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Drink once again hosted Boston’s semi-final round of Appleton’s REMIXOLOGY and boy, was it a fun party.  With rum flowing and tunes playing how can it not be?

This year’s competitors were Stephanie Clarkson (Think Tank), William “English Bill” Codman (Woodward, Ames Hotel) and Sean Frederick (The Citizen).  Each bartender took up the challenge of creating a unique cocktail with Appleton  inspired by a favorite song.  And each approached the performance with energy and individual style—I can’t quite seem to get the image of English Bill having simple syrup poured over him out of my mind.  But in the end only one could be victorious and the winner was Sean Frederick.

Sean really outdid himself in costume, performance (I learned he has some pretty sweet dance moves) and taste, of course.  His first cocktail was Street Meat performed to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long.”   His choice of music was nostalgic—“All Night Long” was the first piece of music Sean owned and one that he played over and over again on his Fisher Price record player.  Taking inspiration from the Caribbean vibe of Lionel Richie’s tune, his cocktail draws on the spicy and sweet flavors of Jamaican street food—food so delicious, you’ll want to celebrate and dance “All Night Long.”

Street Meat (by Sean Frederick)

2 oz Appleton Estate Reserve rum
½ oz lime juice
½ oz pineapple juice
¼ oz demerara-ginger syrup
¼ oz allspice dram
¼ oz falernum
1 drop chili sauce

Build ingredients, pour over crushed ice in collins glass and swizzle. Float Del Maguey Mezcal Vida on top, garnish with fresh mint and finish with fresh-grated nutmeg.

Sean also dazzled the crowd in head-to-toe Celtics gear (including tear away pants that he tore away!) as he rocked it to Europe’s “Final Count” while shaking a flip that included a stout syrup.  He will soon head off to New York City to compete against finalists from Miami, San Francisco and NYC—show ‘em what Boston’s made of!  Congratulations and Cheers!


Labor Day is just around the corner which unfortunately means the hot summer will soon fade into crisp fall days.  But before that happens, a few highlights of my summer imbibing.

Is that a lime skull-shaped garnish?   This summer the Children’s Museum hosted outdoor summer concerts (bands recruited by my friend and man-about-town Graham Wright).  To complement the great music, Drink bartenders crafted a cocktail for each event.  Scott Marshall took the opportunity to indulge his passion for Tiki drinks on the night that Waitiki 7 played.  He mixed up a big batch of Shrunken Heads–light and dark rums, lime juice and grenadine.  The drink was pretty tasty, but the garnish was phenomenal—yes, that is a skull carved from a lime peel.

Cocktail road trip   One Sunday afternoon in late July, I picked up a few fellow cocktail enthusiasts and we took a little road trip to Providence, RI.  Our destination was the Cocktail Culture: Ritual and Invention in American Fashion, 1920-1980 exhibit at the RISD Museum.  We take cocktail culture for granted—who doesn’t have a shaker, an ice bucket, various glasses and decanters?  But it wasn’t always that way for ordinary Americans.  It was neat to think about the influence that cocktails and their consumption had on fashion and home décor, and to see how those ideas came to fruition in the form of beautiful things.  Of course, you’d need “cruise-wear” for the original booze cruises because “Getting there is half the fun” (Cunard Cruiselines advertising campaign, early 1950s).  And how about flat-bottom purses? How else are you supposed to rest your purse on the bar while enjoying a few delicious drinks?  Now I totally want my own 1920s silver and enamel cocktail shaker manufactured by Charter Company, but I’d settle for Russell Wright’s 1957 Eclipse cocktail glass set.

Soon to be a new favorite—Erbaluce  A couple weeks ago, on assignment (more on that later) I visited the bar at Erbaluce for the first time.  Tucked into the quaint neighborhood of Bay Village, this place takes its responsibility to serve the best it can very seriously while maintaining the feel of a neighborhood place.  The bar program follows the kitchen’s local, seasonal, Italian-inspired philosophy and has the attitude of “if we can make it, we will.”  Why buy Pimm’s when you can make your own? My friend Holly’s sipped a Pimm’s Cup that featured loveage and tisane, while I enjoyed an old-fashioned with peach-infused bourbon (and lovingly gazed at the collection of 13 amari; perhaps the largest in the city, according to the charming bar manager Nick Korn).  The baked peaches filled with mascarpone, marzipan and honey that ended our meal just may have been one of the most delicious desserts I have ever eaten.  Erbaluce, you haven’t seen the last of me.

