Whiskey

Numbing the Pain of Snowpocalypse With Local Spirits

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If you know me at all, even just as an occasional visitor to this space, then you are doubtless familiar with my loathing of winter. My disillusionment with this irksome season probably dates back to the moment my parents decided I was old enough to operate a shovel. In all likelihood, that was the first time I realized that a snowstorm meant more than just an impromptu day off from school, an occasion to be occupied with such leisurely pursuits as snow fort construction and sledding. Suddenly, there was work involved – forced manual labor in harsh conditions. At the time, I certainly didn’t appreciate the gravity of the moment, unaware that it was my indoctrination into a lifetime of arbitrary inconvenience between the months of November and April (give or take a few weeks). That realization came gradually, in the form of sore muscles, untimely falls, white-knuckled car rides, and the abandonment of long-scheduled plans. This year, it’s meant impossible commutes in and out of the city, subzero temperatures, and ice dams forcing water into my dining room.

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I tell you this not because I think you need to hear another person complaining about the weather, but because this menace of a winter has become an encumbrance on my weekly posts. Of course I realize, fully, that my having to postpone a couple of bar visits doesn’t exactly qualify as a hardship. But in the face of parking bans and the utter catastrophe that is the MBTA, I’ve been hampered in my efforts to share a tale of barhopping on my preferred schedule of once a week.

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It was in the midst of this frustrating, snow-induced torpor that, late one night, I decided to treat myself to a glass of bourbon; specifically, Berkshire Mountain Distillers bourbon, a bottle of which was given to me by my friend and fellow barhopper Kat. I had opened the bottle some time ago and used it in a cocktail or two, but had never tried it on its own.

And let me tell you – it was a revelation. The inviting aroma, the smooth texture, the notes of caramel in the finish; I felt revived.

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Now my intention here is not to anoint Berkshire Bourbon as the king of whiskies. I’d call it a good, solid spirit, and a genuine pleasure to drink. But given the circumstances of that particular night, it felt like something more. I wanted no other bourbon than that which I’d just poured into my glass.

The episode also provided some much-needed inspiration. I considered writing a short piece about my experience with Berkshire, but then decided to expand it to include some of the other local spirits I’m fortunate to have in my collection. I’ve long been an advocate of drinking locally, but I think that takes on another layer of significance when the region is affected by something like this brutal stretch of winter weather. If you pour yourself a well-earned drink after a marathon shoveling session or a painful commute, there’s a certain kinship in knowing that the booze in your glass was made just a few miles away, by people who are enduring the same frustrations.

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That said, here’s a tribute to three local distilleries that are cranking out top-notch products in and for a state that’s been driven to drink by the 100+ inches of snow we’ve racked up over the past month.

We begin with the inspiration for the post.

Berkshire Mountain Distillers – Bourbon

As the name would imply, Berkshire Mountain Distillers makes its home in Massachusetts’ mountainous Berkshire County. When BMD set up shop in 2007, it did so as the first legal distillery in the Berkshires since Prohibition. Their line of handcrafted spirits has grown to include rum, vodka, and several varieties each of gin and whiskey. A few of their offerings have won awards, and all of them have won praise among discerning drinkers.

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Berkshire Bourbon is made with corn grown on a farm near the distillery and aged in American white oak barrels. It isn’t aged terribly long; like any young distillery, BMD is unable to speed up time to produce a 10- or 12-year-old spirit. But if it lacks some of the complexity of an older bourbon, its smoothness, aroma, and flavor more than compensate. It’s an approachable, easy-drinking bourbon with just enough bite and a hint of spice; prominent notes of caramel and vanilla give it an overall sweetness. I’ve found Berkshire Bourbon makes a mean Old Fashioned, but after my winter’s eve epiphany, I’m drinking it neat from now on.

Website:http://berkshiremountaindistillers.com/

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Bully Boy Distillers – Hub Punch

While Berkshire Mountain Distillers was the first legal distillery to open its doors in the Berkshires since Prohibition, Bully Boy was the first to do so in Boston. And yet, Bully Boy’s roots date back to the days of that so-called Noble Experiment. Bully Boy’s owners, brothers Will and Dave Willis, trace their distilling roots at least as far back as the 1920s, when liquor was quietly available on their family’s farm in Sherborn, Massachusetts. Today their small-batch distilling is entirely legal, and yet there’s an obvious appreciation for history in their ever-expanding product line.

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Hub Punch is a most intriguing elixir. Inspired by an 1800s-era recipe associated with a long-shuttered New York hotel, Hub Punch infuses Bully Boy’s barrel-aged rum with a blend of fruits and botanicals. The result is an unusual combination of fruity and bitter components, giving an unexpected herbal bite to a spirit normally known for its sweetness. Consumed neat, it’s drinkable but intense, with a fruit-forward character. It’s excellent in a cocktail, though, and Bully Boy offers a few recipes on their website.

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The most traditional partners for Hub Punch are ginger ale and soda water, as with the eponymous “Hub Punch” cocktail. This mix of Hub Punch, ginger ale, soda water, and lemon is a crisp, fruity, refreshing drink with a hint of tartness.

Website:http://www.bullyboydistillers.com/

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GrandTen Distilling – Fire Puncher Black

Last summer I visited GrandTen Distilling’s historic South Boston facility for an up-close look at small-batch spirit production. While there, I had the pleasure of sampling eight of their nine products. Why not all nine? Because they were out of Fire Puncher Black – a seasonal offering that combines GrandTen’s chipotle vodka with cocoa nibs from Somerville’s Taza Chocolate.

I finally got to try the spirit later that year when GrandTen hosted a bartender battle at its site. As part of the final round of the competition, two contestants were asked to create original cocktails using Fire Puncher Black. And you know, that’s no mean feat. With its complex blend of spicy pepper and dark chocolate, Fire Puncher Black is not exactly the most versatile of spirits.

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It’s definitely fascinating to drink on its own. You get chocolate in the aroma, pepper in the first sip, and a finish that’s neither too hot nor too sweet. But if you’re looking to use it in a cocktail, GrandTen offers a few ideas on their website, the most exciting of which is called Joe vs. The Volcano.

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Named for a 1990 film starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, this tiki-style drink features tropical flavors, a chocolate base, and a hint of fire. It combines Fire Puncher Black, GrandTen’s Medford Rum, lemon juice, lime juice, pineapple juice, and coconut milk. There’s a lot going on in this one, but it’s ultimately a smooth cocktail that packs a punch. The chocolate really comes through in the finish, even with all those vibrant flavors. And while there’s a bit of chipotle pepper in the final product, the effect isn’t so much about heat as it is warmth.

Website:http://www.grandten.com/

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Warmth is something we could use right about now, whether it’s in the form of a spicy tiki drink, a fortifying rum cocktail, or a soul-warming tumbler of bourbon. Or, you know…the sun, melting the snow and ice.

On that note, it looks like we might be moving past the worst of the winter, and BBH will be back on a regular schedule soon enough. But I swear, one more snowstorm, and I’m rebranding myself as Florida BarHopper.

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

Bacon & Bourbon Brunch at Anthem

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I don’t have any hard data to back this up, but I think I can say with confidence that no meat product is celebrated as frequently, as fervently, or as lustily as bacon. There are websites and blogs devoted to bacon. A very quick web search reveals that at least half the states in the union have hosted a bacon festival within their borders in the past year. Put the words “bacon-infused” in front of anything, whether it’s a spirit, a food item, or just a glass of water, and people will order it, gleefully, no questions asked. You want to see a vegetarian sweat? Fry up some bacon. Even vegans gotta shout. Bacon’s hype is richly deserved. This simplest and least healthy of meats adds a dose of awesomeness to everything it touches. Put a few rashers of bacon next to a plate of eggs, and you have the most iconic of breakfast dishes. Toss a few slices on an otherwise average burger and suddenly that burger becomes extraordinary. Wrap some scallops up in bacon and watch the most mild-mannered of party guests jockey for position in front of a platter of hors d’oeuvres.

And if you combine bacon with bourbon and create an entire brunch menu focused on those two hallowed ingredients, I will head into Boston early on a snowy Sunday morning and stand outside your door, shaking with anticipation until you let me in.

That’s pretty much the way things went down last weekend at Anthem Kitchen + Bar.

