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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!


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.

While in New York City last week for a museum education conference, I managed to find some time to view a few fantastic museum exhibits and sip quite a few delicious cocktails.  The most interesting bar visit of the week was to Booker and Dax.  Opened just two months, this bar-meets-science lab is the latest addition to David Chang’s empire.  Located in the space formerly occupied by Milk Bar (which is now across the street) behind Momofuko Ssam Bar, Booker and Dax is the result of Chang partnering with David Arnold, the French Culinary Institute’s director of culinary technology.  Here traditional bartending is taken to a new level using innovative techniques that not only dazzle but that also have real purpose.

The menu is organized into the following categories: Bubbles, Red Hot Poker, Stirred, Shaken, and On the Rock.  Starting with Bubbles– these are not your typical sparkling cocktails.  Instead, these bubbly libations are made with juices and spirits that have been clarified in a centrifuge and then carbonated with Co2.  Like with all the chilled drinks, the champagne flute is first chilled with liquid nitrogen, yes, liquid nitrogen.  Since I am in love with Chartreuse, I had to have the Chartruth which combines the herbal French liqueur with lime juice.

It is not just technique that makes the drinks at Booker and Dax stand-out.  The menu features many unique and intriguing ingredients.  For example, using a rotary vaporator, the staff are able to distill just about anything. I sampled the distilled horseradish—the tiny, intense drop brought tears to my eyes upon it touching my tongue.  This potent liquid is a key ingredient in the Lady of the Night, a Blood Mary-inspired cocktail made with reposado tequila, clarified tomato water, distilled horseradish, sriracha, and Worcestershire sauce.  The pistachio syrup also blew my mind.  Made in a process similar to orgeat, this sweet intense pistachio flavor, features prominently in the Mustachi-Ode where it is combined with Nardini amaro, Becherovka, Wild Turkey and an egg white.  Our bartender Dana got creative with it– my friend Brian fell in love with a Trinidad Sour variation made with this deliciously nutty-sweet syrup.

So, what about these Red Hot Pokers?  Following in the tradition of colonial American barkeeps, these drinks are made by sticking a rod with a built-in 1,500-degree heater that was created by David Arnold into the cocktail.  This not only heats the drink, but it also serves to caramelize the sugars in the spirits while burning off some of the alcohol vapors, thus changing the flavor of the ingredients.  I went off menu for my red hot poker with a delicious creation of bar manager Tristan Willey that combined Rittenhouse Rye, Fernet Branca, ginger syrup and lime juice.

Our bartender Dana using the red hot poker. Check out his shirt-- in my honor, he changed into a Boston Celtics shirt.

Last but not least, its worth mentioning that the bar snacks, though a limited menu, are pretty good.  I mean, you can’t go wrong with David Chang’s pork buns, and even though I’m not quite sure what they are exactly, the ham chips are incredible.

So, if you want to see how unique techniques can be used not just for showmanship, but to enhance the cocktail experience, Booker and Dax is the place to be.  Cheers!

Jim Meehan of PDT, the popular speakeasy bar in NYC (yes, its the bar you enter through a phone booth in a hot dog stand) came to Boston a couple weeks ago to celebrate his new book, The PDT Cocktail Book, with a party at Hawthorne.  The book is a great addition to any bartender’s or cocktail enthusiast’s bookshelf.  It begins with a thorough run-down of tools, glassware, and technique, and then continues with recipe after delicious recipe.  In addition to all the drink goodness to read about,  the pages are adorned with playful illustrations by Chris Gall.

The cocktail menu for the evening’s festivities featured drinks from the book. My favorite of the evening was Albert Mathieu, created by Boston’s own Kevin Martin of Eastern Standard, who did a guest stint at PDT in 2009.  Named for the French engineer who proposed a tunnel under the English Channel that eventually led to the Chunnel that now connects England and France, this cocktail brings together spirits of the two countries.

Albert Mathieu (created by Kevin Martin)

1 ½ oz Plymouth gin

¾ oz Lillet Blanc

¾ oz green Chartreuse

1 barspoon St. Germain

1 dash Regan’s orange bitters

Stir with ice and strain into coupe. Garnish with an orange twist.


Soon Union Square will offer imbibers a new bar to sidle up to.  The folks behind the Journeyman are creating a cocktail bar behind their establishment appropriately called backbar.  I recently sat down with bar manager (and my favorite bartender), Sam Treadway to chat about his plans for the bar.

When Sam left Drink a little over a year ago many Boston imbibers were quite disappointed.  But after a year at the Waikiki Edition in Hawaii, we happily welcome him back and are excited about what he’s creating at backbar.  As with many of his previous jobs, Sam credits this current opportunity in part to his friend Ben Sandroff (his talent obviously had something to do with it as well) who connected him with the folks at Journeyman.  While paradise was a nice place to live, the opportunity to open a brand new bar, as well as his familial and friend connections brought him back east.

