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It is clear from the moment you meet Will and Dave Willis that they are passionate about what they do.  What they do is make handcrafted, small batch spirits that draw on local distilling tradition while also experimenting with flavor profiles and technique.  “We are trying to push the boundaries of what the spirits can do.”  This adventuresome spirit Dave expresses is what led these two brothers to turn a decade-long hobby of stove-top distilling into a commercial venture with the launch of Bully Boy Distillers in June 2011.

Will and Dave Willis at the distillery

Their passion for spirits and local production is rooted in their family heritage.  They grew on a 4th-generation working farm in Sherborn, Massachusetts.  In the basement of the farm house there is a bank vault with pre-prohibition era bottles of liquor (I’m hoping for a field trip some day).  Even the name of their company has a family connection.  “Bully” was a term popularized by Teddy Roosevelt, meaning superb or excellent; their great-grandfather was roommates with Roosevelt at Harvard and later named a beloved family horse Bully Boy after his friend.  In their warehouse space in Boston, Will and Dave carry on a tradition of excellence by using local and organic ingredients whenever possible and lovingly caring for each  step of the production from developing a unique mash bill for their whiskey to hand-sealing bottles.  The end result is high quality products that are tasty to sip on their own, but also versatile for use in cocktails.

It is important to Will and Dave to be in Boston and have the support of the local cocktail community.  One of the things they pride themselves on is being an urban distillery.  Will explains, “We really wanted to be a brand that was associated with where we live.  Each bottle is marked ‘handmade in Boston.’”  Their white whiskey, white rum and vodka are indeed quickly becoming quite popular with the city’s bartenders who appreciate the availability of quality local products.  To that point, Beau Sturm of Trina’s Starlite Lounge says, “Bully Boy is a great local product made by fantastic people who pour their heart into it.”  His First Full of Dollars (recipe below) combines the white whiskey with the mildly bitter Amaro Montenegro resulting in a stiff, yet light cocktail.   Over at Eastern Standard and Island Creek Oyster Bar you can also find a few cocktails featuring Bully Boy. Bob McCoy particularly likes their rum, “I think the rum is a standout.  It’s both unique and assertive while still being accessible.  It has the kind of flavor impact that can stand in for traditional dark rum-based cocktails but is also killer in a white rum classic like the Daiquiri.”  And he does just that in his daiquiri variation, The Republic (recipe below).

So what’s next for Bully Boy? When I visited with Will and Dave I spied barrels filled with whiskey and rum that are their soon-to-be released new products—Boston Rum and an aged whiskey.  I can’t wait. To local boys making delicious booze—Cheers!

First Full of Dollars (created by Beau Sturm, Trina’s Starlite Lounge)
1 oz Amaro Montenegro
2 oz Bully Boy White Whiskey
2 dashes orange bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled rocks glass with no ice or garnish

The Republic (created by Bob McCoy, Eastern Standard)

1½ oz. Bully Boy White Rum

¾ oz. spiced ginger syrup*

¾ oz. fresh lime juice

Mount in a mixing glass, add ice, and shake.  Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

*Spiced Ginger Syrup

1½ cups demerara sugar

1 cup water

6 oz. fresh peeled and chopped ginger

½ tsp. each allspice, cardamom, and coriander

Toast the spices in a pan over medium-high heat until very aromatic, tossing frequently so not to burn.  Add the water, sugar, and ginger.  Bring to just under a boil, stirring frequently, then reduce and let simmer for 12-15 minutes.  Take off the heat and let cool.  Pour contents into a container, cover and store in the refrigerator overnight to infuse.  Finely strain into a container, cover, and store in the refrigerator.


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!

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!

What a fabulous surprise I encountered last Sunday—Drink has re-started Tiki Sundays!  I had been in a bad-ish mood before arriving, but the sight of the bartenders in tropical shirts and wrist bands changed everything. The beauty of Tiki is that it has the power to wash away all your cares.  I mean, how can you stay grumpy when your drink is served in a glass that looks like a tropical island deity, and if you’re lucky, you have one of those cute little paper umbrellas (seriously, I love those things!).  It is escapism.  It is a bit silly.  It borders on tacky, but it’s cool because of its tackiness.  Oh, and the drinks are absolutely DELICIOUS!

Tiki drinks are generally characterized by a combination of rum (often a mixture of various types), citrus and unique flavors that comes from some special syrup or flavoring.  That makes these cocktails sound simple but that’s not exactly the truth.  They are often quite complex, often with 6+ ingredients.  And they are deceivingly potent– the juices and syrups can mask the strong booziness that lurks within that mint garnished glass.  And the novelty factor plays into the whole thing.  These drinks are about taste and presentation.   One of the drinks I had on Sunday was Joe Staropoli’s Jamaican Bobsled is a great example of this.  The drink features two rums, dark cacao, all-spice dram, ginger syrup and tiki bitters.  I loved that this cocktail was amazingly spicy—that wonderful spice from the ginger and all-spice that lingers on your tongue.  That’s the taste.  Now take a look at the presentation.

