Wednesday, December 31, 2014

:: fred's top 10 cocktail moments of 2014 ::

In 2010, I was asked what my favorite drink that year was and I decided not only to start a list of my favorite drinks I had out on the town and in at the home bar, but I decided to list the top moments of the previous 12 months.

1. Still making a living at it
The end of this year marks the 19th month of me being at Russell House Tavern with 18 months of that being a full time bartender. I began my run as a barback to get acquainted with the restaurant and the industry and to await an opening on the barstaff. I am thankful for being given this opportunity to make the transition from blogger to bartender. Perhaps my observations last year make better light of it.

2. Created some drinks
Over the last year, three of my creations have graced the cocktail menus. The Endicott Cobbler replaced the Chutes & Ladders and made it onto the St. George Spirits webpage. The Mytoi Gardens made it onto the Tiki section of the brunch cocktail menu, and I compete with this in the Diplomatico Rum competition this fall. Finally, the Ask the Dust Scaffa hit not only the menu but the Del Maguey Mezcal recipe page. There were several others that I created this year that made the blog or just my menu notebook.
3. Got honored in the Improper Bostonian once and twice by Gaz Regan
Back in April, I was one of 12 bartenders to be featured in the Pouring Reign article by MC Slim JB. The photoshoot part was a novel experience, but the interview was fine since it was done via email. I even wrote up my outtakes. Moreover, one of my answers about drinks I don't like caused someone to start a ChowHound thread about me (note: I still don't know the difference between a Baybreeze and a Seabreeze without looking it up). Gaz Regan honored me two ways this year. The first was to interview me and the second was to include my Chutes & Ladders in this year's 101 Best New Cocktails.

4. I read a lot
While putting in the hours improves speed, grace, and people skills, there is still a lot of knowledge that needs to be learned from others. My original goal for self-betterment was a book per month and I exceeded that by 50%.
1. Garrett Oliver's The Brewmaster's Table. Great discussion of styles and food pairing ideas. Bought because I heard John Mayer made everyone at Local 149 read it when he was the bar manager there.
2. Rosie Schaap's Drinking with Men. A great memoir about finding one's place in the drinking community.
3. Eric Asimov's How to Love Wine. Wine is one of my weakest links in the spirits game, so I sought the wisdom of one of the greats.
4. Tom Acitelli's The Audacity of Hops. An easy to read history of the craft beer revolution, and a great example of how history repeats itself with small brewery blunders and successes.
5. Randy Mosher's Tasting Beer. An elegant comparison of different beer styles with great charts and graphics including a malt (original gravity) vs. hops comparison of different beer types.
6. Pete Hamill's A Drinking Life. A memoir about drinking, coming of age, and aging that came to me via Michael Dietsch's 2012 recommendations.
7. William Grimes' Straight Up or On the Rocks: The Story of the American Cocktail. One of the better social and historical overviews on the cocktail.
8. Lauren Clark's Crafty Bastards. A New England-focused history of beer then and now from one of the original Boston cocktail bloggers.
9. Maureen Ogle's Ambitious Brew. A story of the politics, marketing, and history of America as told through beer.
10. Jeffrey Morgenthaler's The Bar Book. A cocktail book that takes on technique and rationale more than providing a medley of delectable tipple recipes.
11. Kevin Liu's Craft Cocktails at Home. A book that takes technique and rationale of cocktails even further... with science! My glass chilling experiments made it in there with a bunch of other nods to this blog as well.
12. Danny Meyer's Setting the Table. A must-read book on hospitality and business for anyone in the restaurant industry (or perhaps any business industry, for that matter).
13. Philip Van Munching's Beer Blast. One of the clan who imported Heineken into the U.S. tells the successes and follies of big beer such as light beer and Zima, respectively.
14. Anistatia Miller's Shaken Not Stirred. One of the two tomes on the Martini that discusses history and modern trends.
15. Michael Dietsch's Shrubs. The book traces shrubs from historical drink to modern cocktail ingredient; I was quite surprised by a long quote of mine taking up all of page 50.
16. Adam Rogers' Proof. The science of booze all relayed through a handful of thoughtful stories.
17. Sean Lewis' We Make Beer. The culture of microbrewers and their fans told via vignettes and visits.
18. Talia Baiocchi's Sherry. One part encyclopedia on the style and the producers and one part history of the drink; glad it gave the nod to modern mixologists for reviving a love of sherry. Replete with classic and recent sherry cocktail recipes, too.
5. Visited new bars
The Boston cocktail bar scene grew and I paid my respects this year to Viale, Fairsted Kitchen, Alden & Harlow, Ames Street Deli, Merrill & Co., and Highball Lounge. I also finally visited Bronwyn, Shojo, and Puritan & Co. for drinks. I am also thankful for all of the older establishments for maintaining their worth for yet another year. Cheers!

6. I competed and I judged
Sure, I have done my share of participating in contests where you submit recipes and await a result. Save for competing in a bitters competition back in 2009 at Tales of the Cocktail, everything has been from my computer chair. This year, my Shadows & Tall Trees got me on stage at the Woodford Bourbon competition over the summer, and my Mytoi Gardens did rather well at the Diplomatico Rum competition this fall. Definitely learned a lot from the successes and mistakes made in each. This year, I also was on the other side of things for the Boston Preservation Society competition at GrandTen.
7. Knickebeins happened
Yes, wacky memorable drinks were made. The above egg yolk-laden Knickebein (For more 4-1-1, see here or here) was one of many things I got away with this year that brought people joy. Some of it was due to people bringing me in gifts that became challenges such as the Reese's cups that became a Pago-Pago riff on Easter or the New Orleans Oreo Fizz another night. Our bar's brief foray into Fireball brought about the Fireball Fizz.

8. Got more involved in beer
Besides attending drinkfests like ACBF and DrinkCraftBeer, I also volunteered at a NERAX event in support of cask beer and volunteered at the opening for Somerville's Aeronaut brewery. I also helped out in a blind taste test of 15 barley wines for a article. True, not a cocktail, but beer can be sweet, sour, and bitter all rolled into one just like a cocktail.

9. Got written up, quoted, or acknowledged in a variety of ways
My antique-mart hunting led to a vintage bottle of 19th century Boston Punch that led down the road to BullyBoy bringing the concept of Hub Punch back to life. Michael Dietsch's Shrubs book (see list above) quoted me on shrubs (a full page quote!) as I expanded on my notes about shrubs post. Was part of the OnTheBar article on Your Favorite Bartenders' Favorite Bartenders" with my outtakes here. Also, a fraction of my glassware collection was featured on SeriousEats.
10. I survived Boston's Thirst event
I wished that I had traveled to New Orleans, Portland, or the Bourbon Trail for some of the more national cocktail and spirits weeks, but luckily, a great event was hosted right here, Boston Thirst. Talks on hospitality, history of rum, and the rise of aperitif culture were all great, as was the opening TheThing which I described in one article for OnTheBar as "high-class elegance meets low-brow cocktail shenanigans."