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Anthem’s Bacon & Bourbon Brunch was nothing less than a meditation on the glory of being alive. The menu was a bacon and bourbon lover’s dream, featuring mouthwatering items such as French toast with bacon and bourbon-infused maple syrup, and lobster eggs benedict with a pancetta hollandaise sauce. Something like “bacon and eggs,” by comparison, might sound a little humdrum. Not so. This didn’t feature “bacon” in the conventional sense, but something arguably better – bourbon maple pork belly, along with a heaping pile of cheesy grits. The pork belly was absolutely out of this world – melt-in-your-mouth tender, bursting with the richest, sweetest, smokiest flavor imaginable. I could seriously have eaten this until my arteries put up a “not a thruway” sign.

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The bacon and apple Monte Cristo was loaded with house-roasted turkey and topped with bourbon bacon jam (!!), granny smith apples, and cheddar cheese, served on French toast with maple syrup on the side. This was a great big sandwich with a splendid combination of flavors. The apple slices added a crisp texture that contrasted with the soft, warm French toast.

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And just as bourbon infused the food menu, bacon found its way into nearly all the cocktails.

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If there’s an hour of the day that’s too early to drink an Old Fashioned, then I’d rather sleep right through it. But it’s hard to argue that the Bacon Old Fashioned, made with bacon-infused Bulleit bourbon, muddled orange, sugar, and orange bitters, wasn’t perfectly suited to the most important meal of the day. This variation of the timeless classic had a big, bold flavor, and a garnish of candied bacon provided a smoky aroma with each sip. Bits of mashed-up orange permeated the drink, and little flakes of bacon floating around made it taste like a true breakfast cocktail.

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There’s no bourbon in a Bloody Mary, but Anthem managed to squeeze the most traditional of brunch cocktails into the theme by coating the rim of the glass in chopped bacon and celery salt. It had all the usual components – a house-made bloody mary mix, tomato juice, and vodka – and added a slice of bacon as a garnish. The rim was a little too salty for my taste, with the bacon/salt combo, but it was solid overall.

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The Sweet and Smoky Sling, however, was perfect. As the name implied, this drink was equal parts smoky and sweet, made with bacon-infused Bulleit bourbon, simple syrup, fresh lemon, pineapple juice, and a slice of candied bacon. This was a well-balanced cocktail – sweet and fruity with just enough smoke, and grounded in bourbon’s characteristic warmth and depth.

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Loaded with tourist traps and memorabilia shops, Faneuil Hall holds limited appeal for those of us who live and work in the city. But I’ve always argued that it has a few gems, and I’ve long been fond of Anthem. I don’t know whether Anthem will be adding any of these bacon-themed cocktails or bourbon-infused food items to their regular menu. But even if it was just for one morning, it’s always encouraging to discover original ideas in an area of town better known for playing it safe.

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

Cocktails in Seattle

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A few years ago, I visited Seattle for work, and while I was only there for a few days, I quickly became enamored of the city. Sandwiched between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, with snowcapped mountains gracing the horizon, Seattle is surrounded by natural beauty.

Like Boston, it’s a walkable city that offers plenty of fascinating sightseeing opportunities for visitors. Sure, the Space Needle may be a tourist attraction, but it’s one of the most iconic structures in the country. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a more breathtaking view than from atop its 520-foot-high observation deck.

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Pike Place Market draws its share of visitors as well, but it’s no mere tourist attraction. This nine-acre district is home to one of the oldest farmers’ markets in the country, offering the ripest, most colorful produce and flowers I’ve ever seen, along with fishmongers, quirky specialty shops, and more than a few cool restaurants.

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Despite the crowds of gawking, picture-snapping out-of-towners who descend upon Pike Place every year, this beloved landmark holds a special spot in Seattle’s culture and maintains credibility among locals.

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Yes, it rains a lot, and often. And I’ve observed an interesting phenomenon – plenty of locals gripe about the weather, but if you say anything about it, they get a little defensive and tell you that it actually rains less in Seattle than in Boston, New York, and other major U.S. cities. Regardless of your opinion or perception of the weather, Seattle’s got plenty of hearty beverages to help get you through a misty day. I’ve heard that more coffee gets consumed in this city than anywhere else in the world, and considering the number of coffee shops I’ve walked by, I believe it. Seattle is, after all, the home of the largest coffeehouse chain on the planet.

A band jams in front of the very first Starbucks. The company later expanded…

A band jams in front of the very first Starbucks. The company later expanded…

And like other cities in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle is known for its enviable craft beer scene. An impressive array of breweries, brewpubs, and beer-centric bars offer a chance to sample dozens of local and regional microbrews.

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I was sure to avail myself of java and hops on my first trip to the Jet City. But when I returned last month, I was in search of top-notch cocktails, local spirits, and a chance to get Seattle’s take on the craft cocktail renaissance.

Once again, this splendid city did not disappoint.

Radiator Whiskey

Fresh veggies, colorful flowers, and guys throwing fish have made Pike Place Market a must-see destination for anyone visiting Seattle.

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Of course, no one’s stuffing those things into a suitcase to bring home as souvenirs (I hope), so the market is also host to a cottage industry of vendors selling keepsakes, t-shirts, and Seattle-themed memorabilia. It’s the sort of situation that could lead Seattleites to avoid the area entirely, preferring to get their produce from somewhere with less fanfare. But while tourists are lining up outside Starbucks or taking selfies with dead fish, those in the know are enjoying hidden gems like Radiator Whiskey.

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It may be in the heart of a major city in the Pacific Northwest, but Radiator Whiskey captures the rustic charm of a historic southern distillery. Dark and cozy, with a small, eight-seat bar, hardwood floors, and an enormous whiskey barrel façade, this could just as easily be a tasting room somewhere along the Bourbon Trail.

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There’s no whiskey made at Radiator Whiskey, which draws its name from a slang term for moonshine, but they do put their own spin on brown liquor. That massive barrel behind the bar actually holds seven smaller barrels of aging whiskey, some of which is made for Radiator by a local distillery called 2bar Spirits. And with taps affixed to the barrels, you’re pretty much getting your whiskey straight from the source.

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Those house-aged spirits add a unique dimension to Radiator Whiskey’s cocktail program, which balances original concoctions with creative twists on the classics. The Smoked Maple Old Fashioned is made with a house-smoked rye, maple syrup, angostura bitters, and an orange peel. Smoky, spicy, and sweet, this is a fresh take on the most traditional of cocktails, with the maple adding its own subtle, distinct element of flavor.

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The Manhattan has long been a tried and true favorite of mine, so I was delighted to see that the menu has an entire subsection devoted to this timeless cocktail – the cleverly titled “Manhattan Project.” Each entry on the list is named for a physicist and offers an intriguing Manhattan variation, with ingredients ranging from smoke-infused whiskey to mole bitters. I opted for the Oppenheimer: Chipotle – a blend of rye, punt e mes, and house chipotle bitters. The flavor from the bitters was distinct but subtle, adding a pleasant warmth to the already spicy rye.

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And of course, I couldn’t resist the novelty of ordering whiskey on draft. “That’s barrel strength,” the bartender reminded me as she poured me a glass of house-aged Knob Creek bourbon, “so be careful.” I can see the reason for the warning – even the aroma was smooth, and this silky spirit went down with remarkable ease.

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Fortunately, there’s food to soak up all that whiskey. The braised beef brisket is fork-tender, delicious, and accompanied by roasted onions, horseradish cream, and baby arugula.

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It was a generous portion that probably didn’t necessitate my side of smashed red potatoes, but you won’t hear me complaining.

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Address: 94 Pike Street, Suite 30, Seattle, Washington

Website:http://www.radiatorwhiskey.com/

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Suite 410

While Radiator Whiskey has a stripped-down, earthy look and a pointed emphasis on its namesake spirit, Suite 410 is every bit the modern craft cocktail lounge. A dozen or so funky stools surround a sleek bar, with some couch-like seating rounding out the space. Suite 410’s cocktail program features clever, contemporary recipes made with high-quality spirits and fresh ingredients.

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Such was not always the case. As I understand it, this Belltown bar once prided itself on cloying cocktails and vodka drinks, with a signature cocktail called the Hot Mango Love. Eventually Suite 410 decided it was time for a reboot, and their identity makeover yielded a cocktail program characterized by innovation, variety, and an obvious love of mixology. Not to mention lots of cool drink names, like Don’t Give up the Ship. Made with gin, dry sherry, Benedictine, and Spanish bitters, it’s an herbal, bitter cocktail with a striking lemon peel garnish.

