Shakin’ It Up for Boston Cocktail Summit 2012

The ladies of LUPEC said it best, but after I came back from Portland Cocktail Week I wondered the very same thing:  why doesn’t Boston have its own cocktail week?  Perhaps Portland has us beat when it comes to the number of bars offering house-made tonic syrup, but Boston is certainly home to some of the most skilled bartenders I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking with.  Drinking from.  You know what I mean.

So I was thrilled to hear that the Greater Boston Beverage Society is hard at work putting together not just a cocktail week, but a Cocktail Summit for next year.  And it turned out there was a way I could help: by attending a giant party.  In addition to unlimited cocktails featuring both small batch and big name spirit brands, Shakin’ It Up attendees were entertained by a comedian, live music and a Left Bank vs. Right Bank of the Charles bartender competition.

Familiar faces in the competition included Sabrina from Noir and Citizen’s, who holds the prestigious title of Miss Speed Rack Boston, and Naomi from Eastern Standard who helps to make Sunday Brunch at their bar as enjoyable as it is (she was working on a “peanut butter and jelly” drink last time we were there).  Here she is making a Ramos Gin Fizz for the competition:

The drinks the bartenders made were the answers to trivia questions, and Sabrina’s spot-on answer quickly had her making a Sazerac:

Jess Li, also from Citizen’s (and Sam’s), was on Sabrina’s side to fortify the Left Bank.  I can’t remember what drink she made, but she sure looked fabulous making it:

In the end the Right Bank bartenders took home the prize, but the louder message here was that Boston has both sides of the river covered in terms of passionate, fun-loving bartenders.

The House of Blues venue provided multiple levels for the sponsors’ booths, as well as formal barspace behind which the venerable likes of Todd Richman could be seen doling out Barenjager cocktails.  I enjoyed their Honey Devil Punch (Barenjager, Rum, black tea, lemon, simple) quite a bit, and I loved the Barenjager lip balm lagniappe that they were handing out.  I was super happy to see Berkshire Mountain Distillers in attendance, serving cocktails featuring their Greylock Gin and Ragged Mt. Rum partnered with Ripe agave-sweetened citrus cocktail mixers.  My favorite BMD offering is their Ethereal Gin, and I learned that a new batch featuring a lavender-colored label (so far I’ve had their pink and chartreuse batches) will be ready soon.

Two other notable cocktail offerings spanned the temperature scale, giving me a chance to say goodbye to summer and hello to another fabulous Boston winter.  Umami teamed up with Square 1 Basil Vodka to make a hugely refreshing drink with Merlet Creme de Poire, Meyer lemon juice, and Tabasco.  I took the opportunity to sip some of the basil vodka neat, and found that of the blend of basil varieties it is made with, Thai basil was most prominent and imparted a spicy licorice nose.  Perhaps this is how I will get my basil fix in January.  But if I was at all bummed out about summer’s end, the hot Pisco Porton Punch that was being ladled out of a crock pot certainly provided an attitude adjustment.  I can’t seem to find a recipe but it was rich and delicious, not to mention a clever way to keep such a “tropical” brandy relevant in the winter months.

So hats off to the Greater Boston Beverage Society for putting together such a fun evening for brands, bartenders and Bostonians.  If this is any indication of what’s to come at next year’s Boston Cocktail Summit, we’re all in for a treat.

When the Fernet bus beckons, you go

As both a telecommuter and a cocktail enthusiast, I’ve been fighting the urge to visit Trina’s Starlight Lounge during their Monday brunch for a while now.  Its existence is like a fresh pan of hot brownies cooling on the countertop.  Tempting, dangerous.  And when I heard that the Fernet bus would be parked outside it was simply too much.  It was a 70 degree day in November to boot, so I quickly invented an errand in the general vicinity of Trina’s and headed out.

When I walked in at around 1 pm it was packed.  I found a sliver of standing space at the far end of the bar near the garnishes and asked if my favorite drink, the Modern (cilantro-infused gin, lime, simple syrup), was still possible.  As I had feared,  they’d run out of the infused gin and had moved to a fall/winter menu like good in-season ingredient users.  Instead I had a delicious mezcal cocktail, “El Cartel,” that contained orange juice, making it a perfectly delicious brunch drink even if it was off the evening cocktail menu.

