Sunday, August 10, 2008

the winter hill

The theme for this month’s Mixology Monday (MxMo XXX) is “local flavor” as chosen by the Save the Drinkers blog. The options were to either “gather ingredients that are representative of the culture/geography/tackiness of your respective cities and make a drink with a truly place-based style” or “dig up an old drink that came from your city and revive it! If you can find the original bar, that would be even more interesting.” Since the Boston recipes I was easily able to dig up, such as the Ward 8, were pretty well known and somewhat ubiquitous around here, I decided to go with the first option. My town of Somerville, Massachusetts’ Chase distillery and the neighboring town of Medford’s Lawrence distillery produced some of the country’s finest rums and other liquors up until the Volstead Act and the Eighteenth Amendment closed off these distilleries. I then got the idea of using some of the contemporary local product, namely one of the three vodkas that are made in Somerville – Cossack, Rubinoff, and Ruble. These vodkas are rather scary in that they come in plastic bottles, are often associated with skid rowers, high schoolers, and poor college kids, and have a chemical solvent sort of harshness to them. They are not distilled in my town but “produced and bottled” here. I believe train tanker cars of food-grade grain ethanol (probably from the corn belt) arrive at the “distillery,” the ethanol is diluted onsite to 80 proof, and the product is packaged for distribution. The evil nature of this product excited me in that this vodka probably shared a lot quality-wise with the bathtub hootch that would have been prevalent during Prohibition.

The first liquor store I went to did not have any of the three local brands but tried to sell me a similar New Hampshire brand. I explained that it had to be from Somerville as it was a “gift.” The clerk asked me if it was meant as a joke, and then sent me up the hill to the next level down of townie liquor stores. They did indeed have Cossack and Ruble. I ended up going with the Ruble since they had it in smaller sizes. The 375mL bottle set me back $3.99, and later I regretted not going with the 200mL bottle for $2.19.
My drink’s inspiration was the Irma La Douce cocktail invented by the lovely ladies of Boston's LUPEC, or at least the cucumber puree aspect of it. It was a big hit when we recently made it for guests, one of whom was a major cuke fan. To match the vodka produced a mile and a half from my house, I added cucumber, mint, and nasturtiums gathered from my garden only a few feet from my door.

The Winter Hill
• 1 1/2 oz Somerville Vodka
• 1/2 oz Cucumber Juice
• 1/2 oz Dry Vermouth
• 1/4 oz Gomme (or simple) Syrup
• 2 Nasturtium Flowers
• 1 Sprig of Mint (4-6 leaves)
• 1 dash Angostura Bitters
• 1 dash Orange Bitters
Prepare the cucumber juice by peeling, blending, and straining a ripe cucumber. Muddle the mint, nasturtiums, gomme/simple syrup, and bitters. Add vodka, vermouth, and cucumber juice and shake with ice until painfully cold. Pour through a strainer to remove most of the vegetable matter. Garnish with a nasturtium flower.
I used the sugar part of the gomme syrup to sweeten the drink and the gum arabic part to reduce the off flavors. And I used the nasturtiums with their pepperiness in attempt to compliment the chemical spiciness of the vodka. My other ingredient note was that the dry vermouth was Noilly Prat.

The end result had a rather delightful peppery-flowery vegetableness to it that completely masked the chemical solvent burn of the Ruble vodka [1]. Andrea [2] likened it to a Bloody Mary in a drink-at-brunch sort of way. Overall, the drink would be a lot tastier if made with Hendrick’s or Plymouth gin, but this wasn’t the point of the exercise. Also, a half ounce of lemon juice (and upping the simple syrup to a half ounce) would be a delightful variant as well as adding club soda and ice to make it a tall drink. I opted out of the lemons since they did not agree in my mind with the local theme (bitters, vermouth, and gomme syrup did seem like fair game though).

Cheers from Somerville, MA!

[1] Well until the drink warmed up to room temperature and the burn from booze increased to uncomfortable proportions. The last half ounce got dumped. Maybe passing it through a Brita filter first would have helped...

[2] Andrea just added a comment to this post where she said, "I'll add a few comments about the Winter Hill that might put it in cultural context. Over the past 10 or so years, Somerville, and our neighborhood of Winter Hill in particular, has experienced a great deal of gentrification. When I began grad school about 15+ years ago, the city was referred to as "Slummerville" by the college-types, and provided a source of cheap rents for said students (me being one of them for a time). Somerville's longer-term residents were primarily from the working classes, who originally worked in the industries that dominated the city prior to the WWII.

"As the financial services industry boomed in Boston, real estate prices in Boston proper and its nearby communities began to rise, and gentrification of previously undesirable cities with a short commute time to Boston commenced. In Somerville, this process was accelerated once the Davis T-stop opened in 1984, which provided 15 minute rapid transit service into the heart of Boston. With skyrocketing property values, increasing numbers of the older guard either sold at a profit or dug in to withstand the yuppy storm and complain about high property taxes.

"Today Somerville has the distinction of being one of the most densely populated cities in the US, and a little over half of its residents are unmarried. Somerville also boasts that it is second only to New York in artists per capita. Close quarters, and an increasingly youthful and sophisticated culture, have created a lot of friction between old guard and new school. Nonetheless, residents from all backgrounds are trying to pull together to create a community like no other, where hip artists passionately embrace Neapolitan Christmas displays, and fans of the artisan food movement cherish the knowledge of the city's old world cooks. The 'Ville is also home to a sizable proportion of the Boston area's finest craft bartenders, and no doubt the crusty old-timers would recognize the classic cocktails that these bartenders are reviving.

"The Winter Hill cocktail nicely embodies this spirit. Urban vegetable gardens abound in the yards (front, back, side, you name it) of old and new residents alike. No-one would mistake a bottle of Ruble for an handcrafted vodka, but it's likely been sampled by many 'Villens. I think we all value the scrappy history of our quirky city; so I'll drink to that!"


Tiare said...

Thanks for the comment you left on my blog and that way i also discovered your blog, i have now added a link. Your drink is interesting! and i believe it will be many different types of drinks in the posts to the MxMo.


Kevin Kelpe said...

Thanks for posting, Fred. I've got you in the roundup!