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The Never Say Never gets an equally impressive garnish; am I imagining things, or is that orange peel sculpted into the word “Never”? Either way, it’s an artful topper for this mix of dual rums, Averna, Demerara syrup, and Abbott’s bitters.

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The elegant Nightingale uses Hedge Trimmer gin, made by Seattle distillery Sun Liquor. It combines with St. Germain, fresh grapefruit and lime juice, ginger, and basil for a vibrant, floral cocktail.

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The bartender even made a “mocktail” version of it for my friend, who wasn’t drinking.

The Seven Seas of Rye showcases the depth and diversity of Suite 410’s spirit selection. Rye whiskey, rum, and Campari are joined by Rossbacher, an herbal liqueur, and Byrrh, a wine-based aperitif. And if that isn’t enough, Bittermens Burlesque bitters add a fruity, floral component.

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It’s not the only drink to be enhanced with some unusual bitters. Wild Bill Hickok adds sarsaparilla bitters to a rich, complex mix of bourbon, Amaro Ramazzotti, house-made orgeat syrup, lime juice, and vanilla bean soda.

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Under the guidance of bar manager Jason Simplot, Suite 410’s cocktails are ambitious, approachable, and playful, and the program is a far cry from the bar’s previous life as a purveyor of flavored vodka drinks. But among all the newfangled entries, Suite 410 can reliably whip up some true classics.

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The Manhattan and the Gibson might be short on clever names and fancy garnishes, but they remain sturdy, timeless, and endlessly satisfying amid even the wildest, most complex innovations.

Address: 410 Stewart Street, Seattle, Washington

Website:http://suite410bar.com/

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

Death Comes to Boston – Death & Co. Cocktail Book Launch

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I own about a half-dozen cocktail books – an old-school classic or two, some contemporary offerings, a couple of more focused ones. So where do I turn when I’m looking for a recipe? The web, of course.

The notion of a hard-copy cocktail book might seem a little quaint in a day and age when thousands of recipes and their innumerable variations, along with pictures, instructional videos, and detailed tips, tricks, and suggestions, are instantly available to anyone with a computer or smartphone. But when one of the world’s most acclaimed cocktail bars publishes a book, it’s time to make room on the shelf.

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New York’s Death & Co. opened its doors in late 2007 to little fanfare. A few days and a New York Times feature story later, the East Village bar had become something of a local phenomenon, with lines of customers snaking around the block. And since that time, Death & Co. has come to be recognized as a pillar of the craft cocktail renaissance. The bar is universally admired – except, perhaps, by the grumpy neighbors who tried to shut them down – and their work is constantly imitated. Death & Co.’s inventive drinks have appeared on cocktail menus all over the world, including here in Boston (I was introduced to their Oaxacan Old Fashioned through Ward 8).

So when Death & Co. publishes a book, it’s not just another resource for professional and amateur mixologists – it’s an industry event.

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In an effort to promote Modern Classic Cocktails, Death & Co. has been sending its bartenders on a tour of major U.S. cities, where they’re whipping up a few of the cocktails that have won the bar such renown. For their local visit, they set up in shop in one of Boston’s top cocktail bars – The Hawthorne. Owner Jackson Cannon was on hand, greeting guests upon arrival and pouring cups of Bloodhound Punch, made with bourbon, spices, lemon juice, blueberry syrup, and club soda.

The setting could hardly be more appropriate. The Hawthorne has garnered its own share of national praise, and like Death & Co., operates on the principle that discerning customers care about more than just the warm buzz they get from a glass of booze. A comfortable atmosphere, a vantage point from which to enjoy the artistry of a cocktail being made, the chance to appreciate or better understand its intricacies – these are essential to the experience.

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Making a great drink is only one aspect of running a truly exceptional cocktail bar, so it’s only appropriate that Death & Co.’s book isn’t merely a collection of recipes. And since “The Specs,” as the recipes are called, only account for about half of the book, it’s almost a misnomer to call Modern Classic Cocktails a cocktail book. More than anything, it’s a story, and one with familiar themes – having a good idea and believing in it; finding the right people to share in your dream and help usher it into reality; making painful sacrifices for a greater purpose; overcoming adversity; starting small and not losing touch with your ideals, even when you find success. Essays contributed by regular customers enrich the narrative further; this isn’t just experts expounding upon their craft, but an open conversation with a multitude of voices.

Of course, the experts and their cocktails are still the stars of the show, and as someone who’s not yet been to Death & Co., I was excited to finally sample their legendary wares and meet the people who make it all happen.

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The recipe chapter of the book devotes individual sections to base spirits (except vodka; long story) along with classic and vintage cocktails, variations on popular drinks, punches, swizzles, and more. The list of featured drinks at the Hawthorne event combined original compositions with a few inventive twists on the classics, all executed with Death & Co.’s trademark ingenuity and flair.

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Gin was one of the evening’s predominant spirits, starting with the Moon Cocktail. Made with Plymouth gin, amontillado sherry, crème de pêche, and a lemon twist, it’s a mostly dry cocktail with fruity notes from the peach liqueur.

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The cucumber ribbon atop the Kew Gardens Cooler gets lots of oohs and ahhs, but this mix of Beefeater 24 gin, Aperol, grapefruit juice, cucumber, and Scarlet Glow tea syrup tastes as good as it looks.

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The elegant Bella Luna combines Plymouth gin, crème de violette, St. Germain, lemon juice, and simple syrup for a smooth but potent cocktail with distinct floral notes.

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A couple of whiskey-based concoctions made the list as well, including the sweet and smoky Little Engine, made with the Famous Grouse, a 10-year tawny port, lemon juice, maple syrup, and apple butter.

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The Scotch Lady also employs the Famous Grouse, combining the cocktail-friendly scotch with bonded apple brandy, lemon juice, simple syrup, grenadine, and egg white for a dark, creamy drink. A brandied cherry serves as a stylish garnish.

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In addition to their many original creations, Death & Co. is of course known for some daring interpretations of the classics. The aforementioned Oaxaca Old Fashioned is their most popular drink, but it’s certainly not their only rendition of this most traditional of cocktails. I’ve tried plenty of variations on the Old Fashioned (many of them unremarkable), but the Elder Fashion is easily one of the most intriguing. With Plymouth gin, St. Germain, house orange bitters, and a grapefruit twist, it’s a simple drink that’s truly greater than the sum of its parts. The orange bitters and the grapefruit bring out the citrus notes in the gin, and the St. Germain contributes an airy floral character.

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Similarly, the Negroni is endlessly customizable. The House of Payne, made with Beefeater London dry gin, Plymouth sloe gin, Campari, and raspberries, is fruitier than the average Negroni but doesn’t sacrifice the drink’s bitter bite.

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As splendid as the drinks were, half the fun was seeing bartenders Eryn Reece and Jillian Vose in action. They are masters of their craft, and I hope it doesn’t come across as hyperbole when I say that watching them make three and sometimes four complex cocktails at once, shaking, stirring, and straining with speed, efficiency, and grace, was at times mesmerizing. Working behind an unfamiliar bar didn’t seem to slow them down, and they managed to talk to each other and field questions from inquisitive customers without missing a beat.

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Skills like that may take years to hone, but you don’t need a PhD in mixology to make Death & Co.’s drinks. Many of the book’s recipes are straightforward, and yes, plenty more are labor-intensive; but every one of them seems accessible. Ingredients like cinnamon bark syrup and sugar snap pea-infused Plymouth gin might sound exotic, but the instructions are in the appendix and they’re actually pretty simple. Authors David Kaplan, Nick Fauchald, and Alex Day also seem happy to demystify the process of creating a drink, even revealing some of their naming conventions.

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The most likely obstacle for the home bartender will be a lack of resources – not all of us have dozens of styles and brands of whiskey, rum, and Sherry to play around with, and you won’t find specialized items such as Combier Pamplemousse Rose liqueur in any old liquor store. But the authors encourage experimentation and improvisation; that, after all, is how Death & Co. came up with so many of these drinks in the first place.

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While the book is a comprehensive resource for the amateur mixologist, devoting ample space to bar tools, glassware, types of spirits, and bartender jargon, it’s also a goldmine for industry professionals. The book is an official, reliable collection of recipes that have floated around in one form or other for years, and it explains more nuanced techniques such as making citrus flags, flaming orange twists, and batching ingredients.