The Jamaican Bobsled. Shaved ice creates an afro that is soaked with Fees Whiskey Barrel Bitters.

Tiki bars emerged in the 1930s and 1940s as upscale nightspots.  In the early 1930s, Ernest Gantt, aka Donn Beach, opened Don’s Beachcomber Cafe– a tropically decorated place that served rum drinks and “Polynesian” food.  A few years later, the restaurant changed its name to the now famous,  Don the Beachcomber.  Competition arose as Victor Bergeron followed in Donn’s footsteps by opening Trader Vic’s in Oakland.  These were the hotspots where celebrities like Bing Crosby, Greta Garbo and Howard Hughes went to see, be seen and enjoy a delicious cocktail like a Zombie or a Mai-tai (by the way, both Donn and Vic claim the creation of the Mai-tai).

I am so happy that Drink continues the tradition of these cocktail pioneers and serves up awesome drinks the likes of which are best enjoyed with a group of friends in the presence of a small figure made from two coconuts who happens to be wearing a grass skirt.

Stayed tuned for more from Tiki Sundays. Cheers!

This month’s Mixology Monday is all about punch. The the party is hosted by Mike at Hobson’s Choice. He explains his choice of theme:  “Punch fell out of style in the United States decades ago as a result of a confluence of factors. The temperance movement was growing. Advances in the distillation and aging of liquors meant they didn’t need heavy manipulation to be enjoyed. And, perhaps most destructive of all, people started acting like they were too busy to enjoy a punch. As David Wondrich writes in his most recent book, Imbibe!, ‘[t]o sit around a tavern ladling libations out of a capacious bowl was as much to confess that you didn’t have anywhere to be for the next few hours, and America was a go-ahead country, as everyone was always saying.’ I think it is time to reclaim the heritage.”

When I read this month’s theme I had flashed to happy memories of a giant punchbowl of sherbert-gingergale punch that graces my family’s holiday table every year.  I still love that stuff, but obviously I needed something more adult.  Since I had been under-the-weather, my energy level over the past week and a half has been a bit low.  The thought of sifting through all my books to find some punch recipe that I wanted to experiment with was too much.  So, I skipped the middleman and went right to the source—bartender Josey Packard.  I asked for a recommendation for a punch that would please a crowd.  She suggested a Rum Punch by the one and only punch-guru David Wondrich. Josey said that David said (sounds like some weird piece of gossip being passed along) these basic proportions go back to the 1680’s.

Here’s the recipe Josey gave me:

Rum Punch (by David Wondrich via Josey Packard)

1 liter cognac
1 liter dark, heavy-bodied rum
16 oz. fresh lime juice
16 oz. Demerara sugar syrup
2 quarts green tea (8 teaspoons of green tea infused in 2 quarts boiling water)
nutmeg, grated over the top

A Midnight Modern Conversation by William Hogarth, 18th century

I was serving this to a smallish crowd (my family for a joint birthday celebration), so I actually cut the recipe in half and it still made a lot!  My sisters and I really enjoyed this.  Even my mom liked it (and she’s not a drinker; her usual is a wine spritzer of sorts)—with a bit more green tea to her glass.  This punch is a nice boozy balance of sweet, bitter and tart.  The cognac and dark rum are a nice rich base.  The demerara syrup is needed here to balance those spirits. The lime brightens the flavors and the green tea lightens up the whole thing.

If you happen to find yourself at Drink and are interested in trying this yum punch, Josey says she usually calls it “Old School punch, or Colonial Era punch, or something like that.”  Whatever you call it this is some really good stuff. Cheers!

Tonight I met Susan at Craigie on Main and we decided to do the Cocktail Whim—four half-sized cocktails that our bartender Carrie chose for us beginning with a French 75 version and ending with an Italian-inspired flip.  I have done this before and really love it for a number of reasons:

1. You really don’t have to make a decision;

2. You try drinks you might not normally chose for yourself (and if you’re not crazy about it, hey, it’s only a small drink);

3. You get to enjoy your drinks in super-cute mini-glasses.

Susan and I had lots of catching up to do and were talking a lot, so my thoughts on the drinks a bit more cursory than my usual reviews.  Admittedly, I was more focused on talking than on drinking.  So, I guess this post is like the cocktail whim itself, a little taste to pique your interest.

The Kingston 75

We started with a Kingston 75—a version of a French 75 with Appleton rum, triple sec, lemon juice, topped with Champagne.  Its a warmer version of one of my favorite cocktails.  A really nice light beginning.

Susan with our 2nd drink-- look at that beautiful pink color courtesy of the Aperol

The second drink, which both Susan and I really liked, is a creation of Carrie’s and it had yet to be named.  It was made with mezcal, Aperol, grapefruit juice, lime juice, agave syrup, Fee Bros Whiskey Barrel bitters, and a pinch of salt.  The mezcal made it smoky and the Aperol added that citrus bitterness that I love.

