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5 Treasures: Cocktail Fights & Johnnycakes

16 Dec

The Finals

Tracy Latimer of jm Curley knocks out Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden in the final round

Best Event: Cocktail Fight

On a recent Monday night, Espolon Tequila and Nick Korn turned Union Square’s Precinct Bar into a COCKtial FIGHTING ring, complete with chicken wire and bookies in green visors collecting cock dollars. In a Speed Rack meets Iron Chef competition, 12 bartenders entered the ring to create delicious Espolon drinks featuring secret ingredients in record time.

The Competitors

The Competitors

While Tracy Latimer of JM Curley was busy knocking out Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden in the final round to clinch the belt, the rest of us were drinking Sangrita and eating Frito Chili Pie. Adding to the excitement was the ability to bet on bartenders to win swag. While my prediction proved right when the math fell apart in the end, that’s expected when the drinks are flowing.If I was looking to do an event, I’d hire Nick Korn. Since leaving behind the bar of Citizen Public House to start Off-Site, he’s the hardest working non-bartender in the business right now. “This event was predicated on the idea that cocktail competitions are stupid.  COCKtail FIGHT was the brainchild of the same people that brought us Remixology and was based on the same concept: that competitions should be fun and bartenders should have to put on a show,” Korn tells me.
Tracy Latimer of Jm Curley
In addition to upping the entertainment factor, Korn wanted to showcase great bartenders that usually skip cocktail competitions. “I wasn’t afraid to leave the city, and strove to highlight some of the amazing people fighting the good fight out in the suburbs (Brookline, Billerica, Lexington and Woburn were all represented).  The unintended consequence was that we ended up with a field in which no two competitors were from the same town.  I challenge you to point to another competition or other event where this has ever been true.” Keep an eye out for this event to go national next year!
Judge Jon of Beantown Drinks

Judge Jon of Beantown Drinks

Jon Berkowitz of Beantown Drinks served as one of the judges and gave me a typical Jon diplomatic quote that helps explain why I’m never asked to judge. “Cocktail Fights was more of a battle than a competition. All the competitors put on a great show and made some very tasty drinks. Judging a cocktail competition with such energy and improvised moments makes for a truly enjoyable event.”
MC Crazy Dan on Left

Left: MC Crazy Dan, a man who should never be given a microphone, a date, or an invitation to be among civilized company

The only thing I’d change about the event was the MC. Crazy Dan of Howl at the Moon was trying to get cheap laughs, but instead he confirmed how Howl at the Moon got named one of the douchiest bars in Boston. He resorted to very offensive and sexists remarks, such as when he was announcing that one of the two female contenders wasn’t going to make it to the next round. “Even though both girls are lovely and I’d take them home and do naughty things to both of them…” Luckily, Tracy is a professional and countered with piercing insults, but no one should have to put up with asshats like Dan. I got so fed up with Dan I had to leave for awhile to grab a drink at nearby cocktail sanctuary backbar. I returned because I wanted to see Tracy prove Dan wrong that a woman wasn’t going to make it to the final round because we weren’t “playing poker.” Mad respect to Tracy for winning it all with class.

Best Bite: Buttermilk Johnnycake at Neptune Oyster

Asians Taking Pics of Food

LA Son authors Roy Choi, Tien Nguyen, and Natasha Phan document the fresh uni in the window

With so many underrated dining spots in Boston, I find few places are worth the wait. Neptune Oyster is the rare exception, especially when you have good company visiting from out of town.

Natasha Phan and Roy Choi at Neptune Oyster

Pictures of Asians Taking Pictures of Food: Natasha Phan and Roy Choi clean their plates at Neptune Oyster

Friends Tien Nguyen of LA Weekly, Kogi maven Natasha Phan, and Chef Roy Choi were wrapping up their East Coast book tour of LA Son and celebrating a 45-minute NPR interview. After watching Roy cook up Korean braised short rib stew and ghetto donuts utilizing a can of Pillsbury dough for a roomful of students, he asked me where we should eat. He had dinner reservations for Island Creek Oyster Bar already, but I knew he wouldn’t mind another Boston seafood must-try.


Natasha Phan, Tien Nguyen, Me, and Roy Choi celebrating the release of LA Son so far from home

Lobster rolls, clam chowder, oysters… Chef Michael Serpa of Neptune Oyster blew us away. However, one dish I had never tried before stood out above the rest: the buttermilk Johnnycake with honey butter, smoked trout tartare, and California sturgeon caviar ($16). It was a treat listening to Roy dissect each dish and compare the transcendent experience of eating the best oysters in Boston to LA’s best tacos. Roy has one of the best Twitter feeds and is apparently “LA’s Street Food King” according to the NY Times, but he’ll always be known simply as Papi to those of us lucky enough to eat his food regularly in LA.

