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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!


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!

A couple weeks ago The Boston Shaker hosted a tasting event with Barritt’s Ginger Beer and my obsession with the stuff has now been revived.  I love the contrast of spicy and sweet and because it combines well with such a variety of other flavors it’s a must for any summer bar.

Before the recipes, a bit about ginger beer.  First produced in England in the mid-18th century,  the early recipe included ginger, sugar, water, and lemon juice.  This mixture was then combined with a yeast and bacteria combo, known as a ginger beer plant, which caused fermentation.  Some of the early ginger beers could have had an alcohol content of up to 11%.  Modern ginger beer, like the Barritt’s we sipped at the Boston Shaker, are not fermented, but rather carbonated (no boozy ginger beer here).  Barritt’s was first produced in the 1870s by William John Barritt, a man looking to make a living to support his large family.  Barritt took advantage of a small bottling machine in a dry goods store in Hamilton, Bermuda, and a delicious ginger beer was born.

My friend Anne Marie and I sampled all four drinks that were being mixed by Paul Imbesi.  Two of the cocktails rose to the top.

The Bohemian Cooler

(created by Boston bartender Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli of Island Creek Oyster Bar)

1 ½ oz St. Germain

1 oz rye whiskey

¾ oz lemon juice

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake over ice. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice and top with 2 oz ginger beer. Garnish with lemon wheel.

This is a great summer drink—the richness of the rye, the flowery-sweet St. Germain, and the tart lemon juice are brightened and heightened by the spicy ginger beer.  I just love this drink.

Amatitan Mule

(created by Ezra Pattek of Bar Lab, Miami)

2 oz silver tequila

2 thin slices of jalapenos

½ lime, quarted

1 bar spoon agave nectar

Muddle jalapenos, limes and agave. Add tequila and shake.  Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice and top with 2 oz ginger beer.  Garnish with lime and jalapeno wheels.

Now this cocktail is not for the faint of heart (or taste buds)—this is quite spicy with both the jalapenos and ginger beer.  This isn’t the kind of drink I would usually chose if I saw it on a menu, so I was a bit surprised by how much I enjoyed this.

My advice for this weekend (and my own personal plan)—grab a six pack of ginger beer and get shaking and mixing.  If you aren’t up for the recipes above, try something simple like a Dark and Stormy, a simple combo of a dark rum, ginger beer and lime juice.  Cheers!

Last week I was in Seattle for the National Art Education Association Conference.  By day I was all kinds of museum education nerdy—I presented on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and its application to museum education, talked with colleagues about creating a “culture of critical thinking,” and other fun stuff.  By night I took advantage of the fabulous cocktail scene.  Here are the highlights.

My first stop was at the Zig Zag Café.

Part of the charm with this place is getting there—I walked along a cobbled street that smelled of fish and followed a wall of gum.  I was so excited when I walked through the door and saw the venerable Murry Stenson behind the bar.  The vibe in the place is cool (Although the acoustics are not so good which made it hard for Michelle and I to catch up with two of our West Coast colleagues.), the food is delicious (hello, bacon and duck sausage!) and the drinks are superb.  My favorite was Albertini’s Night which featured bourbon, that delicious fennel-y Strega and orange bitters.

Night two took me, Theresa and Emily (two friends and very fun gals from the Getty) to Tavern Law—a small place with a dark wood bar, and books covering the wall shelves.  It’s like a personal library meets home bar.  We were lucky to secure three seats at the bar and quickly fell under the charm of our bartender Nathan Weber.  As a native Bostonian, perhaps one of the most noticeable things about Seattle was how friendly, open and genuinely nice people are, even to strangers.  My favorite off-menu cocktail Nathan mixed up for me was rich and bitter and herbally.  While it didn’t have a name, it did have rye, Gran Classico, Montenegro, Cardamaro, grapefruit juice, rosemary bitters and cardamom bitters. Wow! As Nathan said, “Rosemary and grapefruit love each other.”

Our evening ended upstairs at the tiny speakeasy Needle and Thread where I enjoyed a 4th Regiment, a cocktail whose recipe is recorded in Charles Baker’s 1939 The Gentleman’s Companion: Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and FlaskThis could become a new favorite:

4th Regiment

1 oz rye whiskey

1 oz sweet vermouth

dash orange bitters

dash Peychaud’s bitters

dash celery bitters (Scrappy’s; Miles Thomas himself was tending bar that night!)