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And whether you work in this industry or, like me, simply appreciate the art of the cocktail, it’s hard not to be impressed by the chapter called “A Night at Death & Co.” – from the inventory and office duties that begin at 8 a.m. to the night’s tips being tallied and divided some 19 hours later. It’s a grueling day filled with a stunning array of cumbersome small tasks, endless interruptions, and daily traditions, and it gives me an even deeper respect for the effort that goes into running a world-class bar.

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We on the other side of the bar are the beneficiaries of those long hours and painstaking attention to detail, and most of us have experienced Death & Co.’s approach to craft cocktails whether we’ve been to the New York bar or not. Death & Co.’s influence has spread far beyond the borders of the Empire State and left an indelible mark on cocktail culture. Modern Classic Cocktails memorializes their contributions.

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

Thirst Boston – 2014

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There was a time – not all that long ago, really – when the notion of a cocktail conference or convention would have been downright bizarre. What exactly would have been the content of a cocktail seminar in, say, the 1990s? The finer points of making a screwdriver? Even as recently as 10 years ago, when America was joyfully rediscovering the merits of a drink made by a skilled bartender using high-quality spirits and fresh ingredients, industry gatherings were small, relatively rare, and fairly narrow in scope. One need look no further than Thirst Boston to appreciate how the cocktail industry has evolved since then.

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This four-day day conference, now in its second year, opened with a black-tie gala last Friday night and closed with a bartender brunch on Monday morning. In between were two days’ worth of focused seminars, special events, hosted bars, parties, after parties, and vendor showcases, all inspired by and devoted to our renewed love affair with the cocktail.

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And judging by the diversity of Thirst’s attendees, it’s a love affair that exists on both sides of the bar. While many of the 20+ seminars had broad appeal, like “From Connery to Cruise: Cocktails in the Movies,” and “All for Rum and RUM FOR ALL,” others were more workshop-oriented, such as “The Art of Preparing Vermouth” and “Carbonation Station.” But even the most industry-specific presentations drew a mix of professional bartenders, amateur mixologists, and people who just appreciate good drinks and the process behind them.

The Aperitif Hour

With no shortage of interesting topics to choose from, the biggest challenge is deciding which seminars to attend. I started with “The Aperitif Hour,” presented by renowned bartender/writer Naren Young and local mixologist Nick Korn.

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Aperitifs are something I’ve long struggled to enjoy, and it’s only recently that I’ve started to understand the appeal of these bitter herbal liqueurs. The proceedings began with a punch that Nick made with oleo-saccharum, tea, Aperol, gin, and Prosecco, topped with grated nutmeg.

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While we sipped the punch, Naren walked us through a brief history of apertifs, explaining various types and uses and sharing some of his experiences with the liqueur, both as a bartender and drinker.

And then began the parade of Negronis.

Our first sample was Naren’s Chocolate Negroni, made with gin, Cinzano vermouth, Campari, white crème de cacao, chocolate bitters, and black cardamom tincture.

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Next up was a bottled Champagne Negroni and a short lesson in how to carbonate cocktails.

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The most intriguing portion of the seminar was Naren’s in-depth explanation of “sous vide” cocktails, a method of spirit infusion done with a vacuum seal machine normally used by restaurants to quickly bring food to their appropriate temperatures (there is no way I could do justice to this concept by trying to elaborate on it).

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The idea of a craft cocktail in a plastic bag might invite a little skepticism, but the lavender and lemongrass Negronis that came out of them were exceptional.

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The History of the Martini

I drink a martini about once a year. And as soon as that first sip crosses my lips, I remember why I don’t have them more often. My disdain for this iconic drink has long been a source of personal frustration; I want to like it. But I figured that if I was ever going to learn to appreciate the martini, attending a presentation by the makers of Tanqueray gin and Ketel One vodka might not be a bad idea.

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In fact, it was a great idea, because I made a valuable discovery: I don’t dislike martinis; I dislike poorly made martinis.

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Led by Tanqueray national brand ambassador Rachel Ford, the session began with a discussion of the various types of gin, the spirit’s versatility, and the relatively simple botanical blend of Tanqueray. With Tavern Road bar manager Ryan McGrale demonstrating the ins and outs of proper martini-making, Rachel then expounded upon the long history of this elegant cocktail, beginning with its presumed forebear, the Martinez.

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From there we tried the traditional dry martini and a few variations, such as the 50/50 martini, made with equal parts gin and vermouth, and the James Bond-inspired Vesper martini, made with vodka, gin, and Lillet Blanc.

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That led to a discussion of the fictional spy’s “shaken, not stirred” mantra – and how badly that oft-repeated phrase has damaged the martini’s reputation. Stirring the spirits brings out their flavor and gives the cocktail a smooth, silky texture, whereas shaking makes for a clouded, foamy drink. Mr. Bond can have his martini however he wants it, but “stirred, not shaken” is how I’ll take mine. And no olives, thank you very much.

Tales of Tattoo and Tiki Culture

It’s odd to think that there was a time when tattoo parlors were illegal in Massachusetts. Then again, there’ve been a lot of weird laws on the books in this state, so maybe it’s not that strange. It’s also pretty funny to recall the days when the most common companion for rum was Coke.

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But tattoo culture is huge these days, and the popularity of small-batch spirits has taught us to appreciate rum the same way we enjoy quality bourbon and scotch. That, in turn, has contributed to a renewed respect for tiki drinks, once maligned as overly sweet cocktails you’d only order in a Polynesian restaurant.

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The makers of Sailor Jerry rum brought these two worlds together for “Tales of Tattoo and Tiki Culture,” a seminar that celebrated the resurgence of tiki drinks and examined both the popularity and the remarkable artistry of tattoos. There’s an obvious historical connection there – rum was once considered the spirit of those who spent their lives on the high seas, and sailors were known for their tattoos.

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As much as I’d love to tell you more about this seminar, I’ll be honest – after a morning of aperitifs, an afternoon of martinis, and nothing more than cheese and crackers to eat, I was fading fast and decided to duck out a little early. It was fascinating stuff, and I’m a big fan of Sailor Jerry; but the class was to culminate with a lesson in coring a pineapple for a tiki drink, and I was cognizant enough to decide that my handling a sharp object and a large, unwieldy fruit was in no one’s best interest.

I will add that no one was overly impressed with my Negroni Week temporary tattoo, which I’d gotten at the aperitif session. Whatever.

Good Old American Ingenuity: Entrepreneurship in the Spirits Industry

With a fair number of lighthearted topics to choose from, like cocktails that have appeared in movies and literature, it’s telling that a seminar devoted to entrepreneurship was among the first to sell out.

Innovation is the cornerstone of this craft cocktail renaissance, and that extends beyond just the ability to come up with great drinks. The passion and demand for creative cocktails has spawned a small universe of new products – specialized glassware, bar tools, bitters, small-batch spirits, recipe books, you name it.

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In “Entrepreneurship in the Spirits Industry,” presented by Hendrick’s, a panel of three experts spoke about their experiences in going beyond cocktail creation and developing products that are helping to propel the industry forward.

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It would be difficult to overstate the impact Jackson Cannon has had on Boston’s cocktail culture. He was the opening bar manager of the renowned Eastern Standard and later the Island Creek Oyster Bar. His Hawthorne bar is considered one of the best cocktail bars in the country. Anyone with a resume like that is entitled to “a vanity project,” which is how he characterized the genesis of the Jackson Cannon Bar Knife.

Thinking it would be pretty cool to have a customized knife to give to friends and regulars, Jackson met with R. Murphy Knives, a knife manufacturer that’s been around since 1850, and looked through hundreds of their designs. The old-fashioned model that would eventually become his customized bar knife was originally designed for cutting shoe leather.

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Many bartenders will immediately recognize the knife by its oddly shaped, rectangular blade. And chances are, they’ll find it pretty useful, too. The sharp blade doesn’t dull quickly, and the squared-off tip is perfect for notching fruit, removing seeds, and making spiral-cut citrus peels.

Hawthorne bar manager Katie Emmerson does a little knife work.

Hawthorne bar manager Katie Emmerson does a little knife work.

Chicago-based mixologist Charles Joly apparently knows a thing or two about making drinks. He was named the best bartender in the world after winning the Diageo World Class 2014 cocktail competition in London, so…there’s that.