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

sinnerman swizzle

1 oz Bombay Dry Gin
1 oz Cocchi Sweet Vermouth
1/2 oz Suze Gentian Liqueur
1/2 oz St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
3/4 oz Lemon Juice

Build in a Collins glass, fill with crush ice, and swizzle to mix and chill. Top with more crushed ice, garnish with mint sprigs and 5-6 dash Angostura Bitters, and add a straw.

While looking through the Death & Co. Cocktail Book and making the Park Life Swizzle, I thought about the power of their Swizzle recipe that Death & Co. alum Katie Emmerson paid tribute in her Company Swizzle at the Hawthorne. Moreover, it influenced Matt Schrage in making his Red Duster Swizzle at Brick & Mortar. One of the drinks and flavor combinations that I was still thinking about was Mike Fleming's Sinnerman at West Bridge; the simple combination of sweet vermouth, gentian liqueur, and allspice dram made for a rather good aperitif. I did find it a touch sweet and figured that some citrus would dry it out a little. Or if I added some citrus and made a Swizzle out of it...
So I went into work the next day and made a Swizzle variation of the drink. I had not made a gin drink up in a while so I reached for that, but whiskey or especially Scotch might work well here too (or rum if the citrus was switched to lime). For a name, I thought about riffing on the concept of the Sinnerman song by paying tribute to Nina Simone or other performers who helped to make the piece popular. Instead, I decided to pay honor to the original drink that I riffed off of. Once made, it shared a mint and allspice aroma. A lemon and grape sip led into an earthy, gin, and allspice swallow. Like the original, the combination had layers of flavors that revealed themselves as the ice in the drink melted over time.

Monday, December 29, 2014

royal hawaiian

1 jigger Gin (1 1/2 oz Beefeater)
1 jigger Pineapple Juice (1 1/2 oz)
1/3 jigger Lemon Juice (1/2 oz)
1 tsp Orgeat (1/2 oz BG Reynolds)

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. I added a lemon twist.

After the Criminal Mastermind, I turned to my bookshelf where I reached for my edition of Bottom's Up that I had not touched in a while. While flipping through the pages, I spotted the Royal Hawaiian from the Moana Hotel in Honolulu. The recipe reminded me of the Hawaii Cocktail but with lemon juice and orgeat in place of simple syrup, orange bitters, and egg white. The building of the Moana Hotel began in the late 19th century, and when it opened in 1901, it was the first hotel in Waikiki. The Royal Hawaiian though is the name of another hotel on the island that opened in 1927, and perhaps this libation is a tribute cocktail to their neighboring establishment.
The Royal Hawaiian began with a lemon and pineapple-driven aroma. Similarly, the sip offered a crisp pineapple flavor that was brightened by the lemon juice. Finally, the swallow shared gin and pineapple notes that finished sweet with nutty orgeat accents.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

criminal mastermind

1 1/2 oz Bourbon (Four Roses)
1 oz Amaro Ramazzotti
1/2 oz Dry Sack Oloroso Sherry (Lustau)

Stir with ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with lemon oil.
Two Sundays ago for the cocktail hour, I decided to make one of the recipes that Erick Castro posted on his Instagram from his night bartending at Harvard & Stone in Los Angeles. The Criminal Mastermind caught my attention not only for its name but for its Boulevardier-like composition. Once assembled, it offered a lemon oil aroma that later gave way to orange-tinged grape notes. Next, caramel and grape on the sip led into Bourbon, nutty, and dark-orange flavors on the swallow.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


1 1/4 oz Branca Menta
1 1/4 oz Cocchi Americano
3/4 oz Meletti Anisette
1/2 oz Lime Juice
2 dash Angostura Bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a Single Old Fashioned glass. Twist a grapefruit peel over the top and discard.

Every once in a while, there's a drink recipe that passes in front of you and you shake your head. Then, people start either talking about it or ordering it followed by re-ordering it. The Consigliere is one of them. At Russell House Tavern, bar manager Ashish Mitra crafted the Consigliere with what seemed like odds and ends of our liquor stock. While seemingly no one ordered the drink at first after it appeared on the menu, the drink has begun to take off with people ordering more than one in a sitting. Ashish described his drink as, "Named as such due to the abundance of Italian ingredients. Consigliere means 'advisor' in Italian, but the connotation is dark. Smooth on the surface, but packing a punch just underneath." That dark connotation is that it often describes counselor positions to leadership in the Italian or American mafia, and the term came part of the modern lexicon due to The Godfather movies.
The Consigliere began with bright grapefruit oil aromas complemented by the minty notes from the Branca Menta. Lime and caramel on the sip gave way to a smooth herbal swallow with mint, anise, and menthol flavors. Overall, it the Consigliere was cleansing but balanced and gentle, and it reminded me of a more complex Southside of sorts. I can definitely see why people order more than one now.

Monday, December 22, 2014

sass mouth

1 1/2 oz Vodka Beefeater Gin
1/2 oz Rothman & Winter Apricot Liqueur
1/2 oz Aperol
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/4 oz Heavy Simple Syrup (2:1) (*)
1 barspoon St. Elizbeth Allspice Dram

Shake with ice and strain over crushed ice. Garnish with 2-3 dashes Peychaud's Bitters, and add straws.
(*) Drier seeking palates might want to omit this.

For a second drink at Kirkland Tap & Trotter, I spotted the vodka-based Sass Mouth and asked bartender Kenny Belanger if I could substitute my favorite flavored vodka, namely gin. When Kenny mentioned that the drink was created by bartender Andrew Keefe, I jokingly inquired if Andrew thought the substitution would be acceptable. Andrew gave the thumbs up, and the mixing began.
The Sass Mouth shared an anise aroma from the bitters with a hint of fruitiness underneath. The fruitiness continued on into the sip where it mingled with the lemon juice; finally, the swallow shared the gin and apricot flavors with a bitter rhubarb and allspice finish. Later, as the Peychaud's Bitters from the garnish began to enter the equation, the balance shifted to a bit drier with anise flavors on the finish.

Friday, December 19, 2014

sky's the limit

1 oz Hochstadter's Rock & Rye
1 oz Lustau Amontillado Sherry
1/2 oz Cinnamon Syrup
1/2 oz Lemon Juice

Shake with ice and strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with an orange twist and add straws.