Happy Summer!  Cheers to a few more weeks of warm, sunny weather!

A beauty shot of where I spend my weekends. White Pond, NH

Last Monday night a menu of ten original cocktails each showcasing Spanish influence around the globe tempted Julie and I as we settled onto our bar-stools at Estragon.  Sahil Mehta described his Spanish Sip cocktail menu as “a bar-stool voyage around world.”  Along with some very yummy $1 tapas, Julie and I sampled quite a few things on the cocktail menu.  Here are my impressions and taste notes about my favorites, as well as Sahil’s explanation of his inspiration.

I started my journey with the Simon Bolivar (Pisco, yerba mate, pineapple juice, mango syrup, lime, Angostura bitters)I couldn’t resist the allure of yerba mate, a species of holly native to subtropical South America that is popularly made into a tea-like drink, or the temptation of mango syrup.  With this drink I appreciated the subtleness of the pineapple and mango which did not overpower as can sometimes happen with these flavors.  Instead the hint of tropical fruit surrounded the woodiness and vegetal qualities of the pisco and yerba mate.  I liked that the sweet and woody flavors seemed to be competing for my taste buds’ attention—each sip was an interesting one.  Sahil’s approach to this drink might account for this.  He explained: I wanted a cocktail that drew inspiration from northern South America – Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, and from the south -Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia. Since I was combining large parts of the continent in one cocktail, I decided to name it Simon Bolivar – a tongue-in-cheek reference to Bolivar’s ambitious plan to unite Spanish colonies into a single nation. The former group of nations produces a rich bounty of fruits, while the latter is known for its fondness of yerba mate.”

For my second drink I had the Utrecht-Baden which Sahil had suggested because of my fondness for the Negroni.  Did you know that the Netherlands and parts of Italy were Spanish colonies at one point?  (I actually did because of my museum work and art history background.)   This historical fact inspired the combination of Dutch genever with Italian liqueurs and amaros for an herbal, bitter and boozy result.  Sahil was right—this was right up my alley.  Just the layering of flavors of Bols genever, Aperol, and sweet vermouth (in Negroni style) would have been delicious, but then add a little of the ultra bitter, potent Fernet Branca and mirto, that myrtle berry liqueur that suggests mint, eucalyptus, and even pepper on your palette, and my mouth was buzzing with happiness.  The drink is named for two early 18th C treaties related to Spain’s colonization efforts; quite complicated and intriguing stuff, like the flavor of the cocktail.

When Tiki Met Tequila was Julie’s first choice and I agree with her that this was also quite delicious.  We are both huge fans of all-spice dram.  But instead of tasting like your typical rum-based tiki drink, the hibiscus tequila mixed with velvet falernum, all-spice dram and lime, took things in a different direction.  Sahil’s explanation:“Mexico was the inspiration…I wanted a drink that incorporated some elements of Mexico’s Caribbean coast… I did it by mixing ingredients that are normally used in rum-based Tiki drinks, but using a floral, hibiscus-infused tequila.” Hence the drink’s name.

This was my first visit to Estragon; it will not be my last.  I absolutely loved the art deco décor (the wallpaper in the bathroom is amazing), but even more appealing is the opportunity to spend more time with Sahil.  Not only is he a great bartender, but its clear from his gracious hospitality and big smile that he’s quite passionate about what he does.  To Spain and all its influences, and to Sahil Mehta for introducing me to Estragon and many fabulous Spanish sips. Cheers!