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Despite the international accolades, Charles’ venture into entrepreneurship has humble origins. He often found himself often being asked for drink recipes by customers, which he was happy to share – even when one customer called him at the bar, during a busy shift, to ask how to make a particular cocktail at home.

So he had an idea – why not bottle the drinks? Bottled cocktails, of course, are nothing new; dozens of them have been on store shelves for years. The problem is, they’re universally disgusting. Charles wondered whether he could make good drinks, with spirits he’d use in his own bar, and put them in a bottle.

And yes, it works.

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We tried samples of his Moscow Mule and Paloma, and I’ll give them the highest compliment I can pay to any bottled cocktail – they taste exactly the way they should. Products like these are ideal for someone who doesn’t have the time or inclination to make the drinks themselves, and while more discerning drinkers might be skeptical of a pre-made cocktail, it’s hard to argue with the results.

I’ve talked about gin with Hendrick’s brand ambassador Jim Ryan at a number of events over the years, but this was the first time I ever heard him speak at length about the spirit industry in general. His thoughts on the growing opportunities in this neo-golden age of the cocktail were interesting and informative. But what impressed me more was hearing that Hendrick’s, despite its popularity and stature, is still looking for ways to nurture creativity.

Maybe I’m overgeneralizing, but I always figure that a well-established brand like Hendrick’s, owned by a huge corporate distiller like William Grant & Sons, would find a formula that works and stick with it, valuing consistency – and the bottom line – above all else. But while Hendrick’s isn’t tinkering with their gin recipe (and well they should not), that doesn’t mean they’re inhibiting their distillers’ freedom to be creative.

Hendrick’s Quinetum is a quinine cordial that combines lavender and orange distillates with a host of other botanicals.

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The small, dark blue bottle is modeled on a poison bottle that someone at Hendrick’s found in an old shop. The flavor is sweet and the consistency somewhat oily, and it’s designed to be mixed with the gin or in a Hendrick’s and tonic. The Quinetum project is still very small – Hendrick’s only made a few thousand bottles, and they aren’t available commercially. Instead they’ve been sent to bars in a few cities (one of which is NOT Boston; ahem) for mixologists to experiment with.

You won’t find Hendrick’s Kanaracuni on store shelves, either, and probably not even in a bar – there are only 460 bottles in existence.

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In 2013, a team led by Hendrick’s’ master distiller ventured to the Venezuelan jungle in search of a new botanical to be used in a very small batch of gin. They eventually found the Scorpion Tail plant, so called for its resemblance to the poisonous arachnid. Scorpion Tail is the key ingredient in Kanaracuni, named for the Venezuelan village that served as the team’s home base. This floral, lip-tingling spirit has notes of coriander, anise, and citrus, giving it something of a tropical essence.

Products designed by people who work in this industry have a special, genuine kind of quality to them. A bar knife designed by a top bartender and bar owner; a bottled cocktail made by a celebrated mixologist; I think there’s more value in that than a celebrity chef allowing his or her name to be used on a kitchen tool or a venture capitalist deciding to dabble in the spirit business. And in the case of Jackson’s knife and Charles’ pre-made drinks, both explained the steps they’ve taken to ensure quality, eschewing shortcuts that could easily make them more money.

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Hendrick’s, of course, has the capital to fund projects like trips to Venezuela or designing cordials that may never be put on sale. But the desire and willingness to innovate is what unites a large distilling outfit with much smaller entrepreneurial projects like those led by Jackson Cannon and Charles Joly. And the takeaway is that there is no shortage of opportunities in this exciting, ever-growing industry.

Of course, Thirst Boston isn’t all about industry trends, marketing, and cocktail history. There’s also plenty to drink.

Hosted bars are set up throughout the day. Saturday morning opened with a French Café, serving up mimosas and pastries.

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In the afternoon, William Grant’s World of Whisk(e)y Bar took over. That’s a pretty impressive lineup of whiskies – Glenfiddich, Monkey Shoulder, Hudson, and a few other William Grant spirits.

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They factored into drinks like the Hunter’s Mark, Monkey Boulevardier, and the Irish Mule.

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Samples of Hudson were available neat or on the rocks.

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In the meantime, one of the larger function rooms was devoted to “State Lines: Portland and Providence Pop-Up.”

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Various bars from Maine and Rhode Island brought some of their favorite cocktails and other products to share in a New England-themed mini bar crawl.

The Schooner Punch, from Central Provisions in Portland, Maine.

The Schooner Punch, from Central Provisions in Portland, Maine.

The Boston Shaker, the Somerville barware boutique shop, also had a pop-up presence at Thirst. I was sure to buy something – and if you understand the significance of this picture, then be jealous. Be very jealous.

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On Sunday, things got started with a “Bloody “Bar” sponsored by Absolut, with plenty of spicy vodka options and garnishes to choose from.

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Later that day, Plantation offered a much-needed Daiquiri Time Out.

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And in the function room on Sunday afternoon was the New England Craft Showcase, and it was just incredible to see so many top-notch regional distillers and brewers under one roof. I got to try Grand Ten’s white rum and their Craneberry cordial, which head distiller Spencer McMinn told me differed considerably from the previous batch.

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Boston’s other distillery Bully Boy, was right nearby, offering samples of their expanding line.

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Berkshire Mountain Distillers was on hand with spirit and cocktail samples, along with Privateer, Portland’s New England Distilling, Vermont’s Mad River Distillers, and so many more that I can’t even begin to include here.

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But hopefully they’ll all be part of Thirst next year, too. I’d give anything to see a panel hosted by a few local distillers, discussing their experiences in the increasingly popular craft spirit movement.

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And the very fact that we can look forward to next year is significant in itself. Thirst Boston is a fairly small show compared to some of the other cocktail events in the country, like Tales of the Cocktail.

But like the industry itself, it’s only getting bigger.

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

One for the Road – The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

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It’s ironic that a liquor declared by Congress to be “America’s native spirit” has such a distinctly European moniker. In fact, even after two centuries, there remains debate and confusion as to how bourbon earned a name so closely associated with a French royal family. It’s an argument best left to the historians, and not worth getting into here. But even if there are conflicting stories about the origin of the whiskey’s name, there is no doubt about which U.S. state can rightfully claim bourbon as its own.

Kentucky is universally recognized as the birthplace of bourbon. Distillation of this amber-hued, corn-based liquor dates back to the 1700s, when Kentucky was still a district of Virginia. By the 19th century, there were some 2,000 whiskey distilleries operating in the commonwealth, though most of them were on farms. The bourbon they produced was central to the local economy; in addition to being sold to taverns, bourbon was used for bartering when money wasn’t an option (it’s a shame this system isn’t still in place; I would gladly exchange goods and services for whiskey).

And just as wine regions lend distinct characteristics to the grapes grown in their soil, bourbon owes many of its unique qualities to Kentucky’s geography – in particular, the Bluegrass State’s climate and limestone water, which is rich in minerals and free of iron.

Today there are 14 distilleries operating in Kentucky, and together they produce 95% of the world’s bourbon supply. In fact, there are more barrels of bourbon aging in the state than there are people living there – 5 million barrels to 4.3 million people. You can even throw in horses (242,000), and bourbon still dominates.

In an effort to capitalize on the soaring popularity of bourbon tourism, in 1999 the Kentucky Distillers’ Association organized the Bourbon Trail, a coordinated effort to guide bourbon lovers through tours and tastings at eight participating distilleries. I was recently in Kentucky, and while traversing the Bourbon Trail wasn’t the purpose of my trip, I did manage to make a couple of stops along this legendary path. And what better place to start than with the oldest distillery in bourbon country.

Woodford Reserve

The drive to the Woodford Reserve distillery looks like something out of a Kentucky tourism brochure – rolling meadows and green pastures, narrow lanes marked with wooden signs, and so many horses grazing in the fields that eventually you don’t feel compelled to exclaim “Look! Horses!” to everyone in the car.

The distillery on Woodford Reserve’s Versailles property is the oldest in the state and is designated as a national historic landmark. Although it was built in 1838, it hasn’t been in continuous operation all that time (thanks again, Prohibition) and has changed hands on multiple occasions. And while whiskey was distilled on the site as early as 1780, the small-batch bourbon we’ve come to know and love as Woodford Reserve first appeared in 1996.

