Tuesday, December 31, 2019

:: fred's top 10 cocktail moments of 2019 ::

Back in 2010, someone asked what my favorite cocktail of the year was, and I decided not only to start a list of my favorite drinks but to assemble a compilation of top moments of the previous 12 months. To continue this tradition, here is the 10th annual installment:

1. Still bartending.
The beginning of 2019 found me still bartending at Nahita in downtown Boston, and I stayed with that team until the turnover of management and coworkers was so great that it was time to leave. I took a few months off in the summer to heal up a case of tennis elbow before in August joining the crew at La Brasa down the road from me in East Somerville. Towards the end of the year, I was approached by a brand to become a part time ambassador, and I accepted the job. I cannot reveal more until I am fully trained, but it does coincide rather well with my love of American whiskey! I will continue to bartend with soon seven years under my belt, but this will add diversity and intrigue to my professional life.

2. Got more involved in the U.S. Bartenders Guild.
I was elected to the board of directors for the USBG Boston chapter late last year, and that position began in January. I soon took on the role of secretary which included much of the social media, member emails, and the like. Moreover, I took the helm on running some of the chapter events. The position also led me to travel to New Haven in April for the USBG Regional Conference where I had the chance to interact with my peers in other chapters across the Northeast. Finally, I kept up with writing for the national site with essays like Always a Barback and one about people's starting places in the drink world in regards to empathy (including a few entertaining and perhaps slightly embarrassing personal anecdotes). Over the last year, I have to thank many in the USBG for being mentors, advisors, and beacons of strength with great thanks to local heroes Geo Thompson and Carol Britt who helped to make the year what it was (see the final photo below).
3. Traveled a little.
Besides the trip to New Haven mentioned in #2 for the USBG Regional Conference, my association with the USBG allowed me to apply for the Casa Noble Sustainability Tour. My essay skills won me one of the 60 spots spread over 5 trips to Guadalajara, and I ventured down there in September for a few days (see the third photo below). Otherwise, I kept close to home and participated in Thirst Boston, the NERAX cask beer festival, and several smaller events. Next year will find me in Pittsburgh for the USBG Regional Conference as well as a few trips to Kentucky (plus perhaps other trips yet to be scheduled or realized).

4. Appeared in books.
This past year, three of my recipes found homes in books! The first was the Queen of the Lava Beds that I created for Valentine's Day 2016 at Loyal Nine, and it appeared in Clair McLafferty's Romantic Cocktails: Craft Cocktail Recipes for Couples, Crushes, and Star-Crossed Lovers. The second was the Derby Cup that began as a drink of the day at Loyal Nine and ended up scaled up into Maggie Hoffman's Batch Cocktails: Make-Ahead Pitcher Drinks for Every Occasion. Finally, one of my older Tiki drinks, the Bikini Atoll, appeared in Justin Cristaldi's book The Tiki Triangle. In retrospect, the name was rather insensitive given the history and treatment of the indigenous people (the name derived from it being a riff on the Nuclear Daiquiri). The world was less focused on that subject back in 2011 when I named it, and with a lot of things, I am trying to do better. I took a class on it at Thirst Boston this year, and wrote up my notes on Tiki Through the Polynesian Lens.
5. Recipes elsewhere.
Besides the three recipes that appeared in books above, my recipes found four homes on the web. Three of those were musician tribute collections: the Life on Mars from Loyal Nine in a David Bowie one, Christopher Tracy's Parade in a Prince biopic, and We Don't Need Another Hero in an 80th birthday celebration of Tina Turner. My Algiers Point that I made up on the fly at River Bar in 2018 found a home in an article on American brandy usage in cocktails.

6. I got quoted a bit.
Besides recipes, my quotes found quite a few homes this year -- 8 that I know of! One of my bar hacks ended up in a PunchDrink article. My thoughts on affordable American whiskey ended up in this Bloomberg article on stocking home bars. I was quoted in an Eater piece on toxic cultures in restaurants. After cracking open a 7 year old bottle of Scott Marshall's milk punch and finding it quite tasty, my thoughts on bottle-aged cocktails got captured in this WineMag article. Is Baiju for you? Well, my skepticism on the topic ended up in Liquor-dot-com. An Engadget writer asked for my opinions on the Keurig Drinkworks home cocktail maker and I found a few more positives than I expected about the idea (of course a few negatives, but it depended on what the drink was). I'm a big fan of pooled house tips, and I honed in on the positive aspects from the guest's perspective in VinePair. And finally, I shared my experiences of working in a restaurant on a major holiday for this Thanksgiving piece on Chowhound.
7. Read a lot.
Besides the instances of being able to share my thoughts, I certainly looked to others constantly. One metric is my reading: I kept up with my goal of two books a month and ended 2019 with a total of 26 titles finished. Here are a few that stood out for various reasons:
• Brad Parson's Last Call: Bartenders on Their Final Drink and the Wisdom and Rituals of Closing Time. It was certainly more poignant reading it when I did due to Gary Regan's passing part way through my read. I did enjoy a quote by Jabriel Donohue enough to Tweet about it, "A perfectly made Martini is a tunnel that you drive through to a new world of optimism and possibilities. A poorly made Martini is a painting of a tunnel you drive at with enthusiasm."
• Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People. This title appeared on a list of non-bar books that were recommended to bartenders. I decided to start reading the copy that I had purchased earlier in the year after making a social media blunder that I could have avoided. Perfect for anyone looking to move up to head bartender or manager as well.
• Jason Wilson's Godforsaken Grapes: A Slightly Tipsy Journey through the World of Strange, Obscure, and Underappreciated Wine. It made for great travel reading on my flights to and from Guadalajara, and it came in handy when Andrea went on a business trip to Switzerland -- the chapter on that region helped guide her to some intriguing bottle finds.
• Derek Brown's Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters: How the Cocktail Conquered the World. A playful history of the cocktail taken through the eras.
• Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements. A book highly recommended to me by Gary Regan during Cocktails in the Country and in his writings. A text on how to live more admirably and how to get along better with your guests and coworkers.

