It’s a warm, late-summer day in South Boston, and the garage door leading into GrandTen Distilling’s facility on Dorchester Ave is wide open.
Inside, head bartender Steve Schnelwar and distiller Wes Dalton are standing on stepstools, huddled around a chalkboard that’s been painted onto a concrete column adjacent to the distillery’s bar. They are meticulously printing the headings that will herald for their weekly specials, and their efforts at chalkboard calligraphy are slow-going.
The task is made far more difficult by the absence of a stencil. But Steve explains that he watched a few chalkboard calligraphy videos on YouTube and is confident that he and Wes are equal to the challenge.
“We like to do things ourselves, and if we don’t know how to do it, we teach ourselves,” he says.
A Personal Touch
Steve may be new to GrandTen – he’s been leading the cocktail program since the distillery opened its on-site bar this summer – but his comment reflects the do-it-yourself attitude that has been part of the craft distillery’s DNA throughout its 4-year tenure.
From refurbishing the 19th-century iron foundry where their spirits are made to building many of their own fixtures and furniture, the staff at GrandTen – led by Matthew Nuernberger, president, and his cousin Spencer McMinn, head distiller – seem to be in a perpetual state of rolling up their sleeves and doing things the hard way.
As a result, nearly everything bearing GrandTen’s stamp has a personal touch – particularly the cocktail bar that now occupies space in the front room of the distillery.
Financed through a crowdfunding initiative in 2015 (in the interest of full disclosure, I contributed to the campaign), the bar officially opened its doors this past July.
The distillery’s front room, always welcoming but largely pragmatic, is now set up for entertaining. Guests can occupy themselves with shuffleboard and foosball, or play one of a variety of vintage board games.
A projector screen behind the bar displays B-movies like Atomic Submarine and episodes of Wonder Woman.
From the Still to the Glass
The bar itself offers the rare “still to glass” experience, where guests can order cocktails made with spirits distilled right on the premises.
Granted, making drinks in a distillery might not seem terribly groundbreaking. But in a city enamored of regulations – particularly concerning booze – the bar’s very existence is something of an achievement. Until recently, GrandTen was allowed to distill spirits, sell the stuff in bottles, and let people stop in to sample the goods; but mix up a cocktail and sell it to a customer? No freakin’ way.
Even now, their license limits them to only serving alcohol made on site. So if you’re hoping for a beer or a glass of wine, you’re out of luck. (But then again, why would you go to a distillery if all you want is a beer?)
Innovations and Workarounds
It also means that GrandTen can’t use common alcoholic mixers or liqueurs. So when a classic drink calls for something like a vermouth or a curaçao, they have to figure out a substitute – or make their own.
A house-made vermouth/amaro hybrid features in the Dorry & Martin, Steve’s take on a Martinez. Made with Wire Works Special Reserve barrel-aged gin and the herbal Angelica liqueur, it’s drier than a traditional Martinez, with subtle spicy notes.
Weekend at Ernie’s is a variation on the Hemingway Daiquiri. GrandTen’s Craneberry liqueur stands in for maraschino liqueur, combining with Rare Bird overproof rum, grapefruit, and lime. It lacks the dried fruit notes of a Hemingway, but the sourness and mouthfeel of the Craneberry more than compensate. An excellent cocktail.
The Medford Old Fashioned exchanges whiskey for blackstrap rum but still captures the simplicity and bold flavors of the timeless classic. Made with Medford rum and demerara syrup, it’s smooth and not too sweet. A few dashes of mole bitters add some of the spice you might find in a rye-based Old Fashioned.
The Side Bet, meanwhile, pays homage to the Sidecar. This mix of North County apple brandy, lemon juice, and Amandine – a barrel-aged almond liqueur – is nutty and dry, with autumnal notes of fruit and spice.
But there’s more to the cocktail program than modified classics. With GrandTen’s ever-expanding array of spirits and liqueurs, the bar’s original offerings are playful and creative.
Tomas Rides Again is a refreshing, warm-weather drink made with Wire Works gin, lime, plum bitters, and “fizz.” Luxardo cherries give this tall drink a pinkish hue, and the plum bitters contribute an unusual flavor with a fruity zing.
The Stone & Spice is nothing short of exceptional. Fruity, savory, spicy, and tart, this complex cocktail combines Wire Works gin, apricot jam, lemon, Amandine, and Moroccan bitters. The bitters make it especially intriguing, with notes of cumin and curry up front.
Speaking of intriguing, the Tiki Torch makes use of GrandTen’s most unusual spirit. Fire Puncher Black is a chipotle- and cocoa-nib-infused vodka – delicious, but challenging to blend in a cocktail. Yet the Tiki Torch nails it, combining the sweet-and-spicy vodka with pineapple, Craneberry, and tiki bitters. It’s a vibrant, balanced cocktail that’s spicy but not overpowering, with chocolatey notes and a dry finish.
Evolution of a Small Distillery
GrandTen continues to grow, and the cocktail bar represents only the latest step in their evolution. The distillery’s small-batch spirits have become an indispensable ingredient in an untold number of drinks. It seems only fitting that GrandTen can now serve them in their own house.
Address: 383 Dorchester Avenue, Boston
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Copyright ©Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.