This past October 4-6, 2012, the Boston Cocktail Summit celebrated the outstanding cocktail scene here.  I’ve already posted about Manhattans with Brother Cleve but there were lots of other sessions, cocktails and tidbits that are worth sharing, almost too many.  Here’s a round-up of some highlights.

Led by Jackson Cannon, the folks at Eastern Standard, Hawthorne and Island Creek shared the secrets of their delicious Rosé vermouth and taught me how to do it myself.  The session started with comparative tasting: Martini & Rossi’s rosé vermouth versus ES’s version. There is no comparison—the Boston-made vermouth is rich, sweet, herbally and bitter all at the same time.  It tastes like a strawberry jam full of herbs, and I totally mean that in a good way.  Wow.  The seminar continued with Kevin Martin demonstrating how to make this delicious vermouth (I think I might be over my fear of making caramel), while we sipped cocktails and heard more about the process and ingredient variations.  I went home with their vermouth recipes and a spice packet of ES’s own blend, so I can now make my own rosé vermouth (I’ll report back on how things go when I try it out).

Of the six whiskeys I tasted at a Whiskey and the Bar seminar at Citizen, Parker’s Heritage 6th edition Bourbon was my favorite.  I might even go as far as to say that it was the most delicious thing I drank over the course of 3 days at the Cocktail Summit.  This is Heaven Hill Distilleries 6th edition in their Heritage Collection series.  This annual series of rare, aged American Whiskeys honors 6th generation Master Distiller Parker Beam.  My mouth was just giddy with the thick caramelly flavor that mingles so nicely with the bold spice of the rye.  And at just under 132 proof this bourbon packs a punch.

What we “taste” isn’t always just what we taste.  In Science of Taste seminar, neuroscientist Don Katz (Brandeis) explained that smell, perception, genetics and our brain greatly affect taste. The focus of the seminar was the competing tastes of sweet and bitter.  Sweet = good. Bitter = bad.  We have our caveman ancestors to thank for this unfair association of these two types of flavors.  Biologically-speaking, bitter is the taste of poison; it’s the sign of non-healthy food. Sweet, on the other hand, is a sign that a food is ripe, fresh and full of calories.  When life was all about survival, you definitely wanted the sweet foods more than the bitter ones.  One very interesting bit to add to this battle of tastes, is that if you add a little sweet to your bitter, the bitter becomes more desirable, we longer biologically perceive it as bad.  Our drink of choice to demonstrate this effect was the Problem-Solver which combined rye, Cheering Herring, Benedictine and a rinse of Fernet Branca.

Ada Coleman’s Hanky Panky by Boston’s own Hanky Panky (aka Misty Kalkofen)

Ladies Choice: Women Behind the Bar—The Boston and New York chapters of LUPEC united to take us on a journey through cocktail, and in turn American, history g with a focus on the female gender.  One of the many interesting women I learned about was Ada Coleman.  She was head bartender at the famous American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London, when American Harry Craddock arrived there in the 1920s (he was escaping Prohibition).  He apprenticed under Coleman, who invented many of the classic recipes Craddock would feature in his The Savoy Cocktail Book.  Amongst the many drinks Coleman created was the Hanky Panky.  We sipped one made by Boston’s own Hanky Panky, aka Misty Kalkofen; that’s equal parts gin and sweet vermouth with a dash of Fernet.

To Boston’s first Cocktail Summit. Cheers!

This past October 4-6, 2012, the Boston Cocktail Summit celebrated the outstanding cocktail scene here in our city.  I spent three days attending seminars, being all nerdy about booze and sipping quite a few delicious spirits and cocktails.  One of the many seminars I attended was “I’ll Take Manhattan: A Social History of a Classic Cocktail” with Brother Cleve.  Is there a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than sipping Manhattans while Boston cocktail legend Brother Cleve recounts the history and lasting legacy of this venerable and always delicious cocktail of cocktails? 

The Manhattan. First served in NYC in the early 1870s, this cocktail never seems to go out of style.  Sure, the preferred whiskey, the proportions of ingredients, the vermouth and the garnish may vary depending on decade, but each version is still one hell of a cocktail.  Two early bartending books– How To Mix Drinks: The Barkeeper’s Handbook by George Winter and O.H. Byron’s The Modern Bartender’s Guide: How to Mix Fancy Drinks–both published in 1884 include a recipe for a Manhattan.

