Thursday, June 18, 2015

:: boston cocktail allstars - tom schlesinger-guidelli ::

In conversations of late, I have been discussing various Boston bartenders and their contributions to the Boston cocktail scene that still hold weight in the modern day mixology world. One name that kept popping up was Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli who has graced the bars of Eastern Standard, Craigie on Main, and to some degree Island Creek Oyster Bar. Since Tom was my first craft bartender back in June 2007, he has set the bar for what hospitality and drink craftsmanship can be, and it seemed like a good place to start this series. I figured that a 5 drink or so retrospective might be a fitting tribute to these Boston Cocktail Allstars.
1. The Jaguar
Very few people were mixing with tequila in Boston back in 2007 save for various Margarita variations and the like. Everything was shaken and laden with citrus fruit to dull the edge of the spirit. A stirred tequila drink? Unheard of. Balancing it with bitter and herbal liqueurs? Sure, if it's 2012, but 5 years prior to that? The secret of this drink was how well the edges of tequila and Green Chartreuse were soothed over by the caramel-dark orange richness of Amer Picon. This drink opened my eyes to what agave spirits could offer, and how blessed Boston was back then with our unearthed stash of Amer Picon that Eastern Standard luckily did not buy up the whole of (I still have most of my one liter bottle from that discovery).
2. The Prospect Park
I remember drinking many of these in Eastern Standard's gorgeous coupe glasses (as well as Hoskins which was created by then New Orleans blogger Chuck Taggart). The recipe might have been one of the first famous Manhattan variations to come out of our city, and it showcases our inexplicable love of Maraschino liqueur. I have heard the drink described once as an Aperol-stretched (or -softened) Red Hook which could explain why the balance works so wonderfully. Moreover, I have recently had good luck switching this rye-based formula to both brandy and aged rum with great success showing how timeless and versatile the base structure is.
3. The Northern Lights
In late 2008, Tom crossed the river and helped Tony Maws transition across town from Craigie Bistro to Craigie on Main. I recall how difficult it was to score a seat in the bar or lounge back then for this level of craftsmanship was novel on this side of the Charles River. The Northern Lights was what Tom created on his brief hiatus from the stick, and was inspired by drinking with friends in Wesport, MA, under the stars. One of the Northern Lights' secret weapons was the hot new St. Germain, but it was balanced by smoke and pine notes from Scotch and another new ingredient, Douglas Fir eau de vie, respectively. The third hot ingredient in the mix was the Bittermen's Tiki Bitters. Seven ingredients in all that tie together gracefully.
4. Jerez Flip
My first egg drink was served to me by Tommy, well because I told him that I was a little scared of egg drinks. That was back at Eastern Standard, and I do remember that it was based off of a Vieux Carré with different proportions. At Craigie on Main, there was no shortage of Flips either. While the Florentine Flip almost got the spot here, the Jerez Flip won out for it focused on sherry which was rather novel and hip back then. While I would have to give the nod to Misty Kalkofen for bringing sherry to the forefront of Boston mixology, the ingredients in this drink complemented the sherry rather elegantly.
5. Pirate's Revenge
After Craigie on Main, Tom stepped back from the bar to assume a more managerial position at Island Creek Oyster Bar. Yet, he was not able to stay away from tinkering with recipes though. The Pirate's Revenge was something that he and Vikram Hedge came up with -- a four equal parter with a few dashes of something extra that has the feel of something Sam Ross would come up with.

These recipes do show but one side of Tom; the other being the hospitality side. While I do remember the first conversations we had with him back in 2007 about pastis brands and how he took the time to talk to us throughout the night despite the full bar on an early Saturday evening, one story stands out in my head about what TSG hospitality was about. It involved the Espresso Martini... and two incredulous women doubting that Eastern Standard could make a good one. Tom handled their attack with grace and explained lovingly how the house Espresso Martini was made with such poetry that I was even tempted to get one. I recall how the two women looked at each other and nodded, and then ordered probably the best Espresso Martini they have ever tasted. Perhaps due to the ingredients and thought behind it, but most definitely because someone took the time to treat their inquiry as seriously as a discussion of Islay Single Malt Scotches or rare amari on the shelves. And that is what has helped define what Boston hospitality is all about. And personally, thinking back to when I was making drinks at home and doubted my wife (then girlfriend) that there were bars out there making drinks like I was doing at home, Tom was the one that guided me across that threshold. So cheers to TSG!

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