Thanksgiving arrived a little earlier than usual this year, and in my naiveté, I thought that might translate into a less frenetic holiday season. More time for sleigh rides, hall decking, figgy pudding, and general holiday revelry.
No such luck.
The season has once again flown by faster than Santa on a sleigh. I still have gifts to buy, cards to sign, and a substantial volume of eggnog to drink. But no matter how busy life gets at this time of year, I always try to find time for my favorite annual BBH holiday project.
And with that, I present to you the Seventh Annual Boston BarHopper Christmas Special. If you’re unfamiliar with the drill, every December I ask a few Boston-area bartenders to each share an original cocktail that reflects the spirit of the season. This year we’ve got drinks that capture the sweet and savory flavors on your holiday dinner table, transport you to warmer climes, and remind you of a time in your life when you still believed in magic.
Joe Bork Dugan
It’s hard to imagine a more welcome aroma on a bitter December night than that emanating from the wood-fired pizza oven at Pastoral. That rich, smoky scent greets you as soon as you step through the door of the Fort Point Italian restaurant, conjuring images of cozy fireplaces and wood stoves, warm blankets, and holiday feasts, and follows you all the way to the bar, where beverage manager Joe Bork Dugan has an array of cocktails to match the mood.
‘Tis the season for sweet, decadent drinks. But Joe takes things in a different direction with his savory House Salad cocktail. True to Pastoral’s Italian roots, the House Salad reflects so many of the flavors one might find at the dinner table this time of year, presented with a flourish that makes it look and feel like a special drink.
Made with Uncle Val’s peppered gin, lemon, aquafaba, Strega, and a tomato-thyme-balsamic shrub (made with tomatoes from Italy that grow only at the base of Mount Vesuvius), this is an outstanding cocktail with soft herbal tones and a rich, creamy texture. A cherry tomato and thyme garnish is as striking as it is effective, making the drink both as aromatic and delicious.
Drinks with ingredients like these can be aggressively vegetal or sharply herbal. The House Salad is smooth and frothy, perfectly balancing notes of citrus, herbs, and botanicals. The flavor is surprising and complex, and worth savoring while the smoke from Pastoral’s oven wafts over to the bar.
Address: 345 Congress Street, Boston
Seasonal libations can help you cope with winter’s chill in any number of ways. Some double down on the indulgent flavors of the holidays while others fortify you against the plummeting temperatures. But Ian Swindlehurst of Explorateur would rather transport you to a different climate altogether.
As Explorateur’s beverage manager, Ian tends to put several drinks on each seasonal menu that emphasize a particular spirit. For winter, the focus is on rum, and Ian’s hopeful that he can help guests see rum as something more sophisticated than what they might have poured into a Solo cup of Coke during their college days.
It’s also a way to bring a tropical mind-set to the winter months. Ian’s Bank Robber cocktail is made with Plantation Xaymaca special dry rum, lime, mint, angostura bitters, and a cinnamon and sumac (!) syrup. This one has all the familiar components of a classic tiki drink, but the dry rum keeps the sweetness at bay, resulting in a refreshing cocktail that’s tangy and slightly tart. A couple of these and you’ll be rockin’ around that big Christmas tree on nearby Boston Common.
Address: 186 Tremont Street, Boston
For me, Christmas is the most nostalgic of holidays. No matter how old I get, I still remember what it was like to be a kid during the holiday season. The colors, the songs, the smells, the thrill of tearing open a present – it doesn’t take much to rekindle those feelings.
All of which made Ritcey East an obvious choice for this project. With a menu that includes playful twists on comfort food classics like the Big Mac and Oodles of Noodles, nostalgia is in this Watertown restaurant’s DNA. And owner Michaela Ritcey takes it even further with a cocktail that’ll bring you back to an age when you believed in flying reindeer.
If there’s such a thing as a comfort food cocktail, Captain’s Cream is it. Made with Old Monk rum, Plantation rum, milk, and a simple syrup made from Cap’n Crunch, it’s an adult drink with some familiar kid-like flavors. Rich and creamy but not overly sweet, Captain’s Cream has all the special-occasion decadence that you’d expect of a festive winter drink. And yes, it indeed tastes remarkably like the breakfast cereal that inspired it. A tiny bag of Cap’n Crunch serves as a garnish, in case you need a reminder.
Address: 208 Waverley Avenue, Watertown
When he’s not manning the bitters bar at the Boston Shaker or sharing his expansive selection of booze-branded pins on Instagram, you’ll find Anthony Mottla behind the bar at the Automatic. His drink, called …And Everything Nice, lives up to its name. Anthony considers it a holiday nightcap, a way to wind down after a busy day of wassailing.
Made with Old Overholt bonded rye, Pierre Ferrand curaçao, a Berkshire Brewing Company Coffee House Porter syrup, and the Automatic’s house-made mole bitters, it’s dessert-like but not too sweet, with notes of chocolate, baking spices, and a fruity finish.
Address: 50 Hampshire Street, Cambridge
I want to thank Joe, Ian, Michaela, and Anthony for being part of this year’s holiday post. It’s always such a pleasure to sit at their bars, catch up, and talk booze, and I look forward to visiting them often in 2019. I suggest you do the same!
This is probably my final post of the year, so I’ll catch up with you in January. I hope your holidays are warm, peaceful, and merry, and as always, thank you for reading.
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