A mini-Manhattan watches on as Brother Cleve walks us through some boozy history

There were two major factors that lead to the creation of the Manhattan—the abundance of grains growing in the US and the arrival of vermouth from Italy.  In the 18th-early 19th century, it was a lot easier to transport grain in a distilled, liquid form than in big bales of hay, so rye whiskey production was in full swing and was the brown liquor of choice for many Americans.  And then in 1868 sweet Italian vermouth arrives in the US via Martini and Rossi.  Someone puts together rye and vermouth, and the Manhattan is born.

The following are the four recipes that we sampled; recipes courtesy of Brother Cleve.

All cocktails are stirred with ice in a mixing glass, and strained into a chilled cocktail coupe.

1873 Manhattan

This equal parts version is considered the original Manhattan, and remained popular until the second decade of the 20th century.

1 ½ oz Wild Turkey 101 bourbon

1 ½ oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
½ barspoon gum syrup (or simple syrup)
1 dash Orange Curaçao
1 dash Orange Bitters
garnish with lemon twist

Prohibition Era Manhattan
This is probably the best known version with a 2-1 ratio

2 oz Wild Turkey Rye
1 oz Cinzano Rosso vermouth
1 dash Angostura Bitters
garnish with an olive and a lemon twist

I made myself a post-WWII version to sip while writing this post. Delicious.

Post-WWII Manhattan
Also known as the Perfect Manhattan, this version combines sweet and dry vermouth.  As Brother Cleve told us “this is how my grandmother taught me to make a Manhattan.”

2 oz Wild Turkey 81 bourbon

½ oz Martini & Rossi Dry vermouth
½ oz Martini & Rossi Sweet vermouth
garnish with a cocktail cherry

Black Manhattan

This recent variation was created at Bourbon & Branch, San Francisco, 2007, and adds an amaro.

2 oz Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit
1 oz Punt E Mes
½ oz Amaro Averna

1 dash Aromatic Bitters
garnish with Maraschino cherry

To Brother Cleve for an entertaining and informative exploration of the Manhattan,  and to a classic cocktail that inspired our learning and imbibing.  Cheers!

According to the calendar, summer is now officially over!  I took a little summer vaca from writing, but not from imbibing.  Here are a few cocktail highlights from my summer.

My favorite summer cocktail

My friends Brian and Jeff introduced me to the Intro to Aperol and I fell in love at first sip.  It is the perfect combination of bitter, savory, tart and sweet—and it is amazingly drinkable!

Intro to Aperol (from Pegu Club)

2 oz Aperol

1 oz gin

¾ oz lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

dash Angostura

Old Man Peter

Nothing says summer like a garden full of delicious veggies.  And the thought of a lush vegetable garden reminds me of the childhood tale of Peter Rabbit, the mischievous bunny who gobbles up Mr. McGregor’s crops.  What would the sneaky rabbit sip on in his old age?  When I heard Sam Treadway at Backbar had a Negroni variation that attempted to answer this question, I couldn’t resist. The vegetal qualities of Cold River gin was the perfect choice to combine with the carrot-infused Aperol.

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Old Man Peter (created by Sam Treadway, Backbar)

1 oz Cold River gin

1 oz Cinzano Sweet vermouth

1 oz carrot infused Aperol (created with pickled carrots, blended into Aperol and fine strained out)

Shake and double strain into a chilled rocks glass, rinsed with chartreuse.

Sex on the Beach

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I celebrated a friend’s 25th anniversary of his arrival in America by going back in cocktail-time.  Arriving at the 80s themed party, I thought “what cocktails were people drinking in the 80s?”  From an interesting list that included White Russian, Tequila Sunrise, and Alabama Slammer, I chose Sex on the Beach.  I’m not going to lie, the vodka, peach schnapps, orange and cranberry juice combo was kind of delicious.  Time travel can be fun.

To the memories of beautiful summer day and to the wonders of fall ahead. Cheers!

The summer of boozy popsicles continues.  On Friday I went to visit with the folks at Privateer Rum in Ipswich, MA (more on that trip later).  The bottle of silver rum that came home with me was winking at me, just asking to be used in a Mojito popsicle.  These pack a bit of a punch, but that is easily masked by the sweet and tart flavors of a classic Mojito.

Here’s the recipe I used (again this is my version inspired by various recipes I found online):

Mojito Popsicles

3 oz white rum

3 oz lime juice, strained

 2 oz mint simple syrup*

1 cup lemon-lime soda

1/4 cup water

handful of mint leaves

Combine ingredients in a blender. Strain (I didn’t want lots of mint bits in the popsicle; I think a coffee filter works best) and then pour into popsicle molds.

* To make mint simple syrup, heat small pan of water with a handful of torn mint leaves.  Just before the water boils, remove from heat and let cool. Strain and use a 1:1 ratio water to sugar to make syrup.