Roy Choi Cooking Demo

Roy Choi Making Ghetto Doughnuts from his book LA Son

Random Musing: Tasty Burger

Tasty Burger has got to be the most profitable restaurant in the city between 2 am and 4 am. The Harvard Square location of Franklin Restaurant Group’s fast food burger mini-chain is insanely packed as soon as the bars close. Next door bland burrito institution Felipe’s has been unsuccessfully gunning for this 4 am license for years because they know how profitable the drunk college kid market is. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve ended several nights at Tasty Burger, and started several too since they have a surprisingly hip craft beer bar downstairs complete with a pool table. It’s hard to say no to a “starving student special” featuring a burger, fries, and tall can of beer for $10.

Tasty Burger was hoping to change Central Square too, taking on Moody’s Falafal Palace as the best drunk food in the square, but the city wouldn’t grant it a liquor license. That was a deal breaker for Tasty. It’s a great option in Harvard Square, but it’s soon to have competition. I’m curious to see what will happen when Shake Shack opens in the old Om space. Sure, the opening of a location in Chestnut Hill didn’t catch fire, but Harvard students seemingly can’t get enough burgers. Charlie’s Kitchen and Tommy Doyle’s were already doing burger and beer combos, and Flat Patties nearby is still going strong, but Tasty Burger is the new it place.

I’m curious to see how well Shake Shack does. It will help that Tommy Doyle’s is closing next door and that Tasty Burger can take forever to move a line even with a large staff working. The real question: is there a demand for more expensive but higher quality burgers?  It reminds me of the In N Out vs. Shake Shack debate. I’ve always found the debate strange since you are comparing apples to oranges. Shake Shack uses superior ingredients, but is also a lot more expensive. I think Shake Shack is a superior burger, but I’ll always choose In N Out because it’s a better value.

Looking forward to seeing how the burger wars shake out when Shake Shack opens at 92 Winthrop St. later in December.

Best Drink: Far From the Tree at Backbar

Far From The Tree: Bols Genever, Berentzen apple liqueur, and bitter lemon syrup

Far From The Tree

When I took a break from Misogynistic Dan at the Cocktail Fight, I was rewarded with this delicious drink created by Joe Cammarata, Principal Bartender at Backbar. Featuring gin and apple liqueur, the drink marries the best parts of a classic martini and an “apple-tini.” Bar Manager and co-owner Sam Treadway tells me “the joke for the name was how it was quite quite different from a sour appletini inspiration.” I passed the time with a great conversation with Backbar’s Alice Serenska, and felt infinitely better by the time I finished the cocktail (ok, and a mezcal pickleback shot). Just another reason I consider Backbar my cocktail sanctuary.

Far from the Tree

2 oz Bols Genever gin
0.75 oz Berentzen apple liqueur
0.25 oz bitter lemon syrup*

stir ingredients with ice and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. garnish with a lemon twist.
* bitter lemon syrup is made by steeping lemon wheels with sugar and water on low heat for 1 hour.

#DTO: Dueling DTOs at Park


Donnie Wahlberg Judges our Dueling DTOs

For the uninitiated, DTO stands for Daiquiri Time Out. This Boston phenomenon recognizes that whether you are having a rough day or celebrating, there is no bad time to take a break and enjoy a daiquiri. If you ask for a DTO, you may get a straightforward daiquiri featuring rum, lime, and simple syrup. Other times, your bartender might have fun with it by adding his or her own touch.

At the end of a Harvard Square mini-bar crawl, Jen Sutherland and I ordered dueling DTOs from Park Restaurant. She went with Berkshire’s Ragged Mountain Rum and I went with Privateer Rum, and we let Donnie Walhberg decide which local rum does it better.


The real winner? Donnie’s rattail

Monday Madness: 30 Under 30, Silvertone, Brick & Mortar, & Hong Kong Cafe

11 Dec


Bartender Kenny Belanger of Kirkland Tap Dances on Brick & Mortar’s Bar

Boston’s been my home for 16 months now. With only one semester left in my masters program, my future is uncertain. I’ve grown to love this peculiar town, and am not ready to leave. I owe most of this to the incredible people I’ve met in Boston’s hospitality industry. Even if my career takes me elsewhere, I won’t let it take me too far because a shot of Fernet and a pony of High Life just wouldn’t taste the same without the company of my Boston family.

I’ve recently ended a couple freelance gigs so I could spend more time writing about Boston bars, restaurants, and events. There are great things happening here and I want to do a better job of documenting and sharing it. I’ve gotten to the point where I’d rather write for free about people and places I love than scrape together a living from writing about whatever an editor tells me.