The contemporary distillery stays true to its 19th century roots. The huge visitors’ center, which was renovated and reopened this past April, offers breathtaking views of the verdant Kentucky countryside.

It’s easy to imagine sipping a mint julep on a hot, summer afternoon on the building’s long, wraparound porch.

Inside, the visitors’ center boasts plenty of modern amenities, including a gas fireplace, comfortable couches, leather chairs, and a tasting room, gift shop, and dining area.

But the space maintains a rustic, old South atmosphere, with exposed beams and rafters, tables built with reclaimed wood from a barn on the property, and a collection of faded pictures of the distillery through the years.

This is where daily distillery tours begin, and after some preliminaries, you board a bus for a short ride down to a stone building that houses fermenters and stills. The rich, sweet aroma of fermenting whiskey greets you as soon as you step inside the warm distillation room. The 7,500-gallon fermenters, which look enormous but are actually among the smallest in the industry, hold a bubbling yellow liquid that at this point in the process doesn’t look or smell particularly appealing.

But the journey for that yellow stuff has only begun. The fermented mash gets transferred to the first of three massive copper stills, acquired from Scotland. Woodford Reserve is the only distillery to triple-distill its bourbon in copper pot stills.

After a trip through the stills, the whiskey gets barreled. And this is where things get serious, because there are strict guidelines that must be adhered to if a whiskey is to be called bourbon.

Bourbon must be aged for at least two years in new, white oak barrels that are toasted and charred. Woodford Reserve ages its bourbon for an average of seven years, during which time the whiskey takes on its distinct color and flavor by expanding into the wood during warmer temperatures and contracting during cooler ones.

The barrels weigh 100 pounds when they’re empty and 500 pounds when full, which would seem to make moving them something of a challenge. But distillery staff make use of an antiquated yet effective solution – the barrel run. This set of tracks, installed in 1934, is used to transport bourbon barrels among various buildings on the distillery grounds. No trucks or fuel needed – just gravity.

And what becomes of those barrels after their one-time use? Woodford Reserve sends them to other distilleries for whiskey aging, including Scotland, where some are used in scotch production.

After a visit to the bottling room, the tour returns to the visitors’ center for a tasting.

Woodford Reserve currently offers two products – Distiller’s Select and Double Oaked. The Distiller’s Select, which is the company’s flagship bourbon, has been lavished with numerous quality awards and is even the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby. It’s a smooth, complex bourbon with a rich aroma and notes of oak, vanilla, toffee, and a variety of spices. Pairing it with food expands the flavor spectrum; after a bite of chocolate provided with our tasting, the bourbon took on a hotter, spicier flavor.

The Double Oaked bourbon debuted in 2012, and its name derives from the unusual barreling process. It’s the same bourbon as the Distiller’s Select, but after maturing in an oak barrel for seven years, it’s aged for an additional year in a second barrel, which has been toasted for longer than usual and flash-charred. As our guide succinctly noted, it was a way to “change the flavor without changing the recipe.” The result is an even more complex flavor profile, with deeper notes of vanilla, cocoa, caramel, and fruits and spices.

And while Woodford Reserve is justifiably strict about their bourbon recipe, they’re not opposed to further experimentation – they’ve been aging a rye whiskey that will be available next year.

That might border on outlandish for a traditional Kentucky bourbon distillery, but assuming their devotion to craft is similar to that of their bourbon, Woodford Reserve Rye will represent a welcome expansion to the distillery’s product line.

Address: 7855 McCracken Pike, Versailles, Kentucky

Website: http://www.woodfordreserve.com/

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Town Branch

The Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company differs from Woodford Reserve in almost every respect. Its Lexington-based facility is more urban and industrial than Woodford’s lush environs. As a much younger distillery, Town Branch’s spirits haven’t had the luxury of a lengthy aging process. Nor does Town Branch possess the aura of tradition and timelessness enjoyed by its more established peer. But what it lacks in longevity and name recognition, the distillery makes up for in passion and exuberance.

Named for the body of water that runs under the city, Town Branch is the first distillery to be built in Lexington in more than a century. And while the distillery only opened its doors in 2012, it did so as an extension of a celebrated local institution – the Alltech brewery, which had taken over the Lexington Brewing Company after it closed in 1999. That’s another way Town Branch differs from Woodford Reserve, not to mention most distilleries in the world – it’s a “brewdistillery,” making both beer and whiskey on the same site.

The brewery offers a line of five beers, along with some rotating seasonal options. The inaugural brew, Kentucky Ale, blends an Irish red ale with an English pale ale for a smooth but fairly unremarkable beer.

Unless you’ve been to Kentucky, you’ve probably never encountered it. But in 2011, Alltech founder and head brewdistiller Dr. Pearse Lyons had the enterprising idea of aging Kentucky Ale in used bourbon barrels; you may be familiar with the results of that experiment.

After maturing for six weeks in the barrels – at least some of which are obtained from Woodford Reserve – Kentucky Ale takes on the rich essence of bourbon, with prominent notes of oak and vanilla.

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale was an overnight sensation locally, and before long, its success led to national distribution. It also inspired Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout, made with dark-roasted malts and Haitian coffee.

Our brewery guide suggested combining the Bourbon Barrel Ale and the stout for what’s known as a “Double Barrel,” a complex, potent blend of oak, coffee, and vanilla flavors.

After a tour of the brewing facility and a couple of beer samples, the tour moves on to the distillery. Pipes running overhead between the two buildings send yeast from the brewery to the distillery for use in the whiskey mash.

The distilling operation is smaller in scope than the one at Woodford Reserve, but the setup is essentially the same. Copper pot stills from Scotland? Check.

Wooden fermenters? Check. Bubbling yellow goop that gives off a sickly sweet odor? Check.

Despite being such a young distillery, Town Branch has a relatively diverse product line.

The golden-hued bourbon has notes of oak, banana, and butterscotch. It’s not quite as smooth as other bourbons, which I might have guessed as soon as our tour guide noted it was best enjoyed with ice or water. Not bad at all, but a longer aging process might add a little depth and complexity.

Proving that there’s room for other types of whiskey in the land of bourbon, Town Branch unveiled a rye whiskey earlier this year. It’s spicy and peppery, as a good rye should be, and noticeably drier than bourbon.

But the real standout at Town Branch is not a bourbon or rye but a single malt whiskey. The Pearse Lyons Reserve brings a bit of the founder’s Irish heritage to the heart of bourbon country. The aroma is sweet and mellow, though the first sip has some bite to it. But that gives way to a smooth texture and a flavor profile that reveals notes of oak, molasses, brown sugar, and vanilla.

Now if rye and malt whiskey are considered foreigners in these parts, then Town Branch’s Bluegrass Sundown must seem like an alien. It sure looks unusual, with its dark, oddly shaped bottle.

Inside is a bourbon liqueur infused with dark-roasted coffee, sugar, and vanilla. It’s a rich, velvety liqueur that seems like a marriage of Kahlua and Bailey’s. You can drink it straight, but the recommended way to enjoy the Bluegrass Sundown is by pouring it into a glass, adding boiling water, and topping it with a layer of heavy cream. The result looks a bit like a mini Guinness and tastes like a coffee cocktail.

This sweet concoction would be perfect for a cold New England night; but even on a hot afternoon in Kentucky, it sure hits the spot.

Address: 401 Cross Street, Lexington, Kentucky

Website:http://www.kentuckyale.com/

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Having just a few days to spend in Kentucky, I only made it to two stops along the Bourbon Trail. I figured that would be enough; after all, how many stills and fermenters does one really need to see?

But I was surprised by the different personalities of each distillery. Woodford Reserve basks in the history and tradition of its celebrated distillery, and is justifiably proud of its exceptional, award-winning bourbon. The tour is polished, professional, and highly interesting, though at times it feels a little too rehearsed.

Town Branch has a ways to go before it earns the respect and accolades that an established distillery like Woodford Reserve enjoys, but the staff’s enthusiasm is infectious. The tour is a little more casual and off the cuff, and between the beer and the spirits, there’s a broader offering of products to sample.

It makes me wonder about the other outposts along the Bourbon Trail, and I can see why the tour has attracted millions of visitors since it began. Bourbon production may not vary much from distillery to distillery, but each company has its own unique blend of history, culture, and character. And the stories they tell can be as rich and complex as the spirits they produce.