Two Mondays ago, I stopped into Kirkland Tap & Trotter as I had spotted an open barstool while passing by on my way home. There, I found a seat in front of bartender Kenny Belanger. For a first libation, I asked Kenny for the Sky's the Limit for the sherry-cinnamon syrup combination has been so pleasing before in drinks like Island Creek's Spanish Union; moreover, both of them have that Scofflaw structure (minus a dash of bitters here which could be represented by the Rock & Rye botanicals though) that I find so pleasing. Kenny also mentioned that this recipe was Jared Sadoian's drink; Jared is still at Craigie on Main but does some bartender shifts over at Kirkland Tap & Trotter.
The Sky's the Limit offered a citrus aroma from the orange twist and lemon juice in the mix. A lemon and grape sip led into a whiskey and nutty sherry swallow with an herbal finish. Over successive swallows, the cinnamon notes began to appear on the finish to round off the drink.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

forbidden fruit

1 1/2 oz Bombay Sapphire Gin
3/4 oz Passion Fruit Syrup
1/2 oz Campari
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/4 oz Yuzu Juice
1 Egg White

Shake once without ice and once with ice. Strain into a cocktail coupe and garnish the egg white froth with a spritz of St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram.
Two Sundays ago, Bombay Gin and GQ magazine threw a cocktail party at the Hawthorne celebrating Ran Duan of the Baldwin Room at Sichuan Garden II being named Bombay Sapphire's "Most Imaginative Bartender." While Ran and his mixing cohorts did not make his winning recipe, there were three offerings that night. One of my favorites was the Forbidden Fruit that paired Campari and passion fruit syrup which always work rather well together. Indeed, the drink was perhaps an egg white-Sour variation of his Cisco Bay that also utilized that combination. Instead of grapefruit juice and an ice-filled Collins glass in the Cisco Bay, the Forbidden Fruit brought in yuzu juice and a cocktail coupe with egg white now in the mix. Also, allspice dram as a garnish here added a great spice aroma to this drink. The egg white worked to soften the flavors, but the great combination of Campari and passion fruit sang out with complementary yuzu notes bolstering the tropical and citrus elements.

:: mixology monday: apples wrap up::

I'm so pleased with the quality of submissions to this month's Mixology Monday, MxMo XCII: Apples! Apples were utilized from the most obvious to me spirits to the more obscure like culinary ones like apple jelly. Hopefully, I can bang out the first wave of these entries before I have to leave for my evening shift tonight at Russell House Tavern. Without further ado, here are the entries. How do you like them apples?
• Brenda of DeliciousCocktailTime was no last minuter, unless she mistook which week was which. Her Crabapple Jelly Cocktail utilizes jelly and Berentzen Apfelkorn apple liqueur!
• The Boozenerds were also early submitters and could not control themselves to one recipe. Their two drinks span three elements -- eau de vie, aged brandy, and sparkling apple cider.
• Jessica of OneMartini appeared in the Mixology Monday blog pingbacks with her entry for the Spiced Calvados Sour days before she later left a comment, so placed here instead of later. Maple and spice elements round out her drink with a great seasonal touch!
• That bum Frederic of the CocktailVirginSlut blog... wait that's me! Well, I turned to the Death & Co. book for their riff on a 19th century classic with the Widow's Laurel using Calvados and some allspice dram for complementary spice notes.
• Batting fifth, Dagreb of Nihil Utopia went all Hemingway on us with an apple brandy recipe from Philip Greene's book.
• Sometimes MxMo's can catch your liquor shelf off guard. That's what happened with Andrea of GinHound who went out and fixed that problem with some applejack to make a tribute recipe, The Banker. And yes, apple brandy and Fernet Branca do work magically together!
• Stuart of PutneyFarm headed to the PDT Cocktail Book for the Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy recipe the Persephone that fits in some sloe gin into the mix as well.
• Using both Calvados and cider in the shaker tin, Gary of Doc Elliot's Apothecary crafts the Cider Punch using cranberry and ginger to seal in the seasonal touch. Likewise, walnut notes work to the same effect in the Plymouth Old Fashioned.
• Morgan of FoodieTails takes the ginger approach with the Apple Cider-Basil Buck. I was teased with the tequila-apple pairing but not disappointed when it was revealed that this was a Bourbon number.
• With MxMo alum's Michael Dietsch's book either on everyone's bookshelf or holiday wish list, it wasn't a surprise that there were a few shrub entries! Stacy Markow riffed on the Vieux Carré using a spiced apple shrub she made herself!
• Not to be outdone by the contributors who do two recipes, TartinesToTikis starts with the Normal Conquest from the Savoy Hotel in London and transitions to recipes from New York and San Diego.
• At the end of the dozen was the Muse of Doom of FeuDeVie. Homemade cranberry falernum to complement apples with fruit and spice notes? Brilliant. Here in the Red Plaid Wool Scarf with Calvados.
• Laura of the SassAndGin blog Earl Grey tea-infused her applejack (which would have worked great for the MxMo: Tea that I hosted years ago) for the Belles & Whistles. Great smoke and spice notes here!
• A shrub contribution from Alex of BringMeAShrub should have been no surprise though. The surprise was that he took his apple shrub all Corn'n'Oil style with the Dr. Luther.
• A slight bit late, but cat herd pimpin' ain't easy, so here's JFL of RatedRCocktails with the Pama Nui. Calvados in a Tiki drink? Nice.
• Even more late (almost a week so no photo) is Marius of ArcanePotions with a trio of drink recipes including the Manzana Cool Smash featuring green apple liqueur!
• Further lateness -- like a month late, but hey, bloggers like cats can get lost -- is Southern Ash with the Hot Apple Toddy!

Perhaps there'll be a few late stragglers to be added later (so far 2 added), but here are the early birds (on time for the cocktail world is early) that got the worm. Aged brandy, eau de vie, liqueur, sparkling and still cider, jelly, and shrubs oh my! Thank you all of the Blog-o-sphere for contributing to this Mixology Monday to make it once again such a fun and one of the best and longest running cocktail parties on the internets! And yes, I finished in time to pay some bills and make it to my barshift's pre-meal on time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

babbo's toddy

1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1/2 oz Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon (Fighting Cock 103)
1/2 oz Campari
3/4 oz Cinnamon Syrup (BG Reynolds)

Build in a pre-heated Toddy mug. Top with hot water and garnish with an orange wheel.
After the Repossession, I decided to make a drink that I spotted on Erick Castro's Instagram called the Babbo's Toddy. Erick created this hot Boulevardier riff at the Boilermaker bar in Manhattan, and I was curious how Campari would play in a Toddy format. Once prepared, the Babbo's Toddy offered cinnamon and tea-like aromas that later shared more Campari notes. The heat brought forth a gorgeous orange flavor from the Campari and grape from the vermouth on the sip, and the swallow began with whiskey flavors and ended with cinnamon and herbal Campari elements. When I mentioned that it came across as very tea like, Andrea replied that it was just like the Good Earth brand's Sweet & Spice Herb Tea that she drinks.

