Friday, August 7, 2015

:: boston cocktail allstars - matt schrage ::

For the fifth installment of the Boston Cocktail Allstars, I am paying tribute to a gentleman that falls somewhere between amaro master and social dadaist, namely Matthew Schrage. I was first introduced to Matt towards the latter half of 2008 as John Gertsen and Ben Sandrof were departing No. 9 Park to open up Drink, and Matt was moving from serving on the floor to behind the bar to fill in the void. I believe that I was the first person to take a picture of Matt's hands while bartending in Boston when he made for me the Henry V Flip; alas, that recipe was never fully recorded and later attempts to sort that one out as I wrote Drink & Tell: A Boston Cocktail Book never prospered. Matt has spent the years since doing some combination of bartending, managing, and consulting on bar programs. Besides all of the delicious cocktails that he served me of which I will feature five below, I owe Matt two major thanks. The first was inviting me to participate in the Whiskey & Amari Night series that he organized while bar managing the Blue Room; there, I had my first swing at being a professional bartender, albeit for a single night, along side industry starlet Katie Emerson. Those four hours behind the stick changed my career direction then and there. Second, he introduced me to my current chef, Marc Sheehan, back in 2011 at No. 9 Park -- actually, this should be first temporally although the end result came later. I stopped in for a drink as they had dinner and plotted their next Brass Tacks pop-up dinner party event, and I ended up getting kidnapped to Brick & Mortar to continue hanging out with them. When Marc was opening up Loyal Nine, I applied to help open his bar program. Eventually, Matt's proclivity to Brick & Mortar would lead him to join the program and help to take it over and cement its spot as one of the nationally recognized cocktail party centers of Boston (in Esquire and Playboy magazines).
1. Soekarno
One of the most influential cocktails that Matt had a hand in creating at No. 9 Park was the Soekarno that I tasted in September of 2009. That drink was the Indonesian take on the Haitian Petion; instead of Clairin from Haiti, this utilized Batavia Arrack. The drink taught me how well Benedictine pairs with funky rums, and I modified this recipe into the Danger Zone Swizzle for Loyal Nine's Yacht Rock Sundays after having made the No. 9 Park classic several times that month for various guests.

2.Nebbia Di Garda
After Matt's stint at the bar at No. 9 Park, he slid over to Menton which lacked a bar until last month, and then over to manage the Hawthorne. After the Hawthorne in late 2012, Matt return to a life behind the stick starting with rebuilding the Blue Room's bar program. One of the things he focused on was bolstering the amaro program, and the Nebbia di Garda named after a foggy alpine lake in Northern Italy featured two of these to great effect. Even in winter, the two amari along with citrus helped to conjure up springtime in my mind.
3. From the Hip
One of the wider effects Matt has had on the Boston cocktail scene has been by consulting and setting up a variety of bar programs across town. One of my favorites from this aspect is the From the Hip that he created for Ribelle. In fact, a few weeks ago, I had two bar guests that were discussing an amazing mezcal over crushed ice drink that one of them had but could not recall the name. When I butted in and inquired where they had it, my guess of "From the Hip" was indeed the proper answer-response to "Ribelle" (and yes, they looked at me like I was a wizard). Lime, falernum, and mint (the McMinty effect) along with the mezcal, Angostura Bitters garnish, and Campari drizzled over the top sealed the deal.

4. Red Duster Swizzle
Matt is currently at Brick & Mortar where he has been since spring 2013, and there he not only runs the cocktail program but also plans theme nights as well. One of my favorite creations from Matt during this current stage of his career is the Red Duster Swizzle, a Royal British Navy-themed Negroni-inspired Swizzle using formulas from Death & Co. that he learned during his time at the Hawthorne (this was well before the Death & Co. Cocktail Book came out). Also, check out the albeit censored by me vintage glassware it was served in:
5. I Know You Know
One of the elegant drinks that Matt came up with at Brick & Mortar was one that he won the Lustau Brandy competition held at the Hawthorne last year. Back when I was at Russell House, I was trying to find the final piece for a menu item that turned into the Endicott Cobbler and I stopped in to Brick & Mortar for guidance. Matt collaborated with me to try a few combinations out and make my idea sing. He later took his part of the idea and converted it into the championship drink, the I Know You Know named after a song from a jazz singer he used to listen to at Wally's. Indeed, I have actually learned a lot about obscure music through Matt's drink names such as learning about Jens Lekman via A Postcard to Nina.
Here, Matt was teaching a class at Boston Thirst 2014 about some of the forgotten ways to enjoy fifty-fifty Martinis, and my turn at the lesson followed soon after. Overall, Matt's contribution to the Boston cocktail scene has been rather solid whether building bar programs or building 8 or more drinks at once while working Friday night service bar at Brick & Mortar. So to Matt Schrage, let us all raise a shot glass of Amaro Braulio with a Budweiser chaser in hand and say cheers to this Boston cocktail allstar!

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