The friendly Fernet folks were flitting about, pouring shots and setting up a camera to film Trina’s Emma Hollander making a Bonita Applebum, all wearing Fernet gear and chatting with the patrons.  But what caught most of my attention was that it truly is,  as Trina’s describes it, an “industry brunch.”  I was happy to see some of my favorite local bartenders enjoying themselves on the other side of the  bar, socializing with colleagues and friends.  The vibe was great, and as an industry outsider I still felt welcome.  I soaked it up, along with another cocktail and a veggie slam (the hash browns are of a totally unique species), and then headed back outside to see the Fernet bus.

It’s adorable.

In total I lost a mere two hours of my day to unfettered hedonism, but certainly gained a spring in my step for the walk home.  Before leaving, I’d been told by one of Trina’s off-duty bartenders who was in attendance that I would likely be back every Monday.  Well, maybe every other Monday, but yeah pretty much.

Two spirits new to me: Damiana liqueur and Slivovitz

The Neighbor System, knowing much about fertility herself, recently gifted me a bottle of Damiana liqueur.  I’d never heard of it, and so we drank some on cracked ice with a squeeze of lemon.  At first the taste reminded me of Becherovka “lite,” but then the flavor became a bit more complex and woody.  Trying it at room temperature after eating some corn chips and an apple changes everything.  The nose has a curry-like spice to it, but it’s overall fruity.  The first sip burns with alcohol and cinnamon, fades into a burdock root kind of medicinal, and finishes sweet.  I may sound like a douche, but I’m being as serious as possible.

Damiana or Turnera diffusa, as Wikipedia will be delighted to tell you all about, is a plant that grows in Mexico and seems to be well-liked down there.  People smoke it and drink it in hopes that it will calm them down and love them up like Barry White.  The bottle says it all:

Since there is a claim that Damiana was used instead of triple sec in the original margarita, I did just that.  Except I used mezcal instead of tequila because I love it so.  2 0z.  mezcal, 1 oz. fresh lime juice, 1 oz. Damiana.  Shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass.  I might add 1.5 oz Damiana next time since this was fairly tart, but overall it made for great margarita that’s just different enough.  You don’t see many mexican aperatifs in cocktail programs, and you certainly don’t get to grab onto many bottles shaped like this.  Daaaaaamn.

Now, if Slivovitz came in a bottle, it would be shaped like a bony chain-smoking harpy.  Damson plum brandy.  Sounds delicious!  On the back of the bottle, there’s a little picture of a glass of the stuff neat, with a prune speared on a pick as garnish.  Some cruel person on the Intenet recommended that Slivovitz be enjoyed at room temperature, and so I poured some into a grappa flute to give it a try.

This spirit is clearly made of the angriest of damsom plums.  These plums felt cut down in their prime; they didn’t want to die.  They’re so mad I can’t even tell they were once plums.  I’m going to have to think long and hard about what I can do with this volatile substance, so in the meantime I leave you with this:

Recently attempted drinks

A month ago I got a little fixated on the desire to combine my favorite gin with plums and basil.  In a dainty frosted coupe, of course.

My first attempt was the best, but I was being a bad scientist and slopping shit around so I can’t remember any of the specifics.  I know I took the time to chill my coupe, and my plum was pretty ripe.  I muddled the plum with confectioners sugar and 3 large basil leaves, added gin and lemon juice and ice, shook, and tediously double-strained into my coupe.  The result was a pretty little lavender hued cocktail, but was kind of thick in the mouth.  I guess I battered the pectin out of the plum or something, but the texture wasn’t necessarily upsetting since it was nice and cold.  I added a few hefty dashes of Scrappy’s lavender bitters, as I do to most things these days, and that made me forget about the taste I was trying to achieve by pleasantly overpowering everything else.