Monday, December 15, 2014


1 oz Reposado Tequila (Espolon)
3/4 oz Amontillado Sherry (Lustau)
1/2 oz Apricot Liqueur (Rothman & Winter)
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/4 oz Cane Syrup (JM Sirop) (*)

Shake with ice and strain into a coupe glass. Float 1/4 oz mezcal (Sombra).
(*) Can sub 2:1 syrup in a pinch.

Two Thursdays ago, I turned to the book I am reading, Talia Baiocchi's Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World's Best-Kept Secret, for a recipe. There, I spotted the Repossession created by Leo Robitschek of Eleven Madison Park and the NoMad. The combination of oxidized sherry and apricot liqueur is one that has worked rather well in many cocktails such as the Domino Sour and the Oaxacan Dead, so I was willing to give this one a try.
The Repossession began with a smoky and briny aroma with a hint of fruit from either the sherry or apricot liqueur. Next, lemon and grape on the sip shifted to agave, nutty, and apricot flavors on the swallow and a smoke finish.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

widow's laurel

The theme for this month's Mixology Monday (MxMo XCII) was picked by me, Frederic of the CocktailVirgin blog. The theme I chose was "Apples," and I elaborated in my announcement post with, "Apples have been an American booze staple with Johnny Appleseed as its symbolic hero. John Chapman became that legend by planting apple tree nurseries across the northern Appalachia and the Midwest. He did not choose grafting techniques to reproduce sweet edible ones, but bred them to make sour apples perfect for cider and applejack. Michael Pollan in The Botany of Desire proclaimed, "Really, what Johnny Appleseed was doing and the reason he was welcome in every cabin in Ohio and Indiana was he was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier. He was our American Dionysus." Apple products began to enter into the mixed drink literature in the 19th century with the Stone Fence appearing in Jerry Thomas' Bartender Guide and got quite refined by the end of the century such as the Widow's Kiss in George Kappeler's Modern American Drinks. Indeed, apples have found their way into modern cocktails via Calvados, applejack, sparkling and still cider, apple butter, and muddled apple."
At first I was going to do one of the drinks on our menu at work, the Emily Rose -- a cross between a Jack Rose and a French 75, but instead I turned to the Death & Co. Cocktail Book so that I could taste something new. In the brandy section, I spotted a riff on the Widow's Kiss, a classic from 1895 that I mentioned above in my announcement. Joaquín Simó's 2009 variation, the Widow's Laurel, was a spicier and slightly less boozy riff on this classic.
Widow's Laurel
• 2 oz Busnel VSOP Calvados (Boulard VSOP)
• 1/2 oz Drambuie
• 1/2 oz Carpano Sweet Vermouth (Dolin)
• 1 tsp St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
• 1 dash Angostura Bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with 3 brandied cherries on a pick (omitted).
Once stirred and strained, the Widow's Laurel shared an apple and allspice aroma. Next, the sip was rather fruity from the apple brandy and the vermouth's grape, and the swallow presented a medley of honey, apple, allspice, and clove elements. The combination overall was perfect for the autumn-winter transition with fall fruit flavors mixing with Christmas spices.

Here at the end of Mixology Monday posts, I usually thank the host for picking the theme and running this month's show, but that would be a bit odd thanking myself. Instead, I am thanking the hosts that have stepped up since the last time I hosted Mixology Monday, namely July 2013's MxMo LXXV "Flip Flop," as well as all the other past and future hosts. Moreover, thank you to the rest of the Mixology Monday participants for keeping the shakers shaking and the spirit of the event alive!

Friday, December 12, 2014

blue steel

1 1/2 oz Hayman's Old Tom Gin
3/4 oz Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Pineapple Juice
1/4 oz Cinnamon Syrup (BG Reynolds)

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a 1/4 oz flaming Green Chartreuse (lit on fire for 10 seconds first) drizzled over the top of the drink.

Two Saturdays ago, I turned to the Sanctuaria, the Dive Bar of Cocktail Bars book and spotted the Blue Steel and was lured in by the Tiki-like flavor combination and the fire aspect, of course. The book described how this drink created back in 2010 became one of their signature drinks especially on people's birthdays. Moreover, they attributed learning the flaming ribbon of Chartreuse to Ted Kilgore, and mention that the Chartreuse pairs well with the juices and syrup here to give a "pineapple upside-down cake flavor."
The herbal notes of the Green Chartreuse garnish paid dividends on the aroma front. A pineapple and lemon sip set the stage for gin and Green Chartreuse botanical flavors on the swallow and growing amounts of cinnamon on the finish.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

park life swizzle

1 oz Ransom Old Tom Gin
1 oz Lustau Amontillado Sherry
1/2 oz Velvet Falernum
1/2 oz Ginger Syrup
3/4 oz Lime Juice

Dry shake the ingredients and pour into a Pilsner glass. Fill with crushed ice and swizzle to mix and chill. Garnish with mint sprigs and 6 dashes Angostura Bitters, and add a straw.
A few Tuesdays ago, I was flipping through the Death & Co. Cocktail Book and stumbled upon the Swizzle section. Knowing that our mint patch was on its last legs due to the weather, I decided for one last hurrah and picked the Park Life Swizzle to send that section of the garden off in style. The recipe was crafted by Thomas Waugh back in 2009 and gave no indication as to whether the Swizzle was named after a Blur song or other. Once prepped, the Park Life Swizzle shared an allspice, clove, and mint aroma from the garnishes. Grape and lime flavors on the sip exchanged for gin botanicals and sherry's nuttiness on the swallow and clove and ginger notes on the finish.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


2 oz Cocchi Sweet Vermouth
1/2 oz Suze Gentian Liqueur
1/2 oz St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram

Stir with ice and strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with an orange twist and add straws.
For a second drink at West Bridge, I asked bartender Moe Isaza for the Sinnerman as I was intrigued by its use of Suze Gentian Liqueur. Moe mentioned that this aperitif-style cocktail was another of Mike Fleming's recipes. In the glass, the Sinnerman shared an orange oil and grape aroma. The grape continued on into the sip where it was chased by citrus and earthy gentian on the swallow and allspice on the finish. As the ice melted some over time, that earthy swallow revealed some chocolate and bubblegum-like notes to the mix. Overall, the combination was a touch sweet but the allspice did work to dry out the balance.