I spent my final night in Seattle with my good friend Lori exploring Ballard, a fabulous neighborhood.  The high point was Sambar and bartender Jay Kuehner.  The bar is tiny, seriously, it’s like the size of my living room. But size does not restrict Jay—he packs his space with tons and tons of fabulous stuff, and he knows how to use it.  My first drink had bourbon, Cocchi Americano, pineapple water, dash of Campari, orange and Peychaud’s bitters topped with Champagne.  While we enjoyed an absolutely scrumptious parsnip soufflé, Jay indulged Lori’s question about why you use eggs in cocktails by shaking up a delicious example.  Get ready for the list of ingredients—egg white, tequila, hibiscus tea syrup, chili tincture, lime juice, lemon juice, dash of Tabasco, celery bitters, with a mezcal float on top!  It was deliciously smoky, tart, spicy and savory.  Jay not only makes fabulous drinks, he is a gracious host.  I loved the Sambar!

My week is Seattle was fantastic.  Both my mind and palate were stretched and expanded.  I heart Seattle. 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!

You may talk of brisk Claret, sing Praises of Sherry,

Speak well of old Hock, Mum, Cider and Perry;

But you must drink Punch if you mean to be Merry.*

I grew up in a punch drinking family. Granted the stuff my family ladles out each Christmas is of the non-alcoholic variety—rainbow sherbert, gingerale, maybe some fruit and lots of ice.  I had a glass yesterday, and even though many a boozy version have passed over these lips, this tame variety still says “party” to me.  It is bubbly, colorful, and pretty tasty.  And something about sharing a drink from a communal bowl seems especially appropriate for a holiday celebration, doesn’t it?

What is it about a giant bowl of fruited and sugared booze?  For me, there is something nostalgic, comfortable and epic about it.  Maybe it’s because as long as I can remember a punch bowl meant our special Christmas libation? Or because people have been enjoying this kind of communal drink since the 17th century? Or maybe it’s the seemingly endless variations of recipes—ranging from the very simple 2-3 ingredient variety to recipes with 10-15 ingredients?

Punch changed the way we drink.  Its origins probably lie with 17th century sailors who had run out of beer or wine and were left with only brandy or some other spirit that was too much to drink on its own. To their booze they added some sugar, maybe a little water and some citrus (which had the added bonus of protecting against scurvy) and punch was born.  The popularity of these mixtures catapulted distilled spirits out of the realm of medicine and into the public drinking consciousness, eventually opening the door for those other alcoholic mixtures we call cocktails. So, yes, punch changed the way we drink.

If you want to learn more about the history of punch read David Wondrich’s new book Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl. Since the book’s launch party at Drink about a month ago, I have joined the ranks of punch loving Bostonians.  Check out this book for a fascinating and entertaining history of punch; and my friends at Dudekicker share a great interview with Wondrich.

So with the punch craze is in full start-up mode, I, of course, made a punch for my own holiday party last weekend (which was a pretty fun party, if I do say so myself).  I know I am about the 1,00,000th person to give this sage party hosting advice, but one of the best things about serving punch is that you are then free to actually enjoy your party, instead of spending the evening  mixing something for each guest.  The most you have to do is lift the ladle or replenish ingredients.

I chose a recipe for Harvest Punch shared by The Boston Shaker.  It was a huge hit!  With easy, yet interesting, flavors like rye, St. Germain, apple cider and ginger beer it pleased the variety of palates at the party, cocktail enthusiast and neophyte alike.


photo courtesy of Christine Fernsebner Eslao

Harvest Punch

2 cups Rye Whiskey (I prefer Old Overholt; delicious and inexpensive)
1 ½ cups St. Germain
2 cups apple cider

½ cup lemon juice
2 12 oz. cans of ginger beer (I like Barretts)
Jerry Thomas bitters, to taste (the recipe calls for Angostura, but I thought the autumnal flavors of the JT bitters worked well here)

Mix in a large punch bowl over an ice ring or large block of ice (I made one using a tupperware container). Garnish with diced apples.

The ingredients may change, but the essence of punch remains—making merry with delicious spirits in the company of friends and loved ones.  Now that’s something to be grateful for this Christmas season. Cheers!

*18th century song Wondrich quotes in Punch

Even though I was in NYC for less than 10 hours, I had to carve out a little time for a cocktail.  So after exploring kitchen design and a Jackson Pollock painting that took my breath away at MOMA, I decided to end my day at Forty Four.  The recently reincarnated lobby bar at the Royalton Hotel boasts a great menu that is the brain child of the Cocktail Collective—Eric Alperin (Varnish, LA), Richard Boccato (Dutch Kills, NYC), Simon Ford (global cocktail ambassador for Pernod Ricard USA), Misty Kalkofen (Drink, Boston) , John Lermayer (Florida Room, Miami Beach, and Woodward in Boston), and Willy Shine (Contemporary Cocktails).  On their own, each of these people are rockstars; put them all together and whoa!

The bar space is something else.  From the exterior you might think the Royalton is a bank—a heavy granite façade with large columns flanking the entry way.  As you walk through the large black doors, a second set of doors slowly glide open revealing the dimly lit length of the lobby, complete with dark furniture, wooden screened walls and two large fireplaces that look like walls of flames (a bit unnecessary on our visit since the temp was in the 60s).  There is something ceremonial about the whole thing—I imagined this is what entering an ancient Egyptian temple might have been like.