Having spent many hours across the bar from Sam, I know first-hand the value he places on hospitality.  He credits his first bartending gig at a local tavern in Northfield, Minnesota with instilling this value in him.  Back in those days he wasn’t mixing Sazeracs (speaking of which, he admitted that the first time he sipped a Sazerac he hated it; his palette just wasn’t quite ready yet) or serving up cocktails with infused syrups and bitters; he was pouring beers and whiskey for his regulars.  It wasn’t what was in the glass that had an impact, but rather the relationships he developed with his regulars.  And that’s the kind of environment he wants to cultivate at backbar—one where every customer, regular or not, feels like they are being welcomed into a friend’s home.  Simply put, he says, “I’m creating the bar that I would want to go to.”

This is Treadway’s first foray into starting a bar from the ground up.  While some aspects like formulating his cocktail menu, visiting antique shops for décor, and picking out glassware engage his creativity, others, like design of the bar space, take him outside his comfort zone.  But both seem to be a welcome challenge for the 27 year old who is excited about the opportunity to not only create yummy cocktails, but also be the vision behind the place.

And what about the drinks?  Since his days pouring draughts in Minnesota and that first unappealing Sazerac, Sam has come to appreciate both the simplicity and complexity of mixing drinks.   To that end, the menu will organized into four sections—classics (his opportunity to “recreate history in a glass”), new creations (a place to experiment with ingredients and techniques), specials/seasonal (following suit with the Journeyman’s approach in the kitchen) and “the tradesman.”  This final section will feature what bartenders like to drink when they are out.  To this end, I learned that Sam prefers beer (something light and drinkable like Blue Moon), a gin & tonic, or straight whiskey.  Since I have enjoyed countless cocktails made by Treadway, I have no doubt the menu will be fantastic.

I have it on good authority that backbar will open very, very soon.  See you there. Cheers!

Last Sunday night the Greater Boston Beverage Society transformed the House of Blues with spirits of all kinds and lots of festive activities (Who doesn’t love an old school photo booth?) for the fabulously fun Shakin’ It Up.  Formed earlier this fall by Alexei Beratis from Of the Spirits Beverage Consulting and Jamie Walsh of Stoddards, the Greater Boston Beverage Society is a not-for-profit organization that aims to preserve and promote Boston’s cocktail culture and spirits history while also giving back to local and national charities.  Shakin’ It Up was a precursor to next October’s Boston Cocktail Summit.  Its about time we had our own cocktail celebration!

There were so many spirits to taste and some many cocktails to enjoy, I can’t possibly share them all with you, so here are a few highlights seen through photographs taken by my friend Ashleigh Stanczak.

Any event with a Fernet Branca van is guaranteed to be a good time.  We couldn’t resist.

My favorite drinks of the night were at the Four Roses bar, and its not just because the space was staffed by the double charm of John of Citizen Public House and Noon of Umami.  The warm Autumn Breeze punch made with squash infused bourbon that Noon was serving was fantastic.  Imagine a boozy mouthful of perfect fall flavors.  It was so good I went back for a second taste.

The Autumn Breeze

Wash and slice into 2 inch wedges of 1.5 lb of each squash (Butternut, Kuri Squash, Carnival or any seasonal variety)

Combine with:

2 cups Local Raw Honey
2 cups Orange Juice
1 cup brown sugar
3 pods of Vanilla
8 Star Anise
8 Cinnamon Sticks
Peel of 2 oranges
Toss in a deep bottom roasting pan. Roast at 400F for 50- 60 minutes

Pour 4 bottles of Yellow Label Four Roses Bourbon over while still warm. Let cool. Keep the squash infused for 2 days.
After 2 days, strain out the solid from the infusion.

Serve the infused bourbon slightly warmed up with a few drops of Chocolate bitters. De-licious!

The most unique thing I tasted was the Old Potrero 18th century style Rye  Whiskey served by the Origin Beverage Company.  Produced by AnchorSteam in San Francisco, this 100% rye mash is distilled in a small copper pot stilland then aged in handmade oak barrels.  If you want to know what our whiskey drinking predecessors were drinking, try this stuff.

There were a number of photo booths around the event, and I was drawn in over and over again by the fun sunglasses.  Here’s a favorite pair:

Stay tuned for more info about Greater Boston Beverage Societies activities.  See you at October’s Cocktail Summit. Cheers!

Photos by Ashleigh Stanczak, Ashleigh Stanczak Photography

For Boston imbibers, making a decision about what bar to go to on any given evening just got a little bit easier.  If you are like me, bartenders are a very important part of your drinking experience.  You want to know if someone will be able to make your favorite drink.  And perhaps even more intriguing for me is whether or not he/she will suggest something new based on my preferences that will soon become a new favorite.

Well now, there’s a way to know when your favorite bartender is “on the bar” with a new free app (for iPhone and Android) created by TJ Connelly and Ian Stanczyk.  The app is called On the Bar (

The concept is simple: Bartenders sign up and when they are on shift, they “check in.” Users (like me and you) can then “follow” our favorite bartenders to get notification when they are working; you can also scan the list of bartenders and bars at any time to check out what’s happening.  Be sure to check out the descriptions of the bars–you just may notice a familiar name amongst the authors.

So, if you’re a bartender in Boston please sign up so your fans can follow you. And if you’re a cocktail enthusiast, get the app and start showing your favorite bartenders some love.  A recent piece in the Globe introduced the app to the city, so get on board. Cheers!

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