My second attempt tried to take care of the viscosity by serving over crushed ice in a tall glass, as well as add some lapsang souchong simple.  I think I stuck to 2oz. of gin, 0.5oz lemon juice, 0.75oz lapsang simple, a whole ripe plum and basil leaves.

I wasn’t thrilled.  I had run out of lemons for juice so it  didn’t end up being very potent, and none of the flavors really shone through.  I’m not giving up yet though, and am currently back at the drawing board still obsessed with the plum idea.  It’s not entirely unfounded, as I am drawing inspiration from Teardrop lounge’s Love in the Afternoon.  I think I need to make my smoky tea syrup a bit stronger, and maybe there’s a reason Teardrop chose the enigmatic pluot… Also, mezcal. Hmm.

Having given up on the plum thing, I moved on to lower pastures.  I picked up that morning’s leftover tea (chai green tea with the teabag still in), took a sip  of the strong brew and decided I wanted some kind of cold chai toddy.  In a chilled coupe.  That was the extent of my thinking, and I looked into the liquor cabinet for further instruction.

I still don’t have any lemons, so I was looking for an solution to the tartness issue.  I used some of this elderflower liqueur that I bought because it wasn’t St. Germain, but turned out to be kind of lousy– but it’s a nicer way to introduce citric acid into drink.  I grabbed the Ethereal gin again because I love it so and shook the leftover sweetened tea,  gin, and elderflower liqueur together and strained into the all-important chilled coupe:

With my vigorous shaking and the watery sweetened tea and elderflower liqueur, the 2 oz. of gin got pretty diluted.  If I had over-planned this, I would have made chamomile tea simple syrup instead of just dumping some of my cold green chai dregs into a shaker.  I would have gone shopping for lemons, and never even considered the elderflowers.  But as it was, it wasn’t terrible.  Just more like a “cooler” instead of a cocktail.

And here’s something totally delicious and easy:

A white whiskey sour with thyme simple syrup.  BAM. I used our wicked local Bully Boy white whisky, and the thyme simple was leftover from when I made a big delicious jar cocktail.  I had acquired more lemons at this point, so all was well.

Man, that drink is too summery knowing that it’s going to snow tomorrow night.  It’s time for me to change the banner again I suppose…

Drinks in bed

Speaking of blanket season, I was recently given a wooden “breakfast in bed” serving tray and I tarted it up a bit with a layer of chalkboard spray paint.

It has little legs that drop down allowing it to act as a Mars rover/St. Bernard, landing on the surface of your blanket-swathed lap to bring you a delicious and well-labeled cocktail.

The chalkboard surface works well and is totally inviting.  It’s been around for just a few days so far and I’m already doing stuff like this:

A summery summary

Well, I understand summer is going to be over in like three days but I wanted to update the banner and the blog before that.  The summer banner features a sample of the fruits of my tomato labors, but I’m going to reminisce about some drinks I enjoyed during the warm months and introduce a new favorite spirit for the fall.

This was a watermelon gin fizz I enjoyed while potting up my tomatoes.  It was in April and things were just starting to look up, weather-wise.  I don’t remember the exact recipe, but I imagine I muddled watermelon and some confectioners sugar, added gin and lime juice and egg, shook (with my handy Hawthorne coil), added ice, shook MORE, strained into that glass and topped with soda. And then I wrapped my grubby paws around it and slaked my thirst.

At some point in May I tried to make “creme de lilac” and didn’t get very far.  I ended up throwing vodka and simple syrup into the blender and came up with this:

I added some soda, but should have just double-strained into a chilled coupe. Like a pro.  Pro-tip: lilac blender syrup has a half-life of about 12 hours.

June was a slow month for drink innovation, but I took Saveur’s advice and made this strawberry rhubarb smash:

Tangy, sweet, attractive.

In July we got ballsy, grilled some pineapple, and came up with drinks accordingly.  Here was mine:

I muddled the pineapple, added anejo tequila and some grapefruit sorbet, shook with ice, poured and topped with what I wanted to be Prosecco– but it was MOSCATO.  So evil.