#3 The Mediterranean Union

Our third drink, the Mediterranean Union, was my favorite. This had Fighting Cock bourbon, house-made amer picon (a French bitter liqueur), and Cynar.  The bitterness of the amer picon plays very nicely with the bourbon and the buttery artichokey Cynar.  I love this kind of thing of a cold winter evening—it warms you from the inside.  Yum!

A Florentine Flip for the finale

We finished with the Florentine Flip which was Susan’s favorite (she loves flips!).  This herbalicious flip has lots going on—Punt de Mes, Amaro Nonino (a wonderful Italian herbal liqueur that was a new one for me), Benedictine, Angostura bitters, a dash of orange blossom, an egg (of course), finished with flamed essence of mint.  A delicious ending to our cocktail quartet!


Karaugh and I got together after work at Deep Ellum to discuss Sleep No More—an amazingly powerful A.R.T. production which I saw Sunday night.  Discussing incredible theater needed to be matched with equally high quality drinks.

Karaugh's Germination and my Hemingway Daiquiri

For our second round, I handed my list of 100 must-have cocktails to Jen and asked for a suggestion.  She chose the Hemingway Daiquiri.  I hesitated for a moment because until recently, my vision of a daiquiri was one-sided—I could only think of the frothy, strawberry variety that are perfect to enjoy poolside on a hot summer day.  Before those frozen, fruity versions gained popularity (due in part to the invention of the home blender), the daiquiri, developed in the late 19th century in Cuba, had been enjoyed as a simple concoction of rum, lime juice, and sugar.  In the early 1930s Ernest Hemingway went to Cuba.  After a long day of writing and fishing, he would enjoy a cocktail (or two).  Hemingway especially enjoyed those mixed by Constantino Ribalaigua at La Floridita Bar.  Cocktail legend tells us that one version of the daiquiri, with grapefruit juice and maraschino liqueur added to the rum and lime, was Hemingway’s favorite.  Whether that story is true or not, what Jen mixed up for me was delicious—sweet and tart at the same time.

Ernest Hemingway enjoying a cocktail

While I sipped my daiquiri, Karaugh chose the Germination off the menu.  She’s a big fan of St. Germain, so was immediately drawn to this drink.  And it did not disappoint.  Does anything with the deliciously sweet elderflower liqueur ever disappoint???  I look forward to making this one at home soon, and I suggest if you like St. Germain to try this.   Here’s the recipe:

Germination (from Deep Ellum)

2 oz gin

¾ oz St. Germain

½ oz lemon juice

2 dashes orange bitters

Shake over ice. Strain.


After the four hour ride to NYC and a cheese shopping adventure, we were thirsty for some good cocktails. So, my very good friends and fellow cocktail enthusiasts Brian and Jeff took my sister Allie and I to the fabulous Pegu Club to begin our Thanksgiving festivities. I was impressed by more than just the amazing drinks.


Round 1 at Pegu Club

The dark, moody (but not creepy), Asian-influenced atmosphere is inspired by the 19th century British Colonial Officers club in Burma of the same name.  And the bar snacks are really good.  The highlight was chicken lollipops, which totally deserve their name as they are covered in a sweet scotch-syrup that made me wish I had a spoon in my purse to get every last drop off the plate.


The Kill-Devil-- Look at the beautiful, rich carmel color

For my first drink, I ordered the Kill-Devil. How could I resist a cocktail with that name? I was also enticed by the combination of rum and Chartreuse. The waitress warned me that it was a “serious” drink—who do you think you’re talking to? She was right that it was a serious cocktail, but I am no amateur, I could handle it and really enjoyed the complex, potent flavor.

The Kill-Devil features Rum Agricole, green Chartreuse, demerara simple syrup and Angostura bitters. The drink gets its name from rum’s early nickname. In the 17th century, rum production was just beginning as sugar producers in Barbados realized they could make a very potent drink from the by-product of the sugar-making process. This new drink, what we now call rum, caused a nasty hangover and was affectionately called “kill-devil.” My Kill-Devil didn’t cause a hangover.  Instead it offered an interesting combination of sweet and herbal flavors. The dark rich color hinted at the carmel fragrance. The drink began with a sweet start—the rum is matched nicely with the demerara syrup—and is quickly followed by the herballyness of the Chartreuse and bitters.  Really good.


Brandy Crusta and the amazing lemon peel

For my second cocktail, I ordered a Brandy Crusta. I am working my way through a list of 100 Cocktails to Drink Before You Die (from a bar in Houston; more on the list later) and this is one on the list that I have yet to try. Invented in the early 19th century by a New Orleans bartender, the recipe was first published in 1862 in Jerry Thomas’ Bar-Tenders Guide. Featuring cognac, Cointreau, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice and Peychaud’s bitters, this is a very drinkable cocktail. All of the flavors meld together and are complimented by the crust of sugar on the rim of the glass, which gives the drink its name. Nothing overly complex, but really tasty. The most impressive part of this drink was the full lemon peel garnish that filled the glass—imagine the Guggenheim as a lemon peel!

Another great night of cocktails in New York. Salute!

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