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

Good Things Come in Small Batches: A Tour of GrandTen Distilling

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For all the fascinating topics that the brand ambassador of a microdistillery could expound upon – the distillation process, the challenges of running a small business, the snazzy vintage pickup truck used to make liquor deliveries – it’s noteworthy how much time GrandTen Distilling’s Lonnie Newburn spends talking about labels.

No, I don’t mean “The GrandTen Label,” as in the line of craft spirits that have won favor among local mixologists and praise from national media. I mean the actual, physical labels on the bottles.

Lonnie points out the text and numbering on each label, signifying batch and bottle numbers. He comments on the style, shape, and length of the labels, even the type of paper used. He hints at images hidden among the floral designs of GrandTen’s line of cordials.

More than anything, Lonnie groans whenever he notices a label that’s askew, however imperceptible it may be to the untrained eye. “That label’s crooked because of me,” he mutters.

To the average person taking a tour of GrandTen’s South Boston facility, label design and placement might not be the most exhilarating subject of the day. But when you’re one of four individuals responsible for ushering a completely handmade spirit from still to bottle to shelf, details like that are important.

And if they obsess that much about the adhesive affixed to the bottle, you can imagine how much care goes into the product behind it.

Birth of a Boston Distillery

One of only two distilleries in the city of Boston, GrandTen Distilling has its roots in a business plan that Matthew Nuernberger, the distillery’s co-owner and president, wrote for his MBA program at Babson College. Upon graduating, he teamed up with his cousin, fellow co-owner and head distiller Spencer McMinn, who had earned a PhD in chemistry from the University of Virginia.

Armed with business savvy and scientific know-how, they acquired space in Southie in 2010 and set about creating small-batch spirits for a savvy drinking public with a growing appreciation for craft cocktails and quality ingredients.

After clearing the innumerable regulatory and licensing hurdles that all would-be distillers must face if they want their product to be considered something other than moonshine in the eyes of the law, in April 2012 the cousins finally unveiled their first spirit – an American gin.

Less than three years later, GrandTen has emerged as one of the most respected regional players in a fast-growing craft spirit movement.

They’re certainly one of the most visible. It’s not difficult to spot GrandTen doing business around town, considering their distinctive mode of transportation – a 1966 Ford F-100 pickup truck, custom-painted “Steve McQueen Green” and sporting the GTD logo.

Finding the spirits isn’t hard, either. Today there are nine original GrandTen products, which appear on the shelves of more than 300 Massachusetts bars, restaurants, and liquor stores. Distribution has expanded to Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania (and, oddly enough, Washington state), and when I toured the distillery a few weeks ago, they were readying their first international shipment.

Not bad for a company that only recently hired its fourth full-time employee.

Historic Location

While GrandTen is still a young company, the nondescript Andrew Square facility out of which it operates has deep local roots and a colorful history. It was built as an iron foundry in the early 19th century by renowned metallurgist Cyrus Alger. The foundry supplied munitions to the U.S. government, including cannon balls used during the War of 1812.

Later, the foundry’s focus shifted from weapons to wire production, and then lived a long life as a series of machine shops, small production companies, and automotive repair facilities.

When GrandTen took over the old foundry, it had fallen into disrepair and was in need of extensive renovation. Remarkably, some of the original structure remains – its rafters and wooden support beams have weathered the passage of time and imbue the space with a sense of tradition and longevity.

But despite the building’s historical aura, the distillery looks pretty much like your average industrial warehouse – plastic buckets and hoses strewn across a concrete floor, tools lying on tables, piles of cardboard boxes and packing materials, brooms leaning against walls.

Meet Adrian

Of course, most warehouses don’t have a 50-gallon copper still in the back. The Adolf-Adrian Brennereianlagen still, which Lonnie affectionately refers to as “Adrian,” is believed to be one of only five of its kind in the United States.

“Adrian is a very unique eau de vie or brandy still,” Lonnie explains. “He was born at the Adolf-Adrian Distillery Manufacturers in Germany. They used to be a copper works, and have been producing handmade copper stills since 1811. They are very low-volume and produce a limited number of stills a year – fewer than 10 – and most stay in Europe.”

With its spherical dome, various portholes, and a tall distillation column that looks like an upraised arm, Adrian vaguely resembles a killer robot from a 1950s sci-fi movie. But Adrian only does good deeds – nearly every day, he’s busy heating, cooling, and infusing the liquids that will become GrandTen’s next batch of spirits, from their flagship gin to more experimental items. Next to Adrian is a 1,000 gallon fermenter, and a storage tank beyond that.

All throughout the distilling area is evidence of the copper still’s output – oak barrels that have recently been hammered shut, pallets of whiskey ready to be shipped, bottles of gin awaiting labels.

The sweet aroma of molasses used in GrandTen’s new rum permeates the entire room, and on the floor is a large pile of chipotle peppers that had been infusing a batch of spicy vodka earlier that day. The peppers are locally grown, as are nearly all of the ingredients GTD uses – yeast for the rum comes from the Trillium brewery in Fort Point, and botanicals deployed in the gin are purchased from Christina’s, a spice shop in Cambridge’s Inman Square.

As Lonnie explains, it’s an approach that benefits the spirits as well as the community. “Using local products certainly brings a better flavor to the end spirits, keeps more money in Massachusetts, and ensures freshness,” he says.

The tour moves from the production area to the distillery’s front room, where dozens of spirits are aging in barrels. GrandTen barrel-ages six of its products – a not insignificant investment of time and resources for a small distillery.

Brandy in the Works

Some of those barrels hold GrandTen’s forthcoming tenth product – an apple brandy, which Lonnie calls “a true New England classic.” The brandy will stay in the barrels for at least another year, but judging by Lonnie’s enthusiasm, it will be worth the wait.

“We crushed thousands of pounds of red New England apples, fermented them on the skin, and distilled a truly delicious, creamy, caramel, and effervescent red apple brandy that has been aging for over 2 years now,” he says.

But there’s no need to wait for GrandTen’s other spirits, and after learning how they’re made, it’s time to find out how they taste. Much like the facility as a whole, the tasting area is a functional, bare-bones affair.

There’s a roughly cut concrete bar, behind which are shelves lined with bottles of GrandTen and a few mixers. Two large wooden tables are fairly recent additions to the tasting room, handmade by the GrandTen crew to get visitors more involved in the tasting process.

Visitors should get comfortable, too, because there’s plenty to sample.

Wire Works Gin

The tasting begins with Wire Works American Gin, the name of which is a nod to the foundry’s previous life as a wire works. American gins tend to be less strict than traditional London dry gins in their use of botanicals. While all gins must use juniper, which contributes the spirit’s distinctive pine flavor, Wire Works dials back that herbal pungency in its botanical blend.

The result is a clean, balanced, highly drinkable gin, with notes of white pepper, citrus, and Angelica root. The botanical recipe is secret, of course, but Lonnie reveals one of the more unusual ingredients – cranberries, which don’t impart flavor but add acidity and contribute to mouthfeel.

Wire Works Special Reserve

The Wire Works Special Reserve that Lonnie opens next was bottled that very day. It’s the exact same gin as the Wire Works, except it spends a year aging in American oak bourbon barrels. The barrel aging accounts for the gin’s darker complexion and, more importantly, its whiskey-like complexity. It’s a warmer spirit with a bit of spice in the nose and soft notes of vanilla at the end.

The Special Reserve is similar to an “Old Tom” style of gin, so it works well in a Martinez, but can just as easily substitute for whiskey in cocktails.

South Boston Irish Whiskey

Speaking of whiskey, the South Boston Irish Whiskey is the only GrandTen product that isn’t made entirely on the premises. The whiskey is fermented in Ireland and shipped to the South Boston distillery, where it’s blended, aged in bourbon barrels, and bottled.

The whiskey arrives from the Emerald Isle in a fairly raw state, often with pieces of wood and charred oak floating in it. The wood chunks get strained out, of course, but the oaky essence remains, combining with sweet cinnamon spice and notes of banana.

Medford Rum

Medford Rum may be GrandTen’s newest offering, but it’s been hanging around the distillery longer than any other spirit. Aged for two years in charred American oak barrels, the Medford Rum is what Lonnie calls an “old, tavern-style rum.” It hearkens back to the colonial era, when Massachusetts was home to upwards of 30 rum distilleries.