Monday, December 8, 2014

conspiracy theory

1 1/2 oz Dewar's Blended Scotch
3/4 oz Meletti Amaro
1/2 oz Apricot Liqueur
1/2 oz Lemon Juice

Shake with ice and strain into a rocks glass.
Two Mondays ago, I decided to visit West Bridge after work. For a first drink, I asked bartender Moe Isaza for the Conspiracy theory that he mentioned was bartender Mike Flemming's creation. I was drawn to it for it appeared like a classic apricot-driven Daisy but with the floral amaro Meletti for added complexity; indeed, Mike had used that amaro to good effect in the Hedy Lamarr cocktail. Once in a glass, the Conspiracy Theory presented a floral and apricot aroma. A malty, lemon, and orchard fruit sip gave way to a Scotch and floral swallow with a return of the apricot on the finish.

Friday, December 5, 2014

morningside heights

1 oz Reposado Tequila (Espolon)
1 oz Mezcal (Montelobos)
1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth (Dolin)
1/2 oz Amaro Montenegro
2 dash Chocolate Bitters (Housemade)

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.
Two Sundays ago, I returned to the Amaro Montenegro Facebook page's recipe section and happened upon the Morningside Heights. This recipe by Theo Lieberman of Milk & Honey was named after a part of Manhattan that is much further north than the Milk & Honey bar located in the Flatiron district. Once stirred and strained, the drink gave forth a smoky agave and bright grapefruit oil aroma. A light grape and orange sip transitioned into a more flavorful swallow with agave flavors more recognizable as mezcal as well as a chocolate-anise finish.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

rainy dayz

1 1/2 oz Old Monk Rum
3/4 oz Cardamaro
1/2 oz Honey Syrup (1:1)
1/4 oz Lime Juice
2 dash Angostura Bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a coupe glass.
Two Thursdays ago, I stopped into the Independent in Somerville after work. For a cocktail, I asked bartender Casey Keenan for the Rainy Dayz. Casey mentioned that it was created by the bar manager Patrick Dole. The general structure of the drink reminded me of the Sacrilege with the Cardamaro playing second fiddle to a spirit and balanced by honey and citrus. Once prepared, the Rainy Dayz shared a dark rum aroma with brighter notes from the honey and lime. A caramel, lime, and floral sip shifted into a dark rum and herbal swallow with a molasses, honey, and vanilla finish. Overall, the dark rum's molasses' low flavors complemented the honey's higher notes here rather well.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


2/3 Gordon's Dry Gin (1 1/2 oz Beefeater)
2 dash French Vermouth (1/2 oz Noilly Prat Dry)
2 dash Cointreau (1/2 oz)
2 dash Lemon Juice (1/2 oz)
1 dash Ojen Bitters (1/8 oz Butterfly Absinthe)

Stir (shake) with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. I garnished with a lemon twist.

Two Tuesdays ago, I opened up our copy of Pioneers of Mixing at Elite Bars 1903-1933 to the gin section and spotted the Albion. I made the choice to interpret the dashes as more sizable such that the secondary ingredients made up half the drink itself. The original instructions, however, say to stir the drink and perhaps this was meant to be more like a lightly flavored glass of gin served silky smooth. Then again, many old cocktail books have no real convention for stirring or shaking and flip-flop between them. So perhaps I am not too far amiss in my interpretation of the vague recipe.
The Albion shared a lemon and juniper aroma with hints of anise. A crisp lemon and orange sip shared a salinity from the dry vermouth. Finally, the Albion ended with a gin and orange swallow and anise finish. Overall, the drink appeared like a White Lady crossed with a Corpse Reviver #2.

Monday, December 1, 2014

third bird

1 oz Myer's Dark Rum (Gosling's)
1 oz Amaro Montenegro
1/2 oz Crème de Cacao (Marie Brizard)
1/2 oz Lime Juice
1 1/2 oz Pineapple Juice

Shake with ice and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Photo showed a pineapple wedge garnish, but I used a spent 1/2 lime shell, crushed ice, and a straw.

After the Shrubbed-up 1933 Cosmo, I turned to a recipe that I had spotted in the recipe section on the Amaro Montenegro Facebook page. The one that caught my eye was the Third Bird by Theo Lieberman of Milk & Honey. With the name and structure, it appeared just like a Jungle Bird but with the crème de cacao in there it had hints of a Pago Pago as well.
The Third Bird began with a chocolatey aroma. A lime and caramel sip gave way to a dark rum and bitter tangerine swallow and a pineapple and chocolate finish. Indeed, the Amaro Montenegro had an almost Campari-like bitter sharpness here although with a more citrus-driven feel.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

:: mixology monday announcement ::

MXMO XCII: Apples!

While discussing all of the way apple flavors pair well with different spirits and liqueurs such as mezcal and Yellow Chartreuse, I figured that apples would make a great Mixology Monday theme if I were to ever host it again. Due to a gap in the MxMo roster (hint: see how to host here), I am back here to run the show!

Apples have been an American booze staple with Johnny Appleseed as its symbolic hero. John Chapman became that legend by planting apple tree nurseries across the northern Appalachia and the Midwest. He did not choose grafting techniques to reproduce sweet edible ones, but bred them to make sour apples perfect for cider and applejack. Michael Pollan in The Botany of Desire proclaimed, "Really, what Johnny Appleseed was doing and the reason he was welcome in every cabin in Ohio and Indiana was he was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier. He was our American Dionysus." Apple products began to enter into the mixed drink literature in the 19th century with the Stone Fence appearing in Jerry Thomas' Bartender Guide and got quite refined by the end of the century such as the Widow's Kiss in George Kappeler's Modern American Drinks. Indeed, apples have found their way into modern cocktails via Calvados, applejack, sparkling and still cider, apple butter, and muddled apple.

Here's how to play:

• Find or concoct a recipe that features apple as one of the star ingredients whether it be fresh, cooked, fermented, or distilled. If not a recipe that already utilizes apple, perhaps substitute apple brandy for say Cognac or whiskey in a classic to make a novel variation.
• Make the drink and then post the recipe, a photo, and your thoughts about the libation on your blog, tumblr, or website or on the eGullet Spirits and Cocktails forum.
• Include in your post the MxMo logo (whether the classic or any of the three apple ones provided here) and a link back to both the Mixology Monday and Cocktail Virgin sites. And once the round-up is posted, a link to that summary post would be appreciated.
• Provide a link to your submission in the comment section here, tweet at @cocktailvirgin, or send an email to with the word "MxMo" somewhere in the subject line.

The due date is Monday, December 15th which I will interpret as whatever gets posted before I get home after my day bar shift on the 16th (and yes, I will tack on late entries since it is part of the act of cat herding). Yes, we are doing this earlier in the month so that we can pack in all the MxMo excitement before the December holidays begin to take over.


Friday, November 28, 2014

shrubbed-up 1933 cosmo

The recipe below is for the Shrubbed-Up Cosmo and parenthesis is how I made the 1933 version:

1 1/2 oz Citrus Vodka (1 1/2 oz Tanqueray Gin)
3/4 oz Cointreau (3/4 oz Cointreau)
1/2 oz Apple-Cranberry Shrub (1/2 oz Raspberry Shrub)
1/4 oz Lime Juice (1/4 oz Lemon Juice)

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wedge (lemon twist).