It seems like I always have little items to share that don’t seem to warrant an entire post. Instead of just letting them go unmentioned my monthly “last call” will round them all up. So, here goes…

Of course I know how fabulous Boston’s cocktail scene is, but now thanks to Imbibe magazine so will the rest of the country.  Each month a city’s drinking scene is featured— Boston gets its shout out in the January/February issue.  This piece features a little Q&A with some of Boston’s finest, most of whom I have the pleasure of knowing, the rest I need to get to know.

All month I have been enjoying a delicious Vin d’Orange that I made myself.  This apertif is popular in Southern France around Christmas time.  Made with bitter Seville oranges that are in season in the cold winter month, this tasty wine-based infusion is super easy to make and delicious to drink—a few ounces over a couple cubes is perfection on a cold winter evening.  The flavor, which is very similar to Lillet, is predominantly citrus, slightly bitter, slightly sweet, and really smooth.  Here’s the recipe I used:

750 ml sauvignon blanc

1 cup vodka

1 cup sugar

2 lemons (quartered)

4 Seville oranges (quartered)

vanilla bean, split length-wise

2 cinnamon sticks

Combine in airtight jar and store for 1 month in dark, cool place.  Strain through cheese cloth. Store in the refrigerator for 6 months. 

I love when I find a new cocktail recipe that I can easily make with the bottles I have in stock.  Its even better when its really delicious.  This month my find is the Diamondback.  I recently made this as part of an evening of rye cocktails.  It was enjoyed between a Monte Cassino and a rye Old Fashioned.  Featuring 1 ½ oz rye (I was using Old Overholt), ¾ oz AppleJack and ¾ oz green Chartreuse, the Diamondback is a great winter cocktail—rich (but not heavy), slightly sweet and very herbally.

That’s January last call. Cheers!

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.


Jim enjoying a delicious tequila drink

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.

Ted flaming the rosemary essence

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!

Holly and I with our fabulous flips

My friend Tim and I have decided to explore Boston’s many hotel bars.  The idea was formulated as we sipped Old Fashioneds in the Park Plaza’s Oak Bar on Saturday evening.  The quality of the drinks in these establishments is often lacking, but I love hotel bars for something other than the drinks.  It is their history, their character, and their charm that make them the perfect place to sip, relax and chat with a friend.

We embarked on the first official stop on our tour this past Saturday and chose the Taj Boston.  Located in the 1927 building at the corner of Arlington and Newbury Streets that formerly housed the Ritz, this hotel emanates nostalgia. Maybe it’s the over-the top service—each staff you pass greets you cordially—or the old-school elevator buttons.  It’s hard to put my finger on it, but you just feel like you are experiencing time-honored hospitality.

The bar at the Taj has really great seating—large armchairs surrounding small tables, or comfy and cozy love-seats, like the one Tim and I relaxed into.  Close conversation is encouraged and tended to in these plush seats.  Another feature of this bar that I love is the “tower of snacks.”  A three-tiered stand holds assorted nuts, a snack mix (the sesame sticks are all mine; the wasabi nuts are Tim’s), and cheddar breadsticks.  The drinks are fairly strong, so its always nice to have a little nibble to snack on.

Our hotel bar tour isn’t so much about drinks, but the experience of drinking environments.  Our first round—my Sazerac and Tim’s Old Fashioned tasted almost identical—were okay, round two was much better.  I ordered The Saint, essentially a gin and tonic with St. Germain.  You’ve heard me singing the praises of the elderflower liquor and once again it did not disappoint.

Itching for a taste of Tim's Beacon Hill Manhattan and my Saint (in the background)

So, if need a little rest after a day of shopping on Newbury Street or strolling through the Public Gardens, walk into the Taj.  Let the nostalgia take over, sink into one of those soft chairs, savor your tour of snacks, and sip The Saint. There has been a bar in the hotel location since 1930s, so you’re doing your part in continuing a tradition.  To our hotel bar tour.  Cheers!

This unbearable heat has taken its toll on me.  I don’t seem to have the energy to write a whole lot, so here are some of the highlights from my Wednesday night visit to Drink with Paula.

The Americano—the predecessor to the Negroni—is a great drink for a 95 degree day.   Campari, sweet vermouth and soda is bitter and smooth and refreshing.