Monday December 9 was a great example of how grateful I am to be part of this scene. There were at least four major celebrations held all over the city.

Silvertone Industry Holiday Party

Brian Mantz at Silvertone Holiday Party

Brian Mantz unwraps his Secret Santa gift at Silvertone Holiday Party with pro photographer Drea Catalano

Brian Mantz of Angel’s Envy threw a lovely holiday party featuring ugly sweaters, a gift exchange, crab cakes, and lots of bourbon. Jen Sutherland of Berkshire Mt Distillers introduced me to a bunch of new folks that she worked with back in the day at the Beagle, but the real highlight was catching up with Silvertone owner Josh Childs for an hour. Those of you who know how busy and popular the man is, you know what a treat that is. In addition to being universally regarded as the nicest lifer in the business, Josh is one of the founding fathers of Boston’s craft cocktail scene, along with other legends like Brother Cleve, Misty Kalkofen, Jackson Cannon, John Gertsen, and Tom Mastricola. This holiday season, I’m thankful for spots like Silvertone and the Hawthorne that have great private rooms available for us to take over. It was a great party, but I felt a little bad for Brian because he planned this a month ago and attendance was less than expected because of the competition.


I didn’t mean for this to turn out so much like a Xmas card portrait. Jen Sutherland of Berkshire Mt., Josh Childs of Silvertone, Me, and Meaghan Murphy of Audbon (center)

30 Under 30
Zagat Boston threw a party honoring their 30 under 30. Several of my favorite young and talented bartenders were nominated: Katie Emmerson of the Hawthorne, Sabrina Kershaw of Franklin Restaurant Group, and Kevin Mabry of jm Curley. Also named were Neptune Oyster Executive Chef Michael Serpa and Andrew Foster of Fairsted Kitchen, two must-visit restaurants. Last year’s honorees included Patrick Gaggiano formerly of Trinas Starlite and now of Fairsted Kitchen, Heather Major of Hungry Mother,  Josh Taylor of West Bridge, and Sam Treadway of backbar.

Hong Kong Cafe
Others were enjoying a Tiki Monday at Hong Kong Cafe in Fenway, enjoying one last hurrah before the place closes. Eater’s Drew Starr was not in the mood to celebrate according to his twitter, “Too sad about losing my shitty Chinese delivery place of 15 years to be at the Tiki Hideaway farewell. #RIPHongKongCafe.” He added “Losing my shit over Hong Kong Cafe. My delivery for 15 yrs” and “Kind of weird people are nostalgic about a place most of them didn’t know existed.”

Evan, Kenny, John DJ B&M 2 Year

Guest DJs Evan, Kenny, and John Gertsen keep the party going

Brick & Mortar Two Year Anniversary

Every Monday evening, Brick & Mortar invites a guest DJ and creates cheeky drink specials for their “Spin the Bottle” series. This past Monday’s Spin the Bottle was extra special and chaotic thanks to the Central Square craft cocktail party spot celebrating their two year anniversary.

Get a Room

This couple refused to get a room, allll night

While John Gertsen was drinking Guinness, we were drinking “Jerkin Yo Gertsen,” a can of Coors Banquet and a Woo-Woo shot. As always, the music was on fire thanks to guest DJs Evan Harrison of Highland Kitchen, Kenny Belanger of Kirkland Tap & Trotter, and Gertsen of Drink. Brick and Mortar Bar Manager Matt Schrage also hosted special guests Joy Richard and Sabrina Kershaw of Franklin Restaurant Group.


The classy drink list signed by the guest DJs

IMG_9928-MOTION (2)

Me, Guest DJ Evan Harrison formerly of B&M & now Highland Kitchen, and drinking buddy Dr. Andrew Rausch

One Fund, Three Pigs, & 1 Scary Night

19 Apr


Andrea Novak, Bar Manager Ryan McGrale, Bruno Prado, and John Henderson

There’s nothing I can add to help convey how tragic this week’s events in Boston were, nor do I care to relive them. One thing that is worth further reflection is how the Boston community rallied together, presenting a strong and proud face to the world.


Chef Ian scoops out pig brains for happy guests

Not enough can be said about the great professionalism of the city’s law enforcement and emergency first responders. Neighbors, friends, and strangers provided material as well as emotional support to those in need. And to be honest, most of us were in need of emotional support.


Andrew Bosquet of High and Mighty Brew keeps everyone’s red cups full

Even though I have only lived in Boston since August, I’ve grown to love this peculiar city. While I love my classmates who are recent transplants from around the world, when shit hits the fan, I always seem to surround myself with cocktail and restaurant friends.