A few Thursdays ago, I was in the midst of reading Michael Dietsch's Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times (which has a great page long quote from me on shrubs!) when I skipped ahead to the recipe section. There, I spotted Dietsch's shrub variation on the popular Cosmopolitan born in the 1980s. While I did not have apple-cranberry shrub or the ingredients to make it on hand, I did have raspberry shrub in the refrigerator and thought about doing a shrubbed-up version of the strangely similar gin-raspberry-lemon Cosmopolitan from Pioneers of Mixing at Elite Bars 1903-1933.
The Shrubbed-Up 1933 Cosmo began with a lemon oil aroma with hints of raspberry and vinegar; I highly recommend using freshly expressed citrus twists with shrubs for their bright aromas do help to mask a lot of the vinegar notes in shrubs that can be off putting to some. The sip was citrus-driven with a vague fruitiness from the raspberry. Finally, most of the raspberry flavors appeared in the swallow where they mingled with the gin's juniper and other botanicals, and the swallow finished with orange peel notes from the Cointreau and a zing from the shrub's vinegar.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

maximo blue

2 oz Lunazul Reposado Tequila
3/4 oz Salers Gentian Liqueur
1/4 oz Benedictine
1/2 oz Pineapple Juice

Shake with ice and strain into a Single Old Fashioned glass.
A few Tuesdays ago after work, I walked over to Bronwyn in Union Square, Somerville, for a cocktail. There, I asked bartender William Weston for the Maximo Blue as the combination of tequila and gentian liqueur worked rather well in the Copper Canyon. Will explained that the name Maximo Blue stemmed from the tequila's Blue Webber agave used in fermentation. Once prepared, the cocktail presented an agave aroma. While the pineapple dominated the sip, the swallow offered a more complex combination of tequila, earthy gentian, and herbal notes.


1 1/2 oz Palo Cortado Sherry
1/2 oz Xicaru Mezcal
1/2 oz Zucca Rabarbaro Amaro
1/2 oz Drambuie

Stir with ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with 2 drops of Regan's Orange Bitters.
For a second drink at Estragon, I peered into Sehil Mehta's recipe book (pictured above) and spotted the Sebastian. Sahil explained that one night two of his guests, Sebastian and Gopal, requested drinks made up for each of them. Once in a glass, the Sebastian shared an orange and grape bouquet with a hint of smoke. A grape sip preceded the smoky swallow that ended with lightly bitter herbal complexity. The Drambuie here seemed to hold the disparate elements together as well as smooth out some of the mezcal's and amaro's rougher edges. Moreover, the Zucca and sherry flavors were rather complementary in the mix.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


2 oz Amontillado Sherry
3/4 oz Benedictine
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/4 oz Absinthe

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist.

A few Mondays ago, we ventured down to the South End to have dinner at Estragon. There, I asked bartender Sahil Mehta for his drink of the day that he posted on Twitter and Instagram as the sherry and Benedictine combination seemed alluring. The recipe itself later reminded me of Bergamot's citrussy riff on the Chrysanthemum called the Calla Lily. Given that concept, I dubbed this drink another 'C' flower name, the Camellia, which we have grown a variety or two of here at home.
The Camellia offered a floral-herbal aroma from the absinthe and a bright citrus note from the lemon twist. The lemon and grape combined on the sip, and the swallow presented a nutty and herbal swallow with an anise spice finish. The sherry here did take the drink in a different direction than the Calla Lily, but it was equally as light and aperitif-like.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Jigger 2/3 Sherry (1 1/2 oz Lustau Amontillado)
1/3 Italian Vermouth (3/4 oz Dolin Sweet)
Dash Benedictine (1/2 oz)
Dash Cointreau (1/4 oz)

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. I added an orange twist.
A few Saturdays ago, I began to flip through Pioneers of Mixing at Elite Bars: 1903-1933 and soon found myself in the wine section. There, I spotted the Guggenheim sherry cocktail that had caught my eye before. The Guggenheims during the 19th century amassed one of the largest fortunes in the world through their importing and mining activities. While the Guggenheim Museum was well after the publishing of this cocktail book, the family did use the money for philantrophy in aviation and other aspects of the arts during the book's time. In the glass, this tribute offered a grape and orange oil aroma that led into a similar grape and orange sip. Next, the swallow shared nutty sherry notes with herbal accents followed by a chocolate-orange finish.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

port of call

1 oz Daron Calvados
1 oz Plantation 5 Year Barbados Rum
3/4 oz Sercial Madeira
1/4 oz House Falernum
2 dash Peychaud's Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a rocks glass.
A few Thursdays ago, I ventured over to Alden & Harlow after work. For a drink, I asked bartender Amber Carbino for the Port of Call. One of the servers later mentioned that it was "fall in a glass," but I was drawn in by the Madeira element. Once prepared, the Port of Call donated an apple and clove spice aroma. Grape and caramel on the sip led into rum and apple on the swallow and a smoky grape and spice on the finish.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

:: fermentation... an ancient trend ::

My restaurant's general manager organized an outing to the Harvard Science & Cooking Lecture Series on Monday where Jody Adams of Rialto and Trade was speaking about "Fermentation... An Ancient Trend." While he thought the talk was going to be more about boozy drink topics, I figured that the theme would be a bit more broad than that given the talk's full title. Either way it was fine by me.

Fermentation is rather helpful to people for few reasons including preservation, flavor intensification, intoxification, and ease of digestion. The microbes doing this work take complex molecules, digest them, and spit out some combination of acids, ethanol, gas (such as carbon dioxide), aromas, and flavor molecules. While these molecules can be of use to us, the microbes are secreting some of these molecules as part of their chemical warfare system against other species of microbes. For example, the alcohol that brewer's yeast produces can kill bacteria, and the acid that lactobacillus churns out can poison out competitors.

Cooking is not so far from rotting, and fermentation is rather tied to this trend. Adams showed images of Klaus Pichler's pictures of rotting food to demonstrate some of these concepts, and the photos reminded me of Peter Greenaway's A Zed & Two Noughts. However, fermentation is your friend and it's more than just rotting food. The bans on cured hams and unpasteurized cheeses have helped to confuse this matter. The sterilization of our food and our bodies has caused multiple issues such as with colds and allergies, and there has been a buzz about probiotics as of late to return our internal flora to regain the health benefits.
Fermentation is important for flavor, and can help to create a Proustian experience with the intersection of flavor and emotion. Good fermentation microbes take the energy in carbohydrates and return changes in flavor, texture, preservation, and health benefits via pre-digestion of food and probiotics.