8. Created some drinks!
Looking through the blog, over fifty drinks that I created in 2019 ended up in posts. Three of these appeared on menus (and one on a hypothetical menu):
As Perfect as a Limerick appeared on Nahita's menu as the Lock Stock. A Martini riff with 3:1 split base of Hendricks to Avua Cachaça and a 3:1 vermouth base of dry vermouth to celery syrup (making an a la minute blanc vermouth) turned out to be surprisingly popular.
The Ticket that Exploded was created after I left Nahita and was staging at a place that had a limited bottle selection. I contemplated what I could make with the ingredients on hand, and this was the result (I ended up not working there but not due to their back bar).
• I was challenged at La Brasa to make a mezcal Paloma riff in a coupe glass, and I created the Quetzal that currently appears as The Dove on the menu.
• During a brief stint at Area Four in Boston, we ran out of a complicated cordial for one of the drinks, and I replaced the recipe with something less complicated when batched. I dubbed it the Submarine Pilot here but it took the name of the old drink -- the Freaky Tiki -- on the menu.

A few of the home bar creations (some of which got served to guests) that I was proud of this year:
• The 1872 as my smoky tribute to the Great Boston Fire is popular with some of my regulars at La Brasa.
Carlota's Collapse was done in the style of a few of the Rogue/Beta Cocktails drinks. I also wrote a 10 year retrospective on the Rogue/Beta Cocktails books that coincided this year with the 10th anniversary of the Cure bar in New Orleans.
Texas Cakewalk was one of my first creations featuring Fino sherry -- a bottle that I added to the home bar this year -- and I took it in a funky direction with Cynar and mezcal.
• Another new bottle on my shelf this year was Cardamaro, and the Wooden Shoe was my inaugural recipe utilizing two spirits that I had observed good pairings with said amaro in the past.
• There were several tiki or tropical numbers crafted this year: two that caught my attention as I browsed my list were the Lahaine Noon as a riff on Joe Scialom's Sol y Sombra and the Dolce Far Niente as an Italian take on the Polynesian Paralysis.
9. Visited a lot of brewery tap rooms.
While cocktails and spirits gets most of the attention here on this blog, I am indeed a big beer fan. Besides volunteering again for the NERAX cask festival, we spent a bit of time traveling across New England to visit nearly 80 tap rooms in the past year (although it has become a lot less frequent now that I work both Saturdays and Sundays). Some of my favorite Massachusetts breweries were Amory's Tomb (famous for their saisons), Stellwagen, Navigation, Two Weeks Notice, Vitamin Sea, Second Wind (a lot accomplished in the smallest space of them all), and River Styx (great stouts). In Rhode Island, Long Live was the clear winner, and New Hampshire's picks were Kelsen, Garrison City, and Pipe Dream. Also cool was that I finally found a frame (an awesome sidewalk find on the way home from work one night) to hang my Dan Blakeslee print "Make Way for Halloween!" that I bought in 2013; Blakeslee is best known for creating the Heady Topper label. See the photo after #10.

10. The last one is always the toughest.
Life in 2019 has been interesting with my time spread between bartending, USBG work, and writing. The blog entered its 12 year this year (with my participation for 11 of those), and it is still going strong with almost 400 posts this year (I think I have been the sole author since mid-2010). And the fruits of the blog -- my two books, Drink & Tell (2012) and Drunk & Told (2017) are still selling decently at the Boston Shaker Store in Somerville, on Amazon, and elsewhere. Over the next few months, my brand work will begin to take off, so that will be an interesting direction for the new year -- one that will be a personal growth challenge similar to how becoming a member of the USBG board of directors was a year prior.
Photos from top to bottom save for my photo of my Blakeslee print (all borrowed from various sources): USBG Boston taking over the Boston Food Bank for the Campari Day of Service; we boxed up lots of food for the needy in our city. Here, I'm making a Ramos for one of the servers after her brunch shift was over at La Brasa. Third is the USBG trip to Casa Noble distillery in Mexico to learn about all things tequila and how to do things better for the environment. And lastly are the 2019 USBG Boston board of directors who are heading into 2020 (to be joined by two or three great folk) and these two taught me lots about the world.

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