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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!

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!

According to the calendar, summer is now officially over!  I took a little summer vaca from writing, but not from imbibing.  Here are a few cocktail highlights from my summer.

My favorite summer cocktail

My friends Brian and Jeff introduced me to the Intro to Aperol and I fell in love at first sip.  It is the perfect combination of bitter, savory, tart and sweet—and it is amazingly drinkable!

Intro to Aperol (from Pegu Club)

2 oz Aperol

1 oz gin

¾ oz lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

dash Angostura

Old Man Peter

Nothing says summer like a garden full of delicious veggies.  And the thought of a lush vegetable garden reminds me of the childhood tale of Peter Rabbit, the mischievous bunny who gobbles up Mr. McGregor’s crops.  What would the sneaky rabbit sip on in his old age?  When I heard Sam Treadway at Backbar had a Negroni variation that attempted to answer this question, I couldn’t resist. The vegetal qualities of Cold River gin was the perfect choice to combine with the carrot-infused Aperol.

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Old Man Peter (created by Sam Treadway, Backbar)

1 oz Cold River gin

1 oz Cinzano Sweet vermouth

1 oz carrot infused Aperol (created with pickled carrots, blended into Aperol and fine strained out)

Shake and double strain into a chilled rocks glass, rinsed with chartreuse.

Sex on the Beach

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I celebrated a friend’s 25th anniversary of his arrival in America by going back in cocktail-time.  Arriving at the 80s themed party, I thought “what cocktails were people drinking in the 80s?”  From an interesting list that included White Russian, Tequila Sunrise, and Alabama Slammer, I chose Sex on the Beach.  I’m not going to lie, the vodka, peach schnapps, orange and cranberry juice combo was kind of delicious.  Time travel can be fun.

To the memories of beautiful summer day and to the wonders of fall ahead. Cheers!

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!

At this time of year, I crave rich, spicy, warm flavors in my cocktails.  And so begins my love affair with the Sangre de Cristo, featured in Imbibe magazine’s recent piece on spiced cocktails for the holiday season.  The cocktail draws inspiration from the flavor profile of a traditional mulled wine and is a gorgeous deep red color (hence the name, “blood of Christ”).  Featuring sweet vermouth infused with ginger and cinnamon, combined with red wine and honey syrup, this drink meets all my criteria for a holiday cocktail—lusciously spiced, rich and complex flavor, yet also light (holiday parties can be a marathon, no need to be wearing a lampshade as a hat after a couple drinks).  I served this as a punch at my holiday party (huge hit!), have been sipping the infused sweet vermouth on its own, and enjoyed this cocktail as I finished my holiday wrapping.

Infusing the sweet vermouth is super simple.  Combine 1 liter of sweet vermouth (I used Martini and Rossi) with 1 ounce of peeled and diced ginger (about the size of your thumb) and two cinnamon sticks broken into pieces.  Steep in an airtight container overnight (I did 2 nights actually).  Fine strain and store in refrigerator.  And this infused vermouth is absolutely delicious on its own over a couple rocks.

Sangre de Cristo (by Alon Munzer, Heather Mojer and Ned Greene, Hungry Mother)

2 oz ginger & cinnamon-infused sweet vermouth

1 oz Grenache

½ oz honey syrup (equal parts honey and water)

2 dashes orange bitters

Stir together in a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with cinnamon stick.

Happy Holidays to you and yours! 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!


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!

Sunday night, season 4 of Mad Men began.  I love this show for the characters, the clothes, the decor, the history (It is hard for me to believe that just 40 years ago women were called “doll” in the workplace and it was okay!), and of course the drinks.  If you want to drink Mad Men style, you have many options– some expected, like a gimlet or a Tom Collins, others unexpected perhaps.

Julie and I thought a Manhattan would be a good choice to sip while we watched.  We are both extremely fond of Deep Ellum’s 1970s Manhattan which features Canadian Club (yes, Canadian Club).   I just happened to have a new bottle fresh from a recent stop at the NH liquor store– perfect.  Two parts Canadian Club, one part sweet vermouth, and a couple dashes of bitters (we experimented we a couple different things, but I thought orange bitters were best here), stir, and serve on the rocks and you have one mighty delicious drink.

So, there we are sipping our Manhattans watching Don Draper do his thing, which when in the office usually includes a drink (that’s straight alcohol they drink all day in work!).  I catch a glimpse of the bottle– what’s that? Canadian Club!  The label was a bit different than the modern label on my bottle, but that definitely said Canadian Club in that familiar flourished script.

To more Mad Men inspired cocktails. Cheers!

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