Last Thursday evening, I was exhausted – stress and sorrow can really wear a man down. However, I was so impressed that instant hit restaurant Tavern Road decided to host a fundraiser for The One Fund benefiting Boston Marathon victims, I mustered up the energy to cross the river to Boston.


Birthday boy Chef Sean happily shares cookies with full patrons, and here with Manager Graciele Maiden

I made the trek because it is important to be around family during trying times. When I looked at the Facebook event, I longed to see the many familiar faces. For those I didn’t recognize, the list appeared to be industry folks, and anyone willing to attend an 11 pm pig roast and drink Fernet cocktails for charity is someone I wanted to be around that night.


Thanks piggy – I’m a stress eater

Which brings me to my second reason for going. The $20 door donation got you unlimited access to three roasted pigs. Brian Wang greeted friend Maureen Hautaniemi of Lush Life with the juicy tip that pork cheeks was the cut to get. When I asked Chef Ian if he had any pork cheeks left, he looked around, shrugged, and said, “As long as you don’t mind fingers in your food.” He then proceeded to violently rip off the cheeks with his fingers, scraping up every tasty morsel. He then ripped off the snout, tossed it on my plate, and said, “Here, suck on this snout.” A lucky guest after me scored the brains. Now that’s hospitality.


Andrea Novak, Bar Manager Ryan McGrale, Bruno Prado, and John Henderson

Between money collected at the door and $5 drinks courtesy of Fernet Branca, High & Mighty, Dickel Rye, Jim Beam, and 90+ Cellars, the event raised over $7,000 for Boston Marathon victims.

Sadly, the tragic story continued to unfold during the fundraiser. After friends Drew Starr, his fiancee Rachel, Maureen, and TJ Connelly all said goodbye, I decided to head to the bar and close my tab. There was something unsettling about seeing TJ, in many ways the heart, or at least the beard, of the Boston cocktail community look shaken and a little lost. I was ready to get home to Harvard Square.


Dan Lynch of the Hawthorne gets the dance party started

As I was waiting to close out, my phone went berserk. I got text after text, from new friends, loved ones, and several from my LA cocktail family. The first one read: “Stay inside. Something is happening in Harvard. There are talks about grenades. Don’t come back. Tell everyone.” I was startled, but I looked around at the people around me, and felt grateful. I knew I was better off here than alone in my Harvard Sq. apartment.


Nothing goes to waste

With bartender Jason Cool of Citizen, I was able to alternate between expressing my anxiety and distracting myself with talk of trivial things like the under-appreciation of blue cocktails (he’s going to hate me for calling that trivial). I got to admire Nicole Lebedevitch of The Hawthorne’s fabulous new look, short hair just in time for Spring. I got to enviously watch an especially generous Dan Lynch, also bartender at The Hawthorne, dance the night away. I was moved by how Becca Jane and Andrew Bosquet of High and Mighty Brew were so happy to be able to contribute to the event, and joyously joined in a rendition of “Sweet Caroline” with bartender Steve Schnelwar.

Even John Gertsen stopped by for a nightcap after closing cocktail sanctuary Drink across the street. I also got to admire Tavern Road’s great service despite the crowds, and the hustle of the talented bartenders. I’m not at liberty to say much, but I must admit that bar manager Ryan McGrale has better intelligence contacts than anyone I know, and I go to a government school.


Ezra & Jason Cool of Citizen Public House sharing his love of blue cocktails

By 2 am, I had little choice but find my way home. Eventually I found a cab driver to take me home, but unfortunately he tried to drop me off at MIT instead of my apartment. As I passed countless police cars and a couple crime scenes, I couldn’t help but feel a little disquieted. However, as I hid safely under the covers, and listened to the endless parade of police sirens (which I must admit did make me oddly homesick for LA), I felt grateful that I experienced this tragic evening with a generous and loving group of people.

Tavern Road
343 Congress St
Boston, MA 02210

A Beer Cocktail to Celebrate Boston Beer Week

11 Mar

Privateer Rum distiller Maggie Campbell enjoys a beer cocktail at Park

Privateer Rum distiller Maggie Campbell enjoys a beer punch at Park

Happy Boston Beer Week!

Bars and restaurants are finally tapping those special kegs they’ve been hoarding for weeks, so it’s time to ignore that Smuttynose 6-pack you got at Trader Joe’s and try something new. Here is a schedule of events to entice you, or just search #BOSBW on Twitter.