Adams presented the history of microbes starting 7000 BCE with the first recorded mention of China making alcohol out of rice. It took a while for microbes to be identified with 1837 and 1840s yielding the identification of yeast and bacteria, respectively, and it was not until 1856 that Louis Pasteur connected yeast to alcohol fermentation. In the United States, the health benefits were first sought after around 1910 with the importation of yogurt as a health food and digestion aid. Trends slowed down with the prohibition of fermented beverages in the 1920s, the advent of anti-bacterial deodorant soap in 1948, and the widespread use of anti-bacterial soaps in households in the 1990s.

In bread, activated amylase enzymes in wheat and the various enzymes in yeast begin to break down large starch molecules into simple sugars such as glucose, fructose, and maltose. While yeast will break the glucose and fructose down into alcohol and carbon dioxide, bacteria such as found in sour dough cultures will break down the maltose sugar in lactic and acetic acid. These bacterial acids generated in longer, slower fermented breads can yield longer shelf lives; bread becomes more interesting when left to rise overnight or for two days in the fridge. As an example, Adams passed out to the audience a quick rise, a one day, and a two day slow rise; the zero day was the sweetest, the one day was drier, and the two day had a bounty of additional pleasant flavors in the mix. As for health benefits, the microbes help to reduce some of the gluten in bread and to produce acids to inhibit molds. Additionally, during the baking process, the heat combines acids and alcohol into esters that offer the delightful freshly baked bread aroma.

In yogurt, the bacteria eats the lactose that many people have a problem digesting. Moreover, the bacteria add intriguing flavor with the lactic acid production and donate health benefits as probiotics for the digestive system. The acid in yogurt is helpful in cooking as it can be added to sweeter foods for balance. Adams showed off her home unit that maintains temperature to make a batch of 7 servings of yogurt overnight.

In fermented pickles, the naturally occurring lactobacillus on the surface of cucumbers works with brine to turn the sugars in the cucumber into lactic acid and carbon dioxide. Vinegar-processed pickles are not fermented -- the acetic acid in the vinegar itself is fermented, but not the pickles. While Adams did not cover shrubs, most of the quick hot- and cold-processed shrub recipes are not fermented either. Some slower methods of making shrubs can be partially fermented though. In pickling, the lactic acid-producing bacteria like salt and 70°F. Bad bacteria generally do not like this environment though; too much or too little salt (outside of the 3.5-5% salt solution range) or too hot or too cold will give other microbes an advantage. Pickling offers several advantages. First, it preserves fruits and vegetables; moreover, it adds flavor, increases the memory of food, and adds vitamin B to the diet.

For further information, Adams cited as her bible Sandor Ellix Katz's The Art of Fermentation. I also took photos of Adam's pickle and Rialto's bread recipes in order to share some of the details not covered here.

the eldridge

1 oz Edinburgh Gin
1/2 oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz Cinzano Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Amaro Montenegro

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

For my second drink at Viale, I asked bartender Patrick Gaggiano for the Eldgridge which was labeled as the "house Negroni." Patrick described his creation as "[we are] not re-inventing the wheel, just twerking it a bit." With the split dry and sweet vermouth, the structure reminded me of Evan Harrison's Perfect Pal at the Independent. Moreover, the Amaro Montenegro in a Negroni riff made me think of Paul Manzelli's Montenegroni, but that kept the Campari element and used the other amaro as a substitute for the vermouth.
The Eldgridge began with bright orange oil aromas from the twist. The grape sip contained citrus notes from the Amaro Montenegro, and the swallow shared a combination of gin and bitter tangerine flavors. Overall, the Eldridge was a good drink and a solid entry Negroni for those not ready for Campari. In addition, the dry vermouth in the perfect structure helped to keep the sweetness in check here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

further moore

1 1/2 oz El Buho Mezcal
3/4 oz Cardamaro
1/2 oz Yellow Chartreuse
1/2 oz Honey Syrup
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with 2 oz Jack's Abby Jabby Brau Lager and add a straw.
A few Wednesdays ago, I paid a visit to Viale when bar manager Patrick Gaggiano was at the stick. I was quite curious about their beer cocktail, the Further Moore, on the menu both as a drink and about its name. Patrick explained that the Moore in question was the one who turned Pat on to Cardamaro. I commented that Cardamaro was not the easiest ingredient to mix with, and Pat agreed; his recipe did remind me a little of the Sacrilege with the lemon and honey to sooth the sharper notes of Cardamaro. In the glass, the Further Moore, gave forth a lemon and lightly herbal aroma. A lemon, honey, and malty sip transitioned well into a smoky mezcal and herbal swallow.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

vermouth cocktail

The theme for this month's Mixology Monday (MxMo XCI) was picked by Dinah of the blog. The theme she chose was "Shims" which seemed like a great topic as aperitif-style drinks are becoming hot both in bars and in literature such as her The Art of the Shim book that came out a few months ago. Dinah elaborated on the concept by describing, "This month's topic is near and dear to our hearts as it is our favorite type of lower-proof cocktails: shims! These drinks contain no more than half an ounce of strong spirits... Heavy-hitters are fun to drink, sure, but it's way too easy to over-consume and under-enjoy when you're playing hardball. Let's stretch out our evenings and get to sample a bigger variety by lowering the proof without lowering our standards. Shims don't require giving up on flavor, complexity, or--interestingly enough--even your favorite ingredients. Get a new understanding of your favorite high-proof spirit by using just a half or quarter ounce of it along with a milder leading player. Or take a low-proof character actor that usually supplements the main show and see if it can take the lead..."
For this theme, I began to recall all of the late 19th century recipes for cups, punches, and cocktails that featured fortified and aromatized wines as the main component. And then I recalled that the last time Dinah led Mixology Monday was back in September 2008 when hosted MxMo XXXI "19th Century Cocktails," so the idea had a great logical connection to the past, but blogging and spiritous, as well. One of the first books I grabbed was The Only William's The Flowing Bowl from 1891. There, I spotted the Vermouth Cocktail which appeared more like an Improved Vermouth Cocktail for it had absinthe and Maraschino in the mix. For MxMo "19th Century," I did another absinthe and Maraschino-enhanced libation -- the Improved Gin Cocktail. While I believe that Jerry Thomas was one of the first authors to publish a Vermouth Cocktail, it does not reside in my 1862 edition reprint and most likely appears in the 1876 second edition. I did spot it in O.H. Byron's The Modern Bartender's Guide from 1884 as the Vermouth Cocktail #2 with the addition of gum syrup but no absinthe. William Schmidt's Vermouth Cocktail was as follows:
Vermouth Cocktail
• 1 drink Vino Vermouth (2 1/2 oz Cocchi Sweet Vermouth)
• 2 dash Maraschino Liqueur (3/8 oz Luxardo)
• 1 dash Absinthe (1/8 oz Butterfly)
• 1 dash Bitters (Angostura)
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
In the glass, the Vermouth Cocktail shared a grape and nutty cherry aroma with hints of herbal notes from the absinthe. The vermouth's grape dominated the sip, and these notes continued on into the swallow where they were complemented and accented by nutty Maraschino flavors. Finally, the swallow finished with absinthe's and the bitter's herbal spice. Overall, I commented that the combination came across a bit like a rich Madeira, while Andrea replied that it "tastes like a full-strength cocktail."

