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After the insanity that is the holidays, there seems to be a natural pull that makes me want to hibernate from the January chill, so I make a concerted effort to go out to my favorite places and be warmed from the inside out. On a recent snowy winter evening, Holly, Jim and I went to one such place, Craigie on Main. We snagged my favorite spot at the bar– the far end that offers a great view of both the behind-the-bar action and the crowd. We were warmly greeted by John and Ted. I don’t need the bartenders to know who I am when I walk in the door (I am resisting a cheesy Cheers reference, but you catch my drift), but it sure does feel nice when they do.
Since Jim has shared his love of beer with me, it was time to return the favor and share my passion for cocktails with him in the form of the Cocktail Whim (and we’d throw Boston’s best burger into the mix for good measure). I have extolled my preference for this “bartender’s choice” option before. This time what I appreciated most of all was the chance to try out new creations that our bartender Ted Gallagher was working on—only one of our four mini-cocktails even had a name.
I liked our 3rd drink best—Mitchner’s Rye, maple simple syrup, house-made pear bitters with a Scotch rinse and flamed rosemary essence. It was fragrant, rich and warm—perfect to sip on a cold winter night. The other highlights of the night for me were the El Camino, with rye, house made amber vermouth and Tremontis Mirto (an Italian myrtle berry liqueur—delicious!) and a taste of Craigie’s latest milk punch.
So, resist the pull to hibernate. Get off the couch, bundle up, and head out to your favorite place that’s as comfy as the old college sweatshirt you are wearing and warm yourself with a favorite drink, or better yet experience your bartender’s whim. Cheers!
Last night I was reminded why I like Craigie on Main so much—my taste buds are indulged and excited with each bite and each sip.
Holly, Maura and I settled into our seats at the bar and as we begin discussing drinks with John Mayer (one of my new favorite bartenders), Maura pointed to a small bowl of cardamom seeds and asked “What happens with those?” John answered her with the 1771 which features those cardamom seeds, gin, lime, grapefruit and sparkling wine. Delicious. I am so glad Maura asked about those cardamom seeds, and got our Cocktail Whim off to a good start.
For our 3rd mini drink, John mixed us a 1794 (I guess it was a night of 18th century-named cocktails). I like to think of this as a fall version of the Negroni—which I have drinking like crazy this summer. In the 1794, rye whiskey replaces the gin, hence the name—1794 was the year of the Whiskey Rebellion. The rye is equaled with Campari and Carpano Antica, the Cadillac of sweet vermouth. And then a few dashes of mole bitters—now I know what to do with that bottle I bought at the Boston Shaker months ago. I didn’t think the Negroni could be improved on, but I may have been wrong. The mole bitters add this wonderful hint of chocolate to an already yum libation.
Now, I know I normally just write about cocktails, but I must veer off course to comment on our food. I decided it was time to get over my fear of bone marrow—how bad could something described as “meat butter” be? I smeared a bit on my toast, hesitantly took a bite, and was blown away. Bone marrow is crazy delicious! Fear gone. This could only be followed by the burger—grass-fed beef, with house-cured bacon, Vermont cheddar, mace ketchup, on a homemade sesame bun. If your mouth is watering just from reading this, imagine how I felt as I took a bite. A burger shouldn’t be that good, but holy moly this one is beyond good.
That was one flavorful evening– cardamom seeds, mole bitters, bone marrow, a kick-ass burger, and I didn’t even talk about the Corpse Reviver #2 with Cocchi Americano or the Pisco milk punch. Cheers!
In ancient Norse mythology the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, were reflections off the spectacular armor of the Valkyries, the warrior women who escorted the dead across the northern skies to the legendary Valhalla. For the Romans, Aurora was the goddess of the dawn. Each day to rejuvenate herself she flew across the northern sky to announce the coming of the sun. And Finnish folklore tells of mythical foxes that spark fires in the sky with their tales. You may be wondering what this mythology has to do with cocktails…
Comfortably seated at Craigie’s crowded bar (this is one popular place!), Holly and I enjoyed a Northern Lights while we waited for Maura to join us. This drink is SO good! With scotch, St. Germain, lemon and tiki bitters this cocktail has a wonderful range of flavors, like the beautiful spectrum of colors of the meteorological phenomenon of the same name. The smoky, sweet, and tart flavors are enhanced with house-made tiki bitters which feature ginger, orange essence and baking spices. One of the things that Holly and I liked best about this drink was the subtly of the St. Germain. Now, I totally love the elderflower liqueur, but it often takes over a drink. Here, however, the scotch holds it at bay and the St. Germain just adds a delicate bright sweetness. A drink that stands up to the legends of ancient mythology– complex, magical, and pleasing.
Maura soon joined us and we moved onto the Cocktail Whim. This was my 3rd adventure in this cocktail tasting and I love the concept more and more each time. Once again, Carrie served up four great drinks– three of which featured Benedictine, one of my favorite liqueurs. We started with a Belle du Jour—brandy, Benedictine, house-made grenadine topped with Champagne.
Our second drink was a classic daiquiri– rum, lime juice, and simple syrup. Deliciously simple. Simply delicious. Next, we sipped on a Vieux Carre—rye, brandy, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, Angostura and Peychaud’s. The rich, complexity of this drink paired nicely with our delicious burgers. Our final drink, a Colleen Bawn—a flip made with brandy, Benedictine and yellow Chartreuse (and an egg, of course)– was a nice herbally ending to our tasting. Then as an extra treat, Carrie let us sample a drink she’s working on for next Sunday’s event at Green Street. All I’ll say is that it’s heavy on the smoky mezcal and leave the rest for next Sunday.