Beer Punch at Park

I couldn’t wait to kick off my Boston Beer week, so I started a day early at my go-to bar next to school, Park in Cambridge. I was grabbing drinks with Privateer Rum distiller Maggie Campbell, who will be supplying the rum punch on Mar. 18 for the unparalleled art fundraising organization Opus Affair

After interrogating the always delightful Chris Balchum on what kegs they were planning to tap for beer week, he surprised me with one of the best beer cocktails Maggie and I have ever had. It featured two of Ipswich’s finest exports: Privateer Amber rum and Notch Brewing Saison. Chris said it was a riff on a previous beer cocktail creation by Park Bar Manager Chris Olds. Here’s the recipe  

1.5 oz Privateer Amber Rum
3/4 oz King’s Ginger
3/4 oz lime
1/4 oz Limoncello
1/2 oz cinnamon syrup
Notch Saison

Celebrating Beer Week at Deep Ellum

Before heading to the Veronica Falls and Cold Showers concert at Allston’s Great Scott, I stopped by Deep Ellum for a few special pints. I started with one of my absolute favorite beers, Lost Abbey Deliverance. It’s the perfect blend of Brandy Barrel Angel’s Share and Bourbon Barrel Serpent’s Stout, and goes down way too easy for 12.5% ABV. Staying in the barrel aged family, up next was Firestone Walker’s Sucaba, a barrel aged barley wine at 13% ABV. I completed my California trilogy with Stone’s Enjoy By IPA. This batch wasn’t quite as hoppy as previous entries I’ve tried in Stone’s Enjoy By ultra-fresh IPA series, but enjoyable in its own right. Since Deep Ellum is one of the few spots in this city offering sours on tap, I finished the evening with a Brouwerij 3 Zwet.Be, a Belgium Porter sour. Maybe it was the high ABVs talking, but I felt like I was in (beer) heaven.

If you are interested in trying the Sucaba, Lower Depths in Boston’s Kenmore Square is tapping a keg for a beer social on Tuesday Mar. 12.

Any Boston Beer Week highlights you’ve had or are looking forward to?

Election Night 2012: Brick & Mortar Goes Red, White, and Blue

9 Nov


At least we can all agree that cookies deserve bi-partisan support

The excruciatingly long presidential campaign finally came to end this week, and it wasn’t a moment too soon. Not only was I tired of government officials and policy experts telling me that “this issue can’t get addressed until after the election,” those incessant Scott Brown YouTube ads kept interrupting my Kendrick Lamar music video marathons. I was ready to party.

The night began as many of my best Cambridge nights have: at Brick and Mortar in Cambridge’s Central Square.  This bar was on my radar long before I departed LA, so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that it was within walking distance of my new home. From the first time I eagerly hopped up the stairs and saw the arched copper bar shimmering in the dim, exposed brick cocktail sanctuary, I knew that I had found something special.


Brick & Mortar’s Drink the Vote: White

The vinyl’s always spinning, the bar food is simple and delicious, and you can count on the crowd to be lively but never out of control. The atmosphere alone would be enough to make it worth a visit if it was simply a neighborhood bar offering Miller High Life and a shot of whiskey. However, this is not one of those bars. This bar has Misty Kalkofen.

Misty is one of Boston’s greatest gems. She first found herself behind the stick while earning a Masters in Theologian Studies at Harvard. She’s since honed her craft at B-Side Lounge, Green Street, Lilli’s, West Side Lounge, Tremont 647, and Drink. When her friend Patrick Sullivan was ready to open the bartender’s bar Brick and Mortar last year, Misty left Drink to re-team with the B-Side Lounge founder.

Misty continues to be important force in raising the profile of Boston’s cocktail scene. In 2007, she founded the Boston chapter of Ladies United for the Preservation of the Endangered Cocktail (LUPEC), a cocktail society that raises money for local charities while “Dismantling the patriarchy…one drink at a time!” As a vocal admirer of strong, talented, no non-sense women behind the bar, it should come as no surprise that I’m a big fan of LUPEC’s mission and efforts.


Brick & Mortar’s Drink the Vote: Red

A current cocktail trend is to use as many ingredients and techniques as possible. Why just add a tobacco tincture when you can add liquid smoke and carbonate it? Brick and Mortar takes a different approach, the same kind I try to adopt at home: serve creative and interesting cocktails using only a few ingredients. There’s no hiding here behind fancy tricks – it’s all about balancing flavors.

And if you’ve ever wanted to learn about mescal, find yourself a stool at the bar when Misty’s working (your best bets are Mon-Wed) and order a Slow Dance with Pedro Infante. Normally my first order at Brick and Mortar, it seems deceptively simple but this smoky, bitter mistress just steals my heart every time.

A Slow Dance with Pedro Infante

1.75 oz. Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal
3/4 oz. Gran Classico
1/2 oz. Averna

Stir with ice and pour into a chilled cocktail glass.