I think my Americano was a much better choice than say, a Blue Blazer.  Yes, someone actually ordered these. Maybe it’s just me, but scotch on fire in the middle of a heat wave seems like an odd choice.

Sam Treadway

The JDP is going international.  We met a very sweet Canadian couple, Brianna and Kevin, and suggested that Brianna might enjoy a JDP a bit more than a Blue Blazer. She did.

Brianna and Kevin

Our evening ended with two mini JDPs—thank you, Sam!

I am making our Wednesday outing sound pretty low key, but I am leaving out many details about some of our fellow imbibers which made things interesting and entertaining.  Cheers!

Thanks to Paula for the photos.

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.

The famous bowl of cardamom seeds. I was enjoying my drinks and food so much I didn't take many other pictures.

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!

The rum was flowing and the songs were playing Monday night as Drink hosted the Boston semi-final round of Appleton Rum Remixology. The challenge was to create a cocktail using Appleton Estate Reserve Jamaican Rum that was inspired by a favorite song.  Five Boston bartenders “performed” their cocktails to their songs of inspiration while us bystanders sipped rum drinks with delicious names like Summer Breeze and Babbino Caro and nibbled on mini-ruben sandwiches.  Each drink and its story of inspiration was unique.  We were privileged to observe Aaron Bulter (Russell House), Corey Bunnewith (Russell House), Cali Gold (Drink), John Mayer (Craigie on Main) and Bryn Tattan (Drink) at their craft.  Here are all the semi-finalist’s recipes. Yum!

But in the end there can only be one winner and that prize went to John Mayer of Craigie on Main.  To the familiar tune of Sherry by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, John doned a Valli-style jacket and mixed his yum Bustamante cocktail while belting out a few of those high-pitched lines.  His singing was not to be outdone by his mixing—he stirred 3 glasses on a spinning turntable while holding up a mini-disco ball. Yes, you read that correctly.

John Mayer mixing his Bustamante cocktail. Thanks for the photo go to Chris Snyder.

A bit of background on John’s inspiration: The Bustamante was named for William Alexander Clark Bustamante, who served as the first Prime Minister of Jamaica when it gained its independence in 1962.  Frank Valli released Sherry in 1962.

Bustamante (created by John Mayer, Craigie on Main)

1 ½ oz Appleton Estate Reserve Jamaican Rum

¾ oz Campari

½ oz Sherry

3 barspoons Benedictine

2 dashes Regans’ Orange Bitters

Combine in mixing glass. Add ice and stir. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

John will now take his act on the road and represent Beantown in the finals in New York. Best of luck. Cheers!

Tuesday night I went to mingle with fellow art peeps at this month’s Opus Affair at Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square.  With Aaron Butler at the helm, this bar is in very good hands—Aaron makes pretty damn good drinks.  The menu has lots of yum stuff on it, but don’t be afraid to go off menu and ask Aaron to suggest something. I did and was not disappointed.  My request: something interesting and fresh with Chartreuse.  I know, not particularly creative on my part, but I was kind of tired and indecisive.  And when I am in that kind of mood, I always return to my old friends, those spirits and liqueurs I like best.  Luckily for me, Aaron was a bit more on his game than I and I ended up with a really delicious variation of the Last Word.  The versatility of the formula of this drink never ceases to amaze me.  In this version Aaron mixed equal parts Tru2 Organic Gin (this really nice, rich California-made gin), green Chartreuse, Meletti Amaro and lime.  From the first sip, I knew there was something wonderful going on– the gin, chartreuse, and lime were familiar, but was that other flavor?   Meletti Amaro.  A bittersweet Italian herbal liqueur (amaro means “bitter” in Italian) is often served as a digestivo.

On its own, the flavor reminded me a warm gingerbread cookie—creamy and caramelly with a sweet spice.  So good! I fell head over heels!  And the rich, warm flavor worked well with the California gin and the Chartreuse for yet another amazing variation of my favorite drink.  I think Meletti Amaro will be the next bottle I buy.


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