Friday, March 22, 2019

:: history of place ::

First published on the USBG National blog in January 2017; slightly adapted version here.

Learning history has been a very useful way to relate to guests. Indeed, cocktail knowledge is rather important to some guests as is being able to explain the tapestry of what American whiskey is. However, one of the best ways to relate to guests regardless of what they drink or even if they drink is learning the history of the bar’s space. That space can be the building, the neighborhood, and events going on around it.

In terms of building, one of my previous bars, Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA, relishes the fact that the building’s first occupant in the mid 1800s was furniture dealer Thomas Russell and it helped to tie Harvard Square as a center of business. However, with older guests, it was important to know that the spot was the Wursthaus from 1917 until 1996. Some would regale tales about the quality German beer brands that they served there when America was awash in flavorless macro-beer lagers. And I remember one couple who related that they were too poor as Harvard students to eat at the Wursthaus, but now that they were older and more successful, they could eat in the same space. My next bar, Loyal Nine in East Cambridge has a less regal history in terms of building location, but one that still is important nevertheless. The previous tenants were a successive pair of liquor stores, and neighborhood guests love telling stories about their decline into a near-empty shelved questionable establishment. One of my favorite comments about the space was from an old co-worker who commented, “I used to buy beer underage there,” followed by his girlfriend’s reply of “Yes, a lot of driving around town is a tour of where Adam bought beer underage.”
The neighborhood’s history is also important. This showed itself especially when I worked day shifts at Russell House Tavern, and it tapped into how people love to reminisce. Part of my knowledge stemmed from spending a large amount of time in the neighborhood when I moved here back in the 90s. However, when my regulars would talk about people places that I did not know about, I turned to history books. Luckily, I could purchase the Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950 book so I could look up that BBQ place around the corner that was gone before I got here so I could follow up with a guest the next time they came in. Web searches also helped, for the city’s historical society has plenty of articles about establishments, figures, and trends. My next bar’s neighborhood has a less notable history, but still one that can be tapped into in regards to what restaurants and stores were in the area throughout the years.

Loyal Nine’s neighborhood does have a lot of cultural history though being at the intersection of Italian and Portuguese neighborhoods. Both have their respective festivals to learn about with the Italian ones being on the north side of Cambridge Street and the Portuguese ones being on the south side. While the Portuguese ones include parades with marching bands and church bell peels, the Italian festival every summer is a weekend long extravaganza that includes rides, carnie game booths, and food. Most of all, they have bands. One year, they had a few once-famous bands like the Spinners but they also had the current incarnation of the Village People. The Village People playing the neighborhood party was a big conversation piece, so I began to study up on Village People history including which were the original members that were still active, what years the hits were, and what the scandal with the U.S. Navy commercial was all about. That Saturday night, we made the drink of the day a four rum Old Fashioned called In the Navy. Many of our guests that night had either gone to the festival beforehand or were planning to catch the band afterwards, and the others at least knew about the goings on especially since Cambridge Street was blocked off starting a street away. The drink of the day gave a great talking piece to relate ideas about the neighborhood and interesting moments in music during the 1970s. That drink turned out to be the most successful drink of the day, and the recipe is as follows:
In the Navy
• 1/2 oz Navy Strength Rum (we used Smith & Cross)
• 1/2 oz Local Amber Rum (here, Privateer Amber)
• 1/2 oz Local Amber Rum (here, Old Ipswich Tavern Style)
• 1/2 oz Old Monk Rum (or other dark rum)
• 3/4 oz Demerara Syrup (1:1)
• 1 heavy barspoon St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
• 2 dash Angostura Bitters
Build in a rocks glass, add ice, stir to mix and chill, and garnish with lemon and lime twists.
The drink could be tied back to that neck of the woods being a major center of rum production before Prohibition, to the history of the song it was named after, or just as a hearty libation to be enjoyed. Bartender’s choice. Or perhaps, it is better said the bartender’s job to read the guest’s choice of what they want to hear about and connect to.
The key to all of these interactions is that there is so much more to talk about besides the spirits on your back bar. And you will learn in exchange as people relate their stories and histories about the place and neighborhood. I remember one New Year’s Eve, an older gentleman took a break from visiting his elderly mother and stopped in for a beer. He taught me that Loyal Nine’s space used to be two buildings with one of them having a sandwich shop on the first floor. A fire in one wiped out both buildings, and that is how our current space came to be built. The stories about the dangers of drug dealing on this strip during the 1980s were less useful but nevertheless colorful and entertaining. But I definitely felt that the stories he had a chance to tell were better for his soul than the beer he had with us.

margot tenenbaum

2 oz High-Rye Bourbon (Four Roses Yellow Label)
3/4 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Honey Syrup
1/2 oz Zucca Rabarbaro (Sfumato)

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail coupe.

