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!

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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.

Cheers!

You may have noticed that Nightcapped has a new look!  Thanks to my friend and photographer, Ashleigh Stanczak, the site has a new header image.  Ashleigh spent a few hours one Friday evening taking tons of beautiful pictures of my bottles, glasses, and other cocktail paraphernalia.

Boston (and beyond) gets onthebarCitySip, an online drinks magazine, will soon officially launch its Boston edition. I will periodically be writing stories for this site and will be sharing them here.  My first story about the onthebar app has been posted. Check it out here.

I’m off to NYC for a museum conference this week; my agenda includes a few cocktail outings, so I’ll have lots to share.  Cheers!

Looking for a fun way to round out the month of January? After how much I’ve been working lately, I am definitely in the need of a party.  This Monday night, January 30, join me and many other Boston imbibers for a winter prom for a good cause.  LUPEC Boston has organized its first winter prom, THE SNOWBALL.  Donned in festive attire, we will dance the night away to tunes by TJ Connelly, sip delicious cocktails by guest bartenders Josh Childs and Beau Sturm, and get nostalgic by posing for photos.  And all of this fun will benefit local women’s charity On the Rise, a Cambridge-based day program for women who are homeless and living in crisis.

Check out LUPEC’s website for more information, but here are the basics:

Monday, January 30th, 7-11 p.m.
Silvertone, 69 Bromfield St, Boston, MA (617) 338-7887

Tickets: $10, first come, first served [100% of ticket proceeds will be donated to On the Rise]

Drink tickets allotted for clothing & other donation items***
Spiked punch and cocktails $5-7 each

Creative prom attire encouraged – dress to impress!

***Items acceptable for donation include:
Thermal undergarments in all sizes
Backpacks
Flashlights
Whistles for emergencies
Charlie Cards in denominations of $5
Durable winter boots and winter shoes
Multi-packs of NEW undergarments like sports socks, sports bras, and underwear in all sizes

I hope that I will see many of you Monday night.  Let’s have a little fun for a good cause! Cheers!

Even my day job surrounds me with boozey libations.  This is a drawing made with beer. For opening week at the Gardner Museum (where I spend my days), Italian artist Cesare Pietroiusti led visitors in a drawing project in which ordinary materials like beer, tea, coffee, ink and salt water were used to create magical works of art.   You’d be surprised how beautiful these ordinary liquids can be.  Impermanence is a theme of the project.  Each visitor creates a drawing, but they must then leave it for another visitor to take.  He/she then takes a drawing created by a previous day’s visitor.  And each drawing has a condition under which it must eventually be passed along.  This one reads: the holder of this drawing commits to give it away, three months after having received it, to a person of their choice who lives south of them.  So, you never know, any friends living south of Massachusetts just may get this drawing one day.

The reopening of the museum with its new addition by architect Renzo Piano has kept me quite busy these last few months– hence the infrequent posts.  A couple benefits of the last couple weeks of working long days were meeting and watching Bill Cunningham do his thing and hearing YoYo Ma play.   The museum is now open.  I will rest up and be back up to more cocktail adventures very soon.  Cheers!

And here's the drawing I made

Yesterday while at my brother’s for a post-Christmas brunch, I discovered that he has a collection of over 90 nips!  Most of these are from Dad’s collection which he started early 1970s and includes many standards but also some unique finds.  Considering I am the booze expert in the family, I am not quite sure how this amazing collection went primarily to my older brother and partly to my younger sister.  Hmmmm….

I thought I would share some of my favorites.  The collection includes lots of fairly standard bottles of products that are popular today.  These are 20-30 years old, so its neat to see how packaging changes over time (or in some cases, doesn’t change much at all).

CANADIAN CLUB



BEEFEATER

DRAMBUIE

Some fun mixers like OLD MR. BOSTON SOUR MIX

 Some things I have never tasted like MANDARINE NAPOLEON

Developed by French chemist and friend of Napoleon, Antoine-Francois de Fourcroy in the early 1890s, this Belgium liquor is made with a cognac base flavored with herbs and the extracted oils of Sicilian tangerines. I’ve never tasted this, so cannot comment on its flavor, but one cocktail blogger likened the flavor to Sunny-D.

And then things get really fun

I absolutely love this adorable bottle of BOLS CHERRY BRANDY in the shape of a pig

GALLIANO

“Fond of things Italiano? Try a sip of Galliano.”

LIQUORE STEGA

Made in Benevento, Italy, a legendary gathering place for witches, this liqueur is named for the legendary tale; strega is the Italian word for “witch.”

VANDERMINT, the chocolate and mint liquor from Holland

The opaque white bottle with blue windmill images is reminiscent of Delft tiles and the top is shaped like a tulip.

And now my absolute favorite:

HOUSE of KOSHU, RAINBOW LIQUEUR

Sets of these mini-bottles of flavored Japanese liqueurs were popular in the late 1960s.  The bottles, featuring wooden Kokeshi-style doll head, each contain a different liqueur, in a rainbow assortment of colors.   The bottle below is Sumire (a violet liqueur); the others in these sets were Sakura (cherry), Mizuiro (blue curacao), Mikam (mandarin orange), Banana (banana), Reishu (melon), Midori (menthe).

And that is my brother’s fabulous bar top in all these photos. 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!

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 http://ashleighstanczak.com

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 (www.getonthebar.com).

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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