To yummy frozen Mojitos! Cheers!

This is the second in a summer series about popsicles. Check out Boozy Pops #1: Orange-grapefruit Aperol.

One of my favorite things about summer is popsicles.  This summer I thought it would be fun to experiment with mixing up combinations of my favorite cocktail ingredients in popsicle form.  Let the boozy popsicle experiment begin.  First up, Orange-grapefruit Aperol; and it was quite a delicious pop, if I do say so myself.  It was just the right combination of sweet and bitter.

Here’s my recipe (inspired by various bitter-sweet recipes I found online):

1 1/2 cups juice, combination of orange and grapefruit (I used mostly oranges with 1 grapefruit); squeeze and strain the juice

1/4 cup simple syrup (1:1 ration)

1/2 cup Aperol

This filled my 8-popsicle tray.

To the delicious combination of juice and booze. Let the summer of popsicles begin. Cheers!

Thursday night at Temple Bar I asked about the seasonal punch, and as the list of ingredients was rattled off I was intrigued—rum, cognac, rye, grenadine, etc.  I enjoyed not one, but two glasses of this Twelve Mile Punch.  I rarely ever get the same drink twice in a row, so that says quite a lot about my satisfaction.  As Sam Gabrielli explained, this punch was inspired by the Twelve Mile Limit Cocktail (featured in Ted Haigh’s Vintage Cocktails and Forgotten Spirits), a cocktail popular in the 1930s that references the twelve nautical mile offshore-reach of the U.S.’s sovereignty, extended from the previous three mile limit.  This fact was particularly relevant during prohibition.  The government had no jurisdiction over what happened beyond the twelve mile limit, i.e. booze activities (i.e. the “booze cruise”) and sales beyond that point were out of reach of the feds.

Like the original cocktail recipe, the punch combines three different spirits (Appelton Jamaican Rum, Ansac VS Cognac and Overholt Rye) with homemade grenadine and lemon juice.  But Sam also added a few additional yummy things, Luxardo cherry juice and green tea, and combined this all over skins of juiced lemons.  The results are a rich boozy drink that is tempered by sweet and tart.

Cheers to summer and many more glasses of punch!

Once again, I joined the masses, the cocktail masses, that is, in New York City for the Manhattan Cocktail Classic.  And once again, I had a fabulous weekend.  There were familiar friends and new faces, the laughs seemed endless, and of course, there were more cocktails than I can (or care to) count.  This year my adventures took me all over NYC from the Gala at the NY Public Library to the Lower East Side then to Queens and Brooklyn and then back to the upper West Side.  Here are some moments and cocktails that stand out amongst the rest:

Napoleon House

My MCC experience began Friday evening at Napoleon House—a penthouse suite party at the Andaz Hotel hosted by Mandarine Napoleon.  With the bar manned by the fabulous San Francisco bar trio known as The Bon Vivants, the party was the perfect way to kick off the weekend.  I mean, who doesn’t want to hang out on an 11th floor balcony sipping delicious cocktails? Look at the view:

Josh, Steve and Alex, The Bon Vivants, are super nice and mixed up some great drinks.  Mandarine Napoleon, is new to me. Although I recently got a bottle, I haven’t experimented much with it.  Well, now I know what to do.  The Leroi Crusta, my first official cocktail of MCC 2012, with its combination of sweet, tart, spicy ginger, and bitter Fernet, stands out.

Leroi Crusta (created by The Bon Vivants, San Francisco)

1 ½ oz Mandarine Napoleon

½ oz Fernet Branca

1 oz lemon juice

½ oz ginger syrup

Shake and serve over crushed ice with a sugar rimmed glass.

Angostura Bitters

The miniature army of Angostura bottles that came home with me

Yes, Angostura is a classic that can be found on just about every bar, even the home bar of a cocktail neophyte, but sometimes we need a little reminding of the wonders of something right in front of our eyes.  As sponsors of the “Official Bar” at the Andaz, home base for industry folks (a new feature to this year’s festivities), Angostura showcased the versatility of this venerable bar staple in both cocktails and food.  I took the taste test and agreed that a gin and tonic is improved by Angostura. And it is also good in brunch classics, hello, biscuits and Hollandaise.  One of my favorite drinks of the weekend was the Angostura Eye Opener, the perfect cocktail to get us going after Friday night’s gala.

Angostura Eye Opener

1 ½ oz white peach puree

½ oz Aperol

¼ oz St. Germain

2 dashes Angostura orange bitters

1 dash Angostura bitters

Mix over ice. Strain into a flute and top with 4 oz sparkling wine.