Misty Kalkofen shakes up some patriotic drinks

Election night is typically a slow night at bars, so Misty was thrilled when local beer brewing heroes Pretty Things expressed interest in throwing an election event. If you came election night wearing an “I Voted” sticker, you got a gorgeous Pretty Things pint glass, pin, and sticker.

More importantly, you got to order the election night beer cocktail specials. On the menu were three cocktails featuring Pretty Thing’s flagship brew Jack d’Or.

White: Gin, pastis, lemon, and Jack d’Or. 

Red: Scotch, Velvet Falernum, beet, lemon, and Jack d’Or.

Blue: Light rum, blue curacao, pineapple, lemon, Jack d’Or.


Last Word for Murray Stenson & Finishing the Hat Trick w/ Blue

Despite all being topped off with the same beer, each cocktail was remarkably different in flavor (as well as color, obviously). If you weren’t expecting good news on election night, the White was for you. You can blame the bitter taste in your mouth on the anise-flavored pastis liqueur instead of the election not going your way.

Blue was a bit more familiar: tropical and easy drinking for those having a great night.

My favorite of the night was Red, a scotch drink featuring beet juice that made you stand up and take notice. While I often resist asking such obvious questions, I just had to ask: what was the inspiration for featuring beets? I’m so glad I asked. I was rewarded with an envy-invoking tale of Misty’s trip to the Chartreuse Mountains. The French liqueur Chartreuse is made by Carthusian Monks and is a must-have in my homebar. Misty not only got to visit the distillery, but she got to meet the two monks that each know half of the heavily guarded secret recipe. One of the last cocktails she had on that visit featured beets, and she’s been toying with how to use the ingredient ever since.


Yes We Cake from Harvard Kennedy School party

After my friend and I finished the Red, White, and Blue beer cocktails, it was time for a little green. My last cocktail of the night was pre-determined: The Last Word featuring gin, chartreuse, lime and maraschino. In addition to being one of my favorite prohibition-era cocktails, Brick and Mortar was donating a portion of the proceeds of each Last Word to a fund for the ailing bartending legend Murray Stenson. You can also enjoy an excellent Last Word while helping Murray at the Hawthorne, as I did recently. If you really want to drink for a good cause, you should join me at JM Curley’s on Sunday night for “This One’s for Murray.”

It was time for me to make my exit, but as luck would have it, one more Jack d’Or was in my near future. Treasure Tip: sometimes it pays off to go up and say hi to someone you’ve only met virtually. After a couple of drinks, I decided to say hi to Todd Alstrom who I had only met on Twitter. In addition to being a co-founder of online beer rating bible Beer Advocate, he’s also a Central Sq local, friend of Pretty Things, and all around nice guy who I found out later bought beers for the first 20 people to find him.


Eagerly awaiting the election results, while our host enforces her rule that every guest wears a temporary red & blue stars tattoo

It was hard to say goodbye so early in the night, but I was ready to join my friends for a viewing party in The Forum at the Kennedy School of Government. There was more heated discussion about who had a crush on whom than the validity of Nate Silver’s forecast models, but I got my fill of nerding out. It was time to jump back on my bike and see what the Australians were up to.


How policy grad students watch the election: jambalaya, Funyuns, & lots of craft beer

As it turns out, the house full of Australian students were more excited about the election than anyone. After too many beers and a regrettable amount of Funyuns later, Obama finally gave his victory speech and I headed home around 1:30 am.


Love how the foreigners at the party were more excited and emotionally invested than us actual voters

Now that the election is behind us, maybe we can tackle pressing issues like the EU debt crisis, Syria, and Iran while avoiding falling off the fiscal cliff. If we don’t find a resolution to avoid the debilitating cuts that seems to worry Europeans more than us at home, you’ll be able to find me hunkered down in Brick and Mortar drinking away my woes.

Brick and Mortar
569 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02139

Boston Cocktail Summit: Do You Speak Amari?

1 Nov


14 Amari for breakfast? I think I died & went to my own booze-soaked heaven

My most-anticipated class at the inaugural Boston Cocktail Summit held in October was “Do You Speak Amari,” and it did not disappoint. Having the opportunity to try over a dozen different amaro in itself was enough to make it a worthwhile event, but it was presenter Franceso Lafranconi who made it my weekend highlight. The warm, knowledgeable, and charming Franceso started behind the bar in Northern Italy when he was 18. He now serves as National Director of Mixology & Spirits Educator at Southern Wine & Spirits of America and gave an informative and polished presentation.

So what is this amari I keep talking about? Literally meaning bitter in Italian, an amaro is an Italian bitter herbal  liquor. It is considered a digestive that is usually consumed at the end of a meal.

