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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!

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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!

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