Then there was this beauty: gin, Fentimans victorian lemonade, Pimm’s float.

Don’t forget the baby cucumber slices!

August saw my dainty coupe glasses getting used for a variety of drinks, including a Silver Monk, an Oatmeal Jager Flip, and a refreshing tomato/gin/Lillet combination:

And just this month I made an extremely fennel-y fizz. I went for the blender again and laid waste to a big bunch of fennel fronds (and some gin).  Given my love of green fizzes, I just had to.

So fall is pretty much here now and, just in time, I  discovered that my humble local liquor store now carries ROOT.

This assertive spirit genuinely tastes exactly like root beer.  This is both good and challenging, because it’s gleefully recognizable but kind of a drink dominatrix.  Many of the ROOT recipes listed on the website involve red fruits and brown spirits, and after trying out the cranberry shrub punch I think that’s a very good idea.

But I am still in the honeymoon phase with this stuff and enjoy it best on its own, with some ice and soda.  And if you add vanilla ice cream to that, well:


It tastes just like a brown cow from your youth.  Except it makes your eyelids a lot heavier.

Just in time for blanket season!

Grass in your glass

I’m a sucker for all wines and spirits (and olive oils!) that are described as “grassy,” so I decided to make some wheatgrass infused vodka.  The resulting liquor, and some of the drinks I made with it, are shown below:

Fig 1.  My little field of wheatgrass.  Intensely local.

Fig 2.  Wheatgrass infused vodka– fresh from the blender.  I’ve kept mine in the fridge, but it seems to be losing its vibrancy over the course of the week.  I’d recommend making small batches and using them the same day.

Fig 3.  The Cud Buddy.

Fig 4.  The Chlorophyzz, establishing its fizz layer.

Fig 5.  The Silage Sour, sans silo dome and little red barn.  And no straw.

Fizz Odyssey 2011

I wrote to the Farmer General regarding my recent adventures with Gin Fizzes, and here are some images of the various results.

Fig 1.  The inspirational Silver Fizz made at the cocktail bar Drink in Boston.

Fig 2.  My personal second attempt (first attempt:  data not shown), with 3 minutes of shaking w/o ice and 2 minutes of shaking w/ice.  Rhythmic chanting.  Excellent taste, sub-par fizz.

Fig 3.  A carbonated gin milk punch forming an Inverse Fizz (IF) in the presence of soda.  Kind of nasty, but not as nasty as when I added an egg white to the soda bottle (data not shown).

Fig 4.  Ingredients were whipped in a KitchenAid on high speed for ~5 minutes, added to ice and shaken for one additional minute, poured into glasses and topped with soda.  Delicious, through and through.

The Farmer General: a notable online publication

Co-founded by Sarah Kanabay and Chris Onstad, The Farmer General is a feast for the mind.  It’s not even close to being your typical online “”foodie mag”” (a term that requires two sets of quotations to protect the rest of the paragraph from its smarminess) as this publication contains everything from recipes to classic poetry remixes— and much more truly creative and difficult-to-categorize literary fare.

I’ve recently joined in the fun, and will be contributing Notable and Potable articles on as regular a basis as possible.  So please browse through the archives and then add The Farmer General to your RSS Feed Bag.

Birthday bitters

Blood orange bitters, no less.

Mommy dearest sent me a sweet little birthday box,  filled with sweet little things including this bottle of Stirrings blood orange bitters.  We have a bottle of their ginger liqueur and Matthew loves to infuriate me by adding it to ginger beer-based cocktails.  “That’s like adding salt to your ramen!” I yell.  But that’s not the only way it can rub me wrong– it’s very sweet and VERY gingery.  I only add teensy amounts to drinks, and if the drink contains soda water the whole thing can very quickly become what I like to call “25 dollar gingerale.”

These birthday bitters are also quite sweet, but I just added a generous tablespoon to a vodka and soda and the results are GRAND.  This tawny-colored beverage somehow tastes very much like coca cola with a lemon wedge– which is a great taste to be mirroring without the chicken bone-dissolving amounts of sugar in your soda can.  Plus, there is vodka.