Experimental Cocktail Club

We took a break from MCC events Saturday night and made our way down to the Lower East Side to the newly opened Experimental Cocktail Club.  Inspired by its European counterparts, the vibe is comfortable, sophisticated, cool.  The hospitality is fantastic—and I’m not just saying that because my friend CoCo took excellent care of us.

One of the best and most interesting things I drank all weekend was the Mancora that I had at ECC. [The entire menu looks amazing, we sampled five drinks, but I wish we had more stamina and could have tried the entire lot.  Next visit to NYC, I will definitely make another visit.]  The Mancora was made with Chai Roiboos-infused La Diablada Pisco, Malbec wine syrup, lime juice, Dolin Rouge sweet vermouth, and a Fernet rinse.  I admit on the menu this drink looked to be a bit much—how would all those flavors work together? But CoCo suggested I get it and I was not at all disappointed.  It was earthly and rich, slightly tart and herbally.  Really unique. Really delicious.

Hendrick’s Gin at Dutch Kills

Our Sunday began in Queens at Dutch Kills for a Behind the Bar event.  We were greeted by owner Richard Boccato, grabbed seats at the back bar and were quickly shaken a delicious Harvard Veritas, a yummy Sidecar variation with Hendrick’s (the event’s sponsor), Combier, lemon and a barspoon of Cassis.  We then heard a bit about the story of how Dutch Kills came to be, an overview with tastings of the components that make up Hendrick’s gin from Jim Ryan (who I should note has been nominated for a Spirit Award at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail for Best International Spirits Rep), and quite a bit about ice from Zac Gelnaw-Rubin of Hundred Weight Ice, whose shop is next door to Dutch Kills.

Harvard Veritas

1 ½ oz Hendrick’s gin

1 oz Combier

½ oz lemon

Barspoon of Cassis

Shake over ice. Strain into coupe.

These highlights just scratch the surface of the many delicious cocktails and good times had—wait, I just remembered our cab ride up the West Side Highway singing “And She Was” by Talking Heads. Best cab driver ever!  Until next year MCC, Cheers!

Four-Fifteen– Who doesn’t need a cocktail to get through taxes? As I filled out my tax forms a few weeks ago, I appropriately sipped the Four-fifteen, a delicious creation by Joy Richard (Franklin Restaurant Group). Initially inspired by the Income Tax Cocktail (gin, dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, bitters), this cocktail goes the bitter route, just the way I like it.

1 ½ oz Bols Genever

¾ oz Cocchi Americano

½ oz Aperol

½ oz Gran Classico

3 dashes grapefruit bitters

Stir with ice and strain into cocktail glass.

Boston’s Best Bartender–Boston is full of fantastic bartenders. Can there really be one best?  In a totally unscientific way, the Improper Bostonian tried to answer that question.  Three of the city’s veteran, “hall of famers” if you will– John Gertsen (Drink), Joy Richard (Franklin Restaurant Group) and Josh Childs (Silvertone Bar & Grill, Parlor Sports and Trina’s Starlite Lounge)– battled against three “rising stars”–Nicole Lebedevitch (Hawthorne), Sam Treadway (Backbar) and Kelly Unda (Harvest and Citizen).  After 3 rounds, Sam Treadway was victorious (of course he was!).  Read the full, drink-by-drink account of the competition here.

Le Mixeur Sharky–A few weeks ago, I hung out in the packed Stone Room at Hawthorne with bartenders and fellow cocktail enthusiasts sipping J.D. Salinger-inspired cocktails for a good cause.  Misty Kalkofen (Brick and Mortar) organized and hosted Le Mixeur Sharky, created by Seattle cocktail writer Ted Munant as a way to raise money for autism advocacy and education; funds raised (close to $1800 that will be matched by a challenge grant) will benefit the Massachusetts Advocates for Children.

Nine Boston bartenders were invited to create a cocktail by J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories.  The following fabulous bartenders lent their creativity and talent to mix up numerous cocktails: Sabrina Kershaw (Citizen), Tyler Wang (No.9 Park), John Mayer (Local 149), Ted Kilpatrick (No. 9 Park), Rob Kramer (Chez Henri), Scott Holliday (Rendezvous), Sean Frederick (Citizen), Ted Gallagher (Craigie on Main), John Gertsen (Drink).

Here’s one cocktail beauty shot of John Gertsen’s Teddy (and yes, that’s my hand).  Check out my friend Ashleigh Stanczak’s photo essay from the evening.