The process begins with selecting the herbs and spices  that will give the amaro flavor. Fernet Branca, for example, is a blend of over 40 herbs and spices. These herbs and spices are then ground and pressed in order to extract the active compounds. The next step is infusion and filtering or maceration. This mixture may then go through a partial distillation. A dark and bitter extract is then obtained, filtered, and mixed with sugar.


My good friend & fellow writer from LA “The Minty” checking out the bottles of amari we tried

While all amari share basic characteristics like bitter botanicals, a minimum ABV of 15%, and sugar content under 10%, certain dominant ingredients and flavors can be identified with a little attention. Cynar and Fernet Branca have long been must-haves in my home bar. Cynar was developed in 1952 and is made from an infusion of artichoke leaves. Cynar is a favorite among bartenders when adding a bitter element to a cocktail, and it’s inclusion in a drink typically makes it a must-order for me.

Created in 1845 by Bernadino Branca, Fernet Branca is the #1 selling digestive in the world. It’s ubiquity has lead to the common misconception that Fernet is a brand, but it is actually a category of amaro with several new Fernet liquors entering the market. We had the opportunity to try Fernet Luxardo, which was developed in the 1960’s and is higher in alcohol content and lower in sugar than Fernet Branca. Coming in at 90 proof, Luxardo is strong on licorice, cinnamon, saffron, and the flowering plant gentian (which is also featured in Angostura bitters and Aperol).


Amaro Averna is also one of the most widely available amari. Created by an herbalist friar in 1868 as a healing bitter elixir, it was either given by the monks to Salvatore Averna as payment for help, or the stolen recipe was bought by Averna from someone at the monastery. Either way, this lower proof and sweeter amaro now leads the amari market in Italy and remains in the Averna family. At 58 proof, this almond, orange, and liquorice-forward elixir is good anytime.

Another amaro you may have encountered at a well-stocked bar is Rabarbaro Zucca. Featuring steamed rhubarb and weighing in at only 32 proof, Zucca has been enjoyed as a before dinner spritzer since 1845. I can’t wait to experiment with it in cocktails after Francesco shared some good pairings: lemon, strawberry jam, and gin.


Also on our tasting menu were some less-commonly seen amari. Perhaps the most unique, and most bitter, was Amaro Sabilla. Founded in 1868 by Girolamo Varnelli, the company is still in the Varnelli family. 30 herbs and spices are heated in a wood fire to a boil with honey from the Sibillini Mountains, water, and alcohol. The micro batches are stored for six months in stainless steel tanks and yield a 68 proof honey and gentian-forward amaro. Just a few dashes of Sabilla in a cocktail will add a bitter & honey touch. I shared Francesco’s appreciation for the beautiful logo and bottle, and he was kind enough to arrange for the company to send me a poster. And yes, it was sent by a Varnelli.

Amaro Sibilla by Varnelli

I’m excited to get my hands on a bottle of Nonino Quintessentia. Once we were told it paired great with ginger beer and ale, as well as Prosecco cocktails, I knew a trip to a North End liquor store laid ahead. Made with grape distillate and stored in sherry oak barrels, it features orange and liquorice root notes.


We were among the first in the US to try this amaro

Francesco still had one surprise up his sleeve. We were among the first in the US to try the Braulio Amaro Alpino – definitely worth seeking out amari lovers.


The class was sponsored by market leader and king of cool Fernet Branca. A drawing for a Fernet bike captured the hearts of so many of us cocktail nerds.

I do not recommend recreating my first amaro experience. My friend accidentally bought Fernet Menta instead of the more common Fernet Branca. After a particularly heavy home-cooked meal, he was pushing shots in order to drain the bottle and provide justification for purchasing another bottle of Fernet. Fernet Branca is already pretty mint-forward, and Fernet Menta was a straight minty punch to the face for my uninitiated palate. Yet, after a big meal the next day, I was craving a sip of Fernet. It hasn’t been the same since – I’m currently sipping on Fernet Menta as I write this post.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a bus to the North End to catch so I can buy a few new amari favorites.

Bols Genever Gets the Barrel Aged Treatment at Hawthorne

21 Sep


Bob McCoy Pours The Nook  at The Hawthorne

Bols Genever has been one of the most exciting spirit brands to follow the past couple of years. It seems like every respectable cocktail bar in my hometown of Los Angeles started featuring a cocktail using the newly rediscovered Bols Genever within the past year. As a juniper head always on the look out for a new gin to try, I’ve eagerly welcomed this development; but while Bols Genever shares the similar juniper profile of gin, it belongs in a distinct spirits category. The defining characteristic of Bols Genever is the use of malt wine.  The presence of wheat, corn, and rye triple-distilled in copper pot stills give genever a taste all its own.