So thank you to Dinah for picking the theme to challenge us to find tons of flavor despite lower ABV's as well as for running the logistics of this month's show, and thanks to the rest of the Mixology Monday participants for keeping the barspoons stirring and the spirit of the event alive!

Friday, November 14, 2014


1 1/2 oz Jim Beam Bourbon
3/4 oz Punt e Mes
3/4 oz Amaro Ramazzotti
2 dash Angostura Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a rocks glass.
One of the Blender Bender after-parties on Sunday night was the Amor y Amargo pop-up event at Silvertone. Sother Teague and associates showed up with a menu of six drinks to represent their Manhattan establishment. While Fernet Branca was the sponsor, not all the drinks were menthol-bombs for the company also distributes Carpano Antica, Punt e Mes, Templeton Rye, and other products. For a drink, I requested the Pumpernickel which appeared like a Boulevardier riff; I did not get a chance to ask why it was called that, but it seemed true to many of their drinks on the regular menu. Once prepared, it offered a Bourbon and grape bouquet. Next, a caramel and grape sip led into a whiskey swallow with dark orange and Punt e Mes' bitter notes and a spice finish.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

:: the three phases of hospitality ::

One of the most valuable talks at this year's Thirst Boston for me as someone in the service industry was "The Three Phases of Hospitality." Moderator Andy Seymour led the three pronged attack with Jon Santer of Bourbon & Branch and Prize Fighter fame discussing everything that can be done before a guest walks into the establishment, Joaquin Simo of Death & Co. and Pouring Ribbons fame focusing on what can be done once the guest is inside, and Sean Kenyon of William & Graham expounding on crafting a culture and community to foster hospitality.

Seymour began by defining hospitality as the linchpin of any establishment. In this new Golden Age of the Cocktail, we are trying to raise everything to a higher level -- not just the drinks, but the experience as a whole. Bartending is a job that comes from the soul -- some part of you needs to take care of other people. How do you make a guest feel at home in your space? Nothing happens by accident. A bartender is a facilitator of good times by making a community and giving comfort and a sense of welcome. And with that lead-in, Seymour handed the reins over to Santer.

Santer began by comparing and contrasting coffee shops and bars. At coffee shops, there is a counter, a transaction, a making of a drink, and a hand off just like in bars; however, in coffee shops, people are very happy to wait in line for their drink. Whereas coffee shops are orderly in the wait, bars are chaos. So how do we control the chaos and make things more manageable? Consider the layout of the space. First, strive for a symmetry -- something that we are hardwired to appreciate. While asymmetry is interesting to the eye, symmetry is in the end calming. Small things like having all the bottles on the backbar clustered logically by spirit type, all bottles facing the same way, and no pour spouts on these display bottles. Recognizable brands, whether on the shelf or on the menu, provide comfort; too many obscure brands can be discomforting to the guest. Lighting is also very key since sight is a dominant aspect of the bar and restaurant experience; we often worry more about the taste of drinks than how things look or sound. For example, Santer's bar has multiple dimmer switches to regulate the feel of the space.
For bars that have multiple work stations, having identical mise en place is crucial as bartenders then do not have to think as much as they go from well to well. In addition, everything needed for list drinks should be in arm's reach. When it comes to drink selection, the cocktail menu should be an exercise in empathy, not creativity. Chunking information such as in rules of three per page (like cocktails, beer tap/bottle, wine). Put the vodka drink first. Santer favors menus with all nouns and no adjectives that list key flavors. Brands are less important, and they generally are not about the guests.

Simo was next up with his take on how to prepare your environment for service to communicate that you have the guest's best interest at heart. No interaction at the bar is more important than the interaction with the bartender. The bartender is the linchpin and helps to shape how guests will view your establishment. Guests will return if they (1) have something delicious and/or (2) have great service. Mastery of the environment is crucial, for the bar is a tough work space. Starting as a host, busser, barback, or doorman will help; support roles help to form your sensibility. Copping an attitude makes things harder for the staff, as such negativity creates an us-versus-them mentality and tone.

Simo listed important skills for looking out for your guests. Preparation. Anticipation -- don't wait to be asked. Order and familiarity -- if you don't know where things live, you look foolish, and guests are reading you to gain faith. It is perhaps easier to go from the blindingly fast world of club bartending to craft cocktail bartending than it is to start as a craft cocktail bartender and learn speed (such as without jiggers). The club environment teaches both speed and efficiency of movement. Working in a variety of bar environments is helpful for other reasons. For example, learning to cut people off and be thanked later instead of offending the guest or even starting a brawl is an important skill. Moreover, one learns gentler ways to cut someone off when the average guest in question is a large, tough, burly one. Preparation also includes guest banter, and Simo devotes two hours each day to reading with at least half of that devoted to booze for this purpose. The rest can be newspapers, websites, and books (loosely related to booze). He does not read to be an expert but to figure out how to ask intelligent questions to a guest. The bartender can be the expert or can give their guests a moment to shine. Knowing about restaurants, television shows, neighborhoods, and home team sports schedules is important. Even if working service, a bartender needs to look past the drink rail, for the job is to serve guests; the ability to multi-task will help both guests and co-workers alike.
Kenyon began his section by describing his hiring process. In an interview, he wants to differentiate between actors and genuine hospitality people. Kenyon often takes perspectives out and sees how they relate to service people. Are they genuine? This includes eye contact, saying hello, and treating people well. You can teach skills and mechanics behind the bar, but you cannot train some to have a personality. Actors can't fake it; when things get tough, they first take it out on the people working with them and then on the guests. An actor can do service for it has steps; hospitality has soul though, and it comes from the heart.
Bartenders need to be able to come into work with a good attitude about their lives for their shift, and they need to be able to absorb any negativity from the guests or the fellow staff. Radiating positive energy is crucial. Asking "what do you want?" or "what do you need?" is not as hospitable as "what would you like?" or "what can I get for you?" While the term customer implies a cash transaction, the term guest does not. Tips are not the reason for the work but a fringe benefit. Seymour added that these actors burn out for the role was not who they were. He commanded us to respect the people we work with. Hospitality extends in every direction from not only the bartender to the guest but the bartender treating the barbacks and other supporting staff well.