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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!

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.

I have found a new favorite place in Boston—the comfy, cozy leather bench-seat at the end of the bar at The Citizen.  Just a 10 minute walk from my office, for two weeks in a row I have retreated to The Citizen with friends to relax from the stress of work.  And that fabulous seat at the end of the bar has awaited and welcomed me with open arms—is it possible to fall in love with a chair? As a short woman who has issues with bar stools, this is a perfect perch for me—no chance of falling off this thing (yes, I did fall off a bar stool once and no, I was not drunk when it happened), it is pretty comfortable, and I get a great view of the entire bar from this end.

But a bar is of course about more than seating.  John satisfied my request for something bitter and rich (it was quite a damp day here in Boston today, so I wanted something with intense flavors) with a cocktail called Johan goes to Mexico (a creation by Drink bartender Josey Packard).  Paying homage to Dr. Johan Siegert, the 19th century doctor who created Angostura bitters, this drink includes a half ounce of Angostura (yum!) alongside Mezcal Vida (hello, Mexico!), lemon juice and demerara syrup.  Wow, what a fabulous drink!

Your whiskey club card is like an adult library card

And then I took the leap and joined The Citizen’s Whiskey Club.  The concept is simple: explore the wonders and variety of whiskey by trying about 100 options on the bar’s list. And when you’ve made your way through the list, you get a special single barrel Four Roses bourbon and an engraved glass to use on each visit.  Its important to have goals, right?  I started off with Black Maple Hill.  Made in Bardston, Kentucky, this small batch bourbon is aged for an average of 8 years in oak casks.  The result is a butterscotchy sweetnesss which makes this go down pretty easy.

If in the months to come you are looking for me, check the leather bench-seat at The Citizen and most likely I’ll have a whiskey in hand–I do have about 90 more to try.  Cheers!

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