Founded in 1575 by Lucas Bols, Bols has been crafting Dutch genever since 1664. Despite genever’s long tradition and distinction as a bestseller in the 19th century, it wasn’t really available in post-Prohibition America until Bols reintroduced it in 2008. In fact, many of your favorite classic gin cocktails were originally crafted with genever. I knew I was in for a treat when Boston’s new cocktail hotspot The Hawthorne hosted a Barrel Aged Bols Genever tasting.

Katie Emmerson Tops Off My Wit Haven

The perfect drink to start off the evening was the Wit Haven, billed as a “Mariner’s Sly Apertif.” Bols Genever, white port, agave, lemon, bitters and prosecco to make it sparkle. Prima Perla prosecco dances on my tongue, while the citrus bite brings a crisping finish. With this refreshing yet flavorful apertif cocktail, my night was off to a great start thanks to Katie Emmerson. Katie has spent some time at NYC’ hotspots The Raines Law Room and Death & Co., and is now behind the bar at The Hawthorne, named one of America’s best new cocktail havens.


Bob McCoy Pours a Dutch Oven (Bols Genever, soda water, 2 types of bitters, grapefruit)

When you need that classic cocktail to end a  long day and cold night, the Dutch Oven is there to comfort you. Fortunately, you can recreate this Old Fashioned Bols Genever variation at home with the recipe they shared with Serious Eats.

Several of my drinks this evening were courtesy of Bob McCoy, officially Beverage Programs Laison for Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and The Hawthorne. Hired by Hawthorne Owner and Bar Director Jackson Cannon in 2007, his fingerprints are all over the cocktail menus of many of Boston’s best cocktail establishments.


Bols Genever: Jackson Cannon, Barrel Aged, and standard

The main event of the evening was tasting the standard Bols Genever, the Barrel Aged Genever aged for at least 18 months in Limousin oak, and the exceptional and rare Jackson Cannon Limited Edition Single barrel Bols Genever, hand-selected by the Hawthorne’s owner. We were fortunate to have Lucas Bols USA Managing Director Tal Nadari on hand to lead the tasting. Son of an Israeli restaurateur and acclaimed bartender in Holland, his passion was infectious. Always ready with an answer no matter how difficult the questions, I’m hoping one day to soak up some more knowledge from him over a Kopstootje (“little head butt,” because you must bend over to sip from a tulip glass filled to the rim with genever, paired with a beer).


Josh Childs, Owner of Starlite Lounge & Silvertone Bar & Grill (L), Hawthorne’s Bob McCoy (R)

I could happily sip on any versions of Bols Genever straight for an evening, but do yourself a favor and check out the Cannon four year barrel aged, avaible exclusively at The Hawthorne. Jackson Cannon spent several days in Holland with Bols Master Distiller Piet van Leijenhorst learning about the history of the spirit before deciding on a barrel.


(L-R) Andrea Novak, Manager Sara Kate Ragsdale, and Katie Emmerson

“What a killer playlist. Who’s spinning over there?”
“I dunno, let’s go find out.”

Oh… its none other than Brother Cleve. A staple of the Boston cocktail scene, Boston Cocktail Summit goers can drink from his wealth of knowledge and experience  on topics ranging from Pisco to the Manhattan.


Brother Cleve Provides the Tunes

Back to more cocktails. Another noteworthy creation was the creamy and spicy Nook (Bols, agave, lime, tabasco, worcestershire). The creaminess was thanks to shaking the generous serving of agave, and the drink only got spicier as you savored it. After the event was over, I sipped some Fernet and started contemplating my first non-Bols cocktail.

I was tipped off to the “Call Me Maybe,” but ordered it only after server Andrea Novak, who isn’t a stranger to being behind a bar herself, promised to sing me a verse. Featuring tropical housemade vermouth, plantation rum, and cardamaro, it’s delicious but there is one serious problem with ordering the Call Me Maybe: that damn song will get stuck in your head for at least another 24 hours.


“Call Me Maybe” (L), Dutch Oven (R)

Thanks to an informative tasting and inspired drinks by The Hawthorne’s bar staff, it was my best cocktail experience to date in my new city. I’m looking forward to returning to see what other gems are on their cocktail list.


Making New Friends over Bols (L-R): Dr. Ned Sahin, The Hawthorne’s Katie Emmerson, Ben Miller, The Hawthorne’s Andrea Novak, and a happy me

The Hawthorne
500 A Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
(617) 532-9150

More pics here
Note: A portion of the cocktails were hosted