Scholars -- An Update

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If I had a nickel for every time I ordered a particular beer and was told that the bar had just run out of it, I could buy a round for everyone reading this blog (and since there are only 15 registered followers at the time of this writing, myself included, we could probably get a round of shots, too). Now, if I had a nickel for every time I was declined a drink because the bar was out of kumquat, I would have exactly $0.05. Thus begins the tale of my most recent stop by Scholars.

Last week, I read that two of Scholars’ bartenders, Amber and John, were entered in Movers & Shakers, a cocktail competition at the Boston Center for the Arts. I gained a deep appreciation for Amber’s cocktail-making skills during my last visit to Scholars and, while I wish I could have made it to the event, I had a previous commitment. Still, I made a mental note to stop in and check out their entry, which, if I understand correctly, was a combination of Bully Boy Whiskey (made right here in Boston), ataulfo mango, black pepper, and somehow, bruleed kumquat.

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Later that same week, I discovered that, completely unbeknownst to me, Scholars had reposted the blog entry I wrote about them on their Facebook page. Thank you, Scholars! I am truly honored.

So to show my appreciation for the shout-out and to inquire about this intriguing cocktail, I stopped in Friday after work. I sought out Amber and expressed my interest in her and John’s creation, but she couldn’t make it for me…because the bar was out of kumquat.

You just don’t hear a bartender – or anyone, for that matter – speak these words very often.

I got over the lack of kumquat pretty quickly, though, when she offered me in its place a drink that hasn’t yet made it onto the Scholars menu – the Cubano Nuevo, an update of the classic Old Cuban. An Old Cuban is typically made with rum, lime simple syrup, Angostura bitters, a mint leaf, and a splash of champagne. Amber spices up this fine drink with such imaginative additions as ginger simple syrup, tiki bitters, and basil. There are a few other intriguing twists she puts in there, but I really don’t know whether she wants me broadcasting her recipe.

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When I think of Carribean-themed rum drinks, I tend to think of light, sweet drinks like mojitos, Cuba Libres, daiquiris, that sort of thing. Scholars’ Cubano Nuevo was far more elegant and sophisticated. If a daiquiri is what you’d drink at a bar by the beach, the Cubano Nuevo is what you’d drink on the rooftop lounge of a 5-star resort. It was a lively combination of flavors, each ingredient working off of another. Amber apologized for it looking like a girly drink; maybe she read about the relentless teasing I endured at Marliave.

What really impresses me is how much work goes into devising a cocktail of this caliber. It’s pretty clear to me that this drink – probably like every other one on the Scholars menu – was the culmination of a process, and the artists take pride in their accomplishment.

And I don’t think it’s an overstatement to call this artistry.

Places like Scholars, Drink, Eastern Standard, and others elevate the process of making cocktails. When you get a mixed drink at a typical bar, what do you tend to say about it? “Oh wow, this is really strong!” or “I don’t think there’s any Captain in this.” It’s rarer to find yourself noticing, say, how the basil interacts with the lime and the ginger, each flavor enhancing the other.

But I’m beginning to experience it more often. After all, just the mere fact that there is a cocktail-making event in Boston shows how many exciting opportunities there are to partake in this intoxicating art.