On Friday night two weeks ago, my hand reached for Amanda Schuster's New York Cocktails to find my post work shift libation. There, I spied Frank Cisneros' Margot Tenebaum named after the edgy character from Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums movie, and since Margot was a smoker for most of her life, it was apt that the recipe called for a smoky amaro (the Chinese rhubarb root in rabarbaros naturally comes across as smoky despite not having touched fire). Since I enjoyed my last recipe that I had tried by Frank, namely the Farmer's Armagnac, I was excited to give this one a go.
The Margot Tenenbaum adopted a smoky herbal aroma with honey-floral undertones. Next, a bright lemon sip was darkened by the Sfumato's earthy roastiness, and the swallow wrapped things up with Bourbon accented by bitter flavors balanced by sweet floral honey notes.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

frankie panky

2 oz Blanco Tequila (Cimarron)
3/4 oz Cynar
1/2 oz Dry Vermouth (Noilly Prat)
1/4 oz Fernet Branca

Stir with ice, strain into a rocks glass with a large ice cube, and garnish with an orange twist.

Two Thursdays ago, my advance copy of Maggie Hoffman's Batch Cocktails arrived; I was sent one for my Derby Cup was utilized as one of the recipes (albeit a scaled-up and batched version). So when I got home that night, I quickly flipped through the pages to see if there was a good recipe that could be scaled down to become my nightcap. The one that made the call was Los Angeles bartender Liam Odien's riff on the Hanky Panky from the Savoy Cocktail Book. Here, tequila subbed for the gin base, and the sweet vermouth was replaced by a combination of Cynar and dry vermouth.
Given the name, I was curious if it were a tribute to NYC bartender Ms. Franky Marshall, but I realized that the spelling was wrong; instead, it could be named after a West Coast photographer and burlesque performer Frankie Panky. The Frankie Panky began the act with an orange and minty-herbal aroma. Next, the Cynar's caramel filled the sip, and the swallow closed things out with tequila and complementary funky herbal flavors along with minty-menthol notes from the Fernet.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

before the bell

1 oz Rye Whiskey (Rittenhouse)
1 oz Dubonnet Rouge
1/2 oz Cynar
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
2 slice Orange

Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail coupe, and garnish with an orange twist.

After making the Deshler the night before that was shaken with orange and lemon peels and having re-spotted the Twin Six shaken with orange slices that also appeared in Ensslin, I was inspired to riff on the Deshler. Given the shaken with orange aspect, I was decided to mashup the Deshler with Sam Ross' Too Soon? and give it a boxing-inspired name of Before the Bell.
In the glass, the Before the Bell circled with an orange, grape, and caramel bouquet. Next, the sip jabbed with lemon, orange, and caramel notes, and the swallow shot the cross with rye and bitter herbal flavors with a bitter orange finish. Perhaps Bourbon or a softer rye would work better here for I find aggressive ryes to be less satisfying in Sours. Or it could be that the orange from Sam Ross' gin drink did not go as well with American whiskey as I have noted in the Ward 8 and in my write up of the Tiki mashup version, the Scorpion Ward.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

deshler cocktail

1/2 Rye Whiskey (1 1/2 oz Old Overholt)
1/2 Dubonnet (1 1/2 oz Dubonnet Rouge)
2 dash Peychaud's Bitters
2 dash Cointreau (1/8+ oz)
1 piece Lemon Peel
2 piece Orange Peel

Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and serve with an orange twist on top.

Two Tuesdays ago, I sought out Hugo Ensslin's 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks and soon found the Deshler Cocktail that had popped into my head soon after buying the new formulation of Dubonnet. The recipe was named for turn of the century boxer David Deshler, and it was one that I had not made before despite having written about it in describing Palmer Matthew's riff at Drink that got dubbed after another boxer of that era, namely Kid McCoy.
Despite the straight spirits nature of the drink, I still shook it to help incorporate the peel components; however, I have seen stirred versions that squeezed the peels into the mixing glass to offer a smoother tipple. Once prepared, the Deshler opened up with a flurry of orange, grape, and cherry aromas. Next, it bobbed with a dry grape sip, and it weaved with a rye, cherry, chocolate, orange, and anise flavored swallow.

