutely no idea what to do with their money. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “It takes all kinds of people to fill up a world.”

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The dapper and talented Tom Walker

All in all, it was a privilege to sit at this piece of living history and share a few drinks with Tom Walker and his more than capable colleagues. The international brotherhood of bartenders may not be out there splitting atoms or making contributions to string theory (or puppy neurosurgery), but we know how to take care of the people who do. More importantly, we know how to take care of each other, which makes it all worth it. And yes, this is my only job. Cut me a break, will ya?

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