The cocktail menu is fabulous—classics, new creations, and even bowls of punch (we would have a needed a few more people in our posse to justify the $250 bowl of punch).  There were so many interesting options, I wished I had time for more than one drink, but alas a bus full of museum volunteers awaited my arrival.  Since I have yet to meet a Last Word variation that I didn’t like, I chose The Other Word made with single village mezcal, lime juice, agave nectar, Yellow Chartreuse and maraschino liqueur.  Once my palette got used to the smoky mezcal, the other flavors–herbaliness, nuttiness, tart, and earthly– emerge.  Really delicious.  Brian’s Reconciliation was also quite memorable.  An homage to the Old Fashioned, this drink features rye, Amaro Lucano, orgeat and a Sambucca rinse and its like nothing I’ve ever drank before. Warm and rich, and slightly sweet.


right to left: Maiden's Prayer (No. 2), The Other Word, The Pharaoh Cooler, Reconciliation

The seating –modern, comfortable couches, benches, and chairs– create many seating nooks. Perfect, as Jeff commented, as a place to rest after a long day in the city or for a rapper’s entourage to hang out late night.  Since we had been exploring the city since 10 am and at various times have referred to our little posse as Swizzle and the Bone Crushers or Yani Kohani and the Mulyatz (Don’t ask. I don’t even think I can explain.), we fit right in.  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.

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!

After three days on the couch, I needed to shed my sick-self and get out of the house.  So, I mustered up the strength to get it together (and I managed to keep my coughing to a minimum—cocktails really do soothe a sore throat!) and met Karaugh at Green Street for DrinkBoston’s event that featured 4 rising stars of the Boston bar scene.  We got to sample  unique creations, nibble on some yum food, and chat with the bartenders and fellow cocktail enthusiasts.  What a fun Sunday night!

Here is what we drank and who made it:

Our first cocktail was created by Carrie Cole (Craigie on Main).  Her Loose Translation was made of Scorpion Mezcal, Aperol, Mathilde XO Orange Cognac, pineapple syrup, lime juice, Allspice Dram, Angostura orange bitters, and a splash of ginger ale served on the rocks.  What a wonderful start—smoky, bitter, with a little fruitiness.

Look at this tower of coupe glasses ready to receive the Peralta

Evan Harrison (Deep Ellum) made our second drink.  It was the Peralta: Old Overholt Rye, Cynar, green Chartreuse, grapefruit juice, orange and grapefruit bitters.  I really enjoyed the combo of herbally Chartruese and the bitter/tart grapefruit.

Bob McCoy's Saving Daylight

The 3rd drink was by Bob McCoy (Eastern Standard). His Saving Daylight was really spectacular.  The cocktail was Plymouth Gin, homemade “golden” vermouth, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, Cointreau and homemade bitters.  From the first sip, I was struck by the unique flavor of this drink.  I expected something sweet with the St. Germain and Cointreau, but instead I tasted a delicious caramel flavor that came from Bob’s homemade vermouth and bitters.

Emily Stanley's William of Orange

Our final cocktail was Emily Stanley’s (Green Street) William of Orange.  With Bols Genever, Benedictine, Punt E Mes, Aperol, and orange bitters this was a perfect ending to the evening—heavy, herbally, bitter, yum!


[Thanks for the photos, Karaugh!]

It is day two of being sick and I am pretty bored with this scenario already.  My energy level isn’t allowing me to do much other than sleep a lot, watch bad Lifetime movies and veg on the couch.  To counter my own boredom, I  mustered up the strength to post a short piece to tell you about a new good friend of mine—the hot toddy. This is an old drink whose history is a bit foggy.  No one knows for sure who originally created this drink or who named it.  There is perhaps some connection between what we enjoy as a hot toddy today and a warm Indian beverage made of fermented palm tree sap.  The British trade with Indian in the 18th century is probably how the beverage made its way to the western world.  Or the name has its origins in a 1721 poem that refers to water used for tea from Todian Spring, the water supply for Edinburgh.  Since hot water is one of the most important ingredients in a hot toddy, maybe that’s where the warm drink got its name.  Whatever its European origins are, Americans have been enjoying toddies since the colonial era with spirits of all kinds.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, I was able to quickly get a recipe from bartender Josey Packard.  Here’s what she suggested:

Microwave 3 oz water, juice of half a lemon, teaspoon of honey until it’s very hot.

Then add 2 oz of whiskey—I used Old Overholt rye.

Oh, what a wonderfully warm way to soothe an aching body.  The lemon, honey and rye are just perfect together. And its all warmed up so it soothes my scratchy throat.  Hot booze when you’re sick is so good.  Cheers!

[Sorry, no picture with this post, I don’t have enough energy.]

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