Monday, March 18, 2019

la perla

1 1/2 oz Partida Reposado Tequila (Cimarron)
1 1/2 oz Lustau Manzanilla Sherry (Lustau Fino)
3/4 oz Mathilde Pear Liqueur (Rothman & Winter)

Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail coupe, and garnish with a lemon twist.
One of the unoxidized sherry recipes in the PDT Cocktail Book that I could not make until I bought a bottle of Fino was Jacques Benzuidenhout's La Perla that he created in San Francisco circa 2005. The drink was Jacques' nod to Tomas Estes' bar of London's Covent Gardens; Tomas owned the now defunct La Perla and is a renowned tequila guru who founded the Tequila Ocho brand. In the glass, La Perla began with a lemon and muted agave nose. Next, an off-dry white grape and pear sip led into a pear and agave medley with a hint of chocolate on the swallow. Overall, my balance was probably a lot less pear-forward given my liqueur choice (more natural and subtle than Mathilde) and its decade of sitting on my shelf (first blog post usage was this tequila Sour in April 2009).

Sunday, March 17, 2019

low hanging fruit

3/4 oz Mezcal (Fidencio)
3/4 oz Apricot Liqueur (Rothman & Winter)
3/4 oz Strega
3/4 oz Lime Juice

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Two Sundays ago, I decided to make a drink that I had spotted earlier in the week on Christopher James' Instagram feed of something that he created at Felina in New Jersey. Chris was my Cocktails in the Country roommate back in 2015, so I felt comfortable inquiring about the recipe. I was intrigued because the combination reminded me of the Eulogy given the Strega and lime, and Chris described the name as, "It's the easiest drink to make hence the low hanging fruit moniker."
The Low Hanging Fruit tempted me with smoke and star anise aromas with hints of apricot on the nose. Next, the lime-driven sip gave way to smoky agave, apricot, and licorice flavors on the swallow.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

pink harmony

2 oz Barbancourt 5 Star (8 Year) Rhum
1/4 oz Maraschino Liqueur (Luxardo)
1/4 oz Grenadine
1/2 oz Lemon Juice

Shake with ice and strain into a champagne glass (coupe).
After my bar shift two Saturdays ago, I reached for Trader Vic's 1974 Rum Cookery & Drinkery book to find something gentle to end my work week. There, I spotted the Pink Harmony that appeared like the lemon for lime juice version of the Champs-de-Mars Daiquiri. What was at the core of this rum drink was the Maraschino-grenadine pairing that shines in drinks like the Mary Pickford, Cuban, and the Hell in the Pacific Tiki drink. In the glass, the Pink Harmony proffered nutty cherry and lemon to the nose. Next, lemon along with light cherry and berry notes filled the sip, and the swallow showcased the rum with nutty and pomegranate flavors. Overall, the Pink Harmony had a softer feel with lemon in the mix instead of lime.

the lighthouse

2 oz Brugal Añejo Rum (Don Q Añejo)
3/4 oz Tio Pepe Fino Sherry (Lustau)
1/4 oz Velvet Falernum
2 dash Scrappy's Lime Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail coupe.
Two Fridays ago, I was in the mood to give my new bottle of Fino bottle some more mileage, so I looked to the BarNotes app for inspiration. There, I was lured in by Matt Grippo's Lighthouse that was his first cocktail creation at the Blackbird Bar in San Francisco. While Matt said that it would taste great as described, the bar was selling this as a barrel-aged offering after 6 weeks in a small cask. What drew me in was the similarity to the Georgetown Club Cocktail from Charles H. Baker, Jr.'s South American Companion that I had great success with on the Loyal Nine menu circa 2016. Once stirred and strained, the Lighthouse shined out with aged rum and lime aromas. Next, caramel balanced by crisp white wine notes on the sip beaconed in rum, savory, clove, lime, and ginger flavors on the swallow. Like the Georgetown Club, there was enough sugar in the quarter ounce of falernum to round off the drink into a more gentle quaff.