Tonight I met Susan at Craigie on Main and we decided to do the Cocktail Whim—four half-sized cocktails that our bartender Carrie chose for us beginning with a French 75 version and ending with an Italian-inspired flip. I have done this before and really love it for a number of reasons:
1. You really don’t have to make a decision;
2. You try drinks you might not normally chose for yourself (and if you’re not crazy about it, hey, it’s only a small drink);
3. You get to enjoy your drinks in super-cute mini-glasses.
Susan and I had lots of catching up to do and were talking a lot, so my thoughts on the drinks a bit more cursory than my usual reviews. Admittedly, I was more focused on talking than on drinking. So, I guess this post is like the cocktail whim itself, a little taste to pique your interest.
We started with a Kingston 75—a version of a French 75 with Appleton rum, triple sec, lemon juice, topped with Champagne. Its a warmer version of one of my favorite cocktails. A really nice light beginning.
The second drink, which both Susan and I really liked, is a creation of Carrie’s and it had yet to be named. It was made with mezcal, Aperol, grapefruit juice, lime juice, agave syrup, Fee Bros Whiskey Barrel bitters, and a pinch of salt. The mezcal made it smoky and the Aperol added that citrus bitterness that I love.
Our third drink, the Mediterranean Union, was my favorite. This had Fighting Cock bourbon, house-made amer picon (a French bitter liqueur), and Cynar. The bitterness of the amer picon plays very nicely with the bourbon and the buttery artichokey Cynar. I love this kind of thing of a cold winter evening—it warms you from the inside. Yum!
We finished with the Florentine Flip which was Susan’s favorite (she loves flips!). This herbalicious flip has lots going on—Punt de Mes, Amaro Nonino (a wonderful Italian herbal liqueur that was a new one for me), Benedictine, Angostura bitters, a dash of orange blossom, an egg (of course), finished with flamed essence of mint. A delicious ending to our cocktail quartet!
Wednesday night I went to Craigie on Main with Julie, Bridget, Chris and Phil for their Cocktail Whim—four half cocktails decided upon by the bartender. Carrie took us on a fun cocktail adventure that began with a light appley sparkling cocktail and ended with a rich, dessert-like sherry flip. Along the way she shared lots of little tidbits about the yum ingredients in our cocktails. This bartender’s whim is a great way to experiment and try some new stuff and maybe you’ll discover a new favorite—my new find was Becherovka.
Our first drink was the Tavern Sparkler.
Apple cider and honey syrup are matched up with Becherovka, and a little champagne tops it off. This was my first experience with Becherovka, and it may soon become a favorite. Like many of these traditional liqueurs, this bitter one from the Czech Republic, was traditionally used as a home remedy for stuff like toothaches and arthritis. Cinnamon is the most prominent of the over thirty two herbs and spices in this secret recipe. In this drink that cinnamon-herbal flavor perfectly compliments the apple cider and honey. Then the champagne adds just enough sparkle to make the cocktail even more interesting—it’s bubbly, but not too bubbly. Apple, cinnamon and honey are such familiar flavors and for me made drinking this cocktail a comforting experience. Especially on a cold winter evening it warmed the soul. This wonderful start was Julie’s favorite.
For drink #2, we had the Final Ward. And this picture does not do this amazing drink justice.
This is a variation of the Last Word—one for my absolute favorite drinks—which is equal parts (3/4 ounces to be exact) gin, maraschino, green Chartreuse and lime juice. Carrie explained that this version was developed by New York bartender Phil Ward. Rye replaces gin and lemon replaces the lime. And while I didn’t think you could improve on a drink as good as the Last Word this is pretty damn good. The spiciness of the rye adds a depth to the already delicious mix of herbally Chartreuse and maraschino. And anything served with one of those Luxardo maraschino cherries is delicious!
Next came the 3-2-1.
This one has Fighting Cock bourbon, Aperol, sloe gin and whiskey barrel aged bitters. The woody flavor of the savory bourbon and bitters are a solid foundation for this drink. But the real punch comes from the Aperol. Like Campari, Aperol is a bitter liqueur made from citrus (oranges to be exact), and it’s the most prominent part of this drink—which I really like. The sloe gin adds not only sweet berriness which slightly mellows the bourbon and bitterness, but also makes the cocktails beautiful with that rich red color. I loved the orange aroma and flavor that bookend this drink—I was drawn in by the robust orange fragrance and loved the way the orange bitter flavor lingers in your mouth long after the sip has been swallowed. This may have been my favorite.
We finished with the Jerez Flip.
While I am getting over my fear of eggs in cocktails and am really becoming a flip convert, this was my least favorite of the night. There was a lot going on—oloroso sherry, Pimm’s, Benedictine, demarara syrup, angostura and mole bitters. I loved the Benedictine and really enjoy the richness thatan egg adds to a cocktail and who doesn’t love trying to get every last drop of foam from the glass. Although I admit I am not as patient as Chris was in making that happen. The reason for my hesitation with this particular flip was the inclusion of oloroso sherry—I am not a huge fan of sherry. This was, however, one of Bridget’s favorite, which is the beauty of the Cocktail Whim, one person’s least favorite is another’s favorite.
Four yum cocktails, some good bar food (shoe string fries, thinner than any shoe string I have had, were reminescent of those potato sticks in a can from childhood), and friends, of course, made for a good Wednesday. And I can’t forget to mention how much I loved thetotally adorable mini-glasses. Salute!