It is clear from the moment you meet Will and Dave Willis that they are passionate about what they do.  What they do is make handcrafted, small batch spirits that draw on local distilling tradition while also experimenting with flavor profiles and technique.  “We are trying to push the boundaries of what the spirits can do.”  This adventuresome spirit Dave expresses is what led these two brothers to turn a decade-long hobby of stove-top distilling into a commercial venture with the launch of Bully Boy Distillers in June 2011.

Will and Dave Willis at the distillery

Their passion for spirits and local production is rooted in their family heritage.  They grew on a 4th-generation working farm in Sherborn, Massachusetts.  In the basement of the farm house there is a bank vault with pre-prohibition era bottles of liquor (I’m hoping for a field trip some day).  Even the name of their company has a family connection.  “Bully” was a term popularized by Teddy Roosevelt, meaning superb or excellent; their great-grandfather was roommates with Roosevelt at Harvard and later named a beloved family horse Bully Boy after his friend.  In their warehouse space in Boston, Will and Dave carry on a tradition of excellence by using local and organic ingredients whenever possible and lovingly caring for each  step of the production from developing a unique mash bill for their whiskey to hand-sealing bottles.  The end result is high quality products that are tasty to sip on their own, but also versatile for use in cocktails.

It is important to Will and Dave to be in Boston and have the support of the local cocktail community.  One of the things they pride themselves on is being an urban distillery.  Will explains, “We really wanted to be a brand that was associated with where we live.  Each bottle is marked ‘handmade in Boston.’”  Their white whiskey, white rum and vodka are indeed quickly becoming quite popular with the city’s bartenders who appreciate the availability of quality local products.  To that point, Beau Sturm of Trina’s Starlite Lounge says, “Bully Boy is a great local product made by fantastic people who pour their heart into it.”  His First Full of Dollars (recipe below) combines the white whiskey with the mildly bitter Amaro Montenegro resulting in a stiff, yet light cocktail.   Over at Eastern Standard and Island Creek Oyster Bar you can also find a few cocktails featuring Bully Boy. Bob McCoy particularly likes their rum, “I think the rum is a standout.  It’s both unique and assertive while still being accessible.  It has the kind of flavor impact that can stand in for traditional dark rum-based cocktails but is also killer in a white rum classic like the Daiquiri.”  And he does just that in his daiquiri variation, The Republic (recipe below).

So what’s next for Bully Boy? When I visited with Will and Dave I spied barrels filled with whiskey and rum that are their soon-to-be released new products—Boston Rum and an aged whiskey.  I can’t wait. To local boys making delicious booze—Cheers!

First Full of Dollars (created by Beau Sturm, Trina’s Starlite Lounge)
1 oz Amaro Montenegro
2 oz Bully Boy White Whiskey
2 dashes orange bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled rocks glass with no ice or garnish

The Republic (created by Bob McCoy, Eastern Standard)

1½ oz. Bully Boy White Rum

¾ oz. spiced ginger syrup*

¾ oz. fresh lime juice

Mount in a mixing glass, add ice, and shake.  Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

*Spiced Ginger Syrup

1½ cups demerara sugar

1 cup water

6 oz. fresh peeled and chopped ginger

½ tsp. each allspice, cardamom, and coriander

Toast the spices in a pan over medium-high heat until very aromatic, tossing frequently so not to burn.  Add the water, sugar, and ginger.  Bring to just under a boil, stirring frequently, then reduce and let simmer for 12-15 minutes.  Take off the heat and let cool.  Pour contents into a container, cover and store in the refrigerator overnight to infuse.  Finely strain into a container, cover, and store in the refrigerator.

Doris Day will not be there, of course, but plenty of Boston’s finest will be at Les Zygomates Tuesday April 17 for a French-inspired evening of music, food and of course, cocktails.  The folks behind the Greater Boston Beverage Society and Opus Affair (of which I am a proud co-host) have organized a Frenchy event to support the Boston Cocktail Summit.

Imagine a French cabaret in the 1930s. Boston’s own “English Bill” Codman will be orchestrating the cocktails, featuring Nolet Gin, Ketel One, Don Julio, St Germain, and pours of Moet & Chandon.  Nibble on tasty hors d’oeuvres from Les Zygomates while the sounds of the fabulous Ben Powell Quartet in the Hot Club de France style of legendary Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt play.

April in Paris is 6:30-10pm Tuesday April 17 at Les Zygomates, 129 South Street, Boston

Tickets are $50 and include drinks, food and music. Check out the Opus Affair to get your tickets.

April in Paris. Cheers!

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