Rums made in Medford were especially renowned for their superior quality, and the term “Medford rum” became a general way to refer to any dark, full-flavored rum.

The last of those classic rum distilleries closed before Prohibition, but GrandTen picks up the trail with this updated version. Made with blackstrap molasses, the dark, thick liquid that remains after sugar has been boiled out of raw cane syrup, it’s noticeably less sweet than typical rums. With clear notes of butterscotch on the nose and rich caramel flavors, this is a smooth, complex rum that recalls the flavor of a Werther’s Original candy.

Without exaggeration, this is unlike any rum I’ve ever tried, a fact Lonnie attributes to the choice of local products. “Trillium provides us with a blend of New England yeasts that give the rum a regional character that simply cannot be reproduced with commercially available yeast strains,” he says.

Cordials

The rum seems like a tough act to follow, and I’m not sure what to expect as we move into GrandTen’s line of cordials. Cloying sweetness? Herbal intensity? Names like “Amandine” and “Angelica” offer scant clues about the character of the liqueurs, and the label on one bottle appears to be marred by an inexcusable typo.

Amandine

But one sip of the Amandine immediately alleviates my concern. This barrel-aged almond liqueur recently drew praise from the Wall Street Journal, which lauded GrandTen’s “less-is-more approach to Amaretto.” With a pure, full-flavored almond character and a unique mouthfeel, the Amandine recalls the softness and warmth of a homemade almond biscuit.

Angelica

The Angelica, meanwhile, utterly defies categorization. Described as a “botanical liqueur,” the name derives from the spirit’s primary ingredient – Angelica root, a tan-colored herb with a sweet, earthy flavor and hints of anise.

The eponymous herb is used to great effect in the cordial, combining with notes of cinnamon, clove, and juniper for an entirely unique liqueur. It would be like St. Germain and chartreuse having a kid; the Angelica lacks the brightness of St. Germain and the bitterness of chartreuse, but maintains an aromatic, floral essence and a fragrant bouquet of spices.

Craneberry

All throughout the tasting, I kept glancing at the third cordial – Craneberry – and wondered how a distillery that consistently demonstrates such painstaking attention to detail could have flubbed the spelling of “cranberry” and allowed the error to remain on the label.

But the extra vowel isn’t an oversight – “craneberry” is the word that early Massachusetts settlers used to refer to the cranberry flower, which resembles a crane. Here it’s a rum-based liquor infused with Cape Cod cranberries and aged with citrus in cabernet barrels. Like the Amandine and Angelica, the Craneberry is full-flavored but not overly sweet. A seasonal release, this is a holiday cocktail waiting to happen.

Fire Puncher Vodka

The tasting closes with one of GrandTen’s standard offerings – and another history lesson. Fire Puncher vodka was the distillery’s second product, and with its spicy bite, represents a thumbing of the nose at the preponderance of soft, fruity vodkas on the market. Each batch is distilled with 10 pounds of those fresh chipotle peppers, and Lonnie again credits the local ingredients with imparting such a unique flavor to the spirit.

“The chipotle peppers from Bars Farm [in Deerfield] are of a much higher quality,” he says. “Most chipotle peppers are made from a lower-grade jalapeno because they are going to be smoked; however, our chipotles are made from superior local jalapenos.”

And while the label warns that the spirit is “not for the faint of heart,” the final product is much more about flavor than heat. The vodka has a big, pure pepper essence, and the heat stays on your lips instead of setting your esophagus aflame. Hickory smoke, which is bubbled through the vodka before bottling, rounds out the flavor and makes for a smooth, warm spirit that seems destined for a bloody mary.

The name “Fire Puncher” is inspired by an incident from the distillery’s illustrious past. A fire broke out in the foundry one night in January 1887, and before the fire department could arrive, a concerned chap by the name of Tommy Maguire took it upon himself to climb up to the roof and fight the blaze – with his fists. His efforts, however well intentioned, earned him a ride in the paddy wagon.

Sadly missing from our tasting is Fire Puncher Black, a variation of the chipotle vodka made in collaboration with Taza Chocolate of Somerville. The combination of dark chocolate and spicy pepper sounds divine, but the stores are depleted (don't fret – it'll be back). And while it was only intended to be a limited-edition product, its absence highlights one of the challenges inherent in small-batch distilling – when a spirit runs out, sometimes it’s really, truly gone.

Life in a Small Distillery

Such are the facts of life for a distillery of this size and tenure. Capacity limitations and the inflexibility of the aging process directly influence GrandTen’s product line, even more than they would for a larger, older outfit. Regardless of the volume of spirit GrandTen can produce, there’s only so much space to store it.

And products that require barrel aging can’t be hurried along. If GrandTen ever has designs on releasing an original, 12-year-old whiskey, they need to get the spirit in barrels spirit today if they want it on shelves by 2026. Even now, an unexpected spike in demand can disrupt production schedules or, in the case of the barrel-aged spirits, lead to a gap in availability.

But while GrandTen’s output is restricted by time and infrastructure, their freedom to experiment with handpicked ingredients and design original, innovative recipes is limited only by their collective imagination.

Unlike industry titans, GrandTen isn’t tethered to age-old recipes or methods. Someone operating a still at Beefeater doesn’t have license to throw a handful of cranberries into the botanical mix to see how it might alter the gin’s flavor. But at a microdistillery, an idea like that has the potential to become a signature product.

GrandTen’s facility might look a bit like a garage, but it functions more like a workshop. It’s a creative environment in which energy and ingenuity thrive, risks can pay off, and even missteps have value. The result of that combination of artistry and grunt work is a line of unique, homegrown spirits for a city that’s come to appreciate quality and recognize nuance in its cocktails.

Every night we crowd into places like Backbar and Wink & Nod and wait for original, well-executed drinks made with the best ingredients by the most talented mixologists. It follows that we should seek out the same passion, patience, and devotion to craft in our spirits.

And if you find those qualities in a bottle with a crooked label, well…just consider it a personal touch.

Address: 383 Dorchester Avenue, Boston

Website: http://www.grandten.com/

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

Smoky Cocktails With The Black Grouse

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Scotch has never been the most approachable of liquors. Like all whiskies, it’s an acquired taste; and while it’s certainly one worth acquiring, there are rules to heed before you even think about pouring yourself a glass. Some varieties are best enjoyed on the rocks; others must be consumed neat. A little water might open up the flavors of certain scotches – and completely ruin others. Ultimately it’s all a matter of personal preference, but scotch connoisseurs tend to be passionate – and vocal – about their customs. So if the simple act of dropping an ice cube into a glass of scotch can provoke outrage, mixing scotch into a cocktail must be on par with a capital offense, right?

Not according to the good folks at The Famous Grouse. And with more than a century’s worth of distilling experience, they’re free to keep their own counsel on the matter.

The Famous Grouse has been making blended whisky in Scotland since 1897. The smoothness, drinkability, and affordability of its flagship product have made The Famous Grouse the best-selling scotch in the land of kilts and bagpipes. But a newer addition to the Grouse’s line has rightfully earned its share of the spotlight.

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The Black Grouse differs from the original blend in that it’s made with peat, which gives many scotches their signature smoky character. It’s a smooth, aromatic scotch with a long, oaky finish. The Black Grouse is exquisite on its own, and its makers do recommend consuming it neat. But they’re not terribly preachy about the best way to enjoy their scotch, even going so far as to offer cocktail recipes on their website. Of course, you wouldn’t expect pretension from a brand that named itself after a Scottish game bird similar in appearance to a chicken.

That said, the Black Grouse flew into Boston this week and teamed up with mixologists at two bars to see how its smoky scotch fared in a range of cocktails. I was fortunate to be part of a small group that took part in a scotch-themed mini bar crawl that was as enlightening as it was intoxicating.

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The dark, elegant confines of the backroom bar at Carrie Nation provided an appropriately dignified atmosphere for the first two cocktails of the evening. Bartender Brian Kline explained that his first concoction, the Sweet Release, was modeled after a 1930s-era cocktail called the Remember the Maine. Combining Black Grouse, sweet vermouth, Luxardo cherry juice, Angostura bitters, and an absinthe rinse, the Sweet Release was strong, smoky, and tart. Brian noted that the cherry juice served to bring out the smokiness of the scotch, while the absinthe gave the drink a pleasantly bitter finish.

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“Part of what I love about this job is coming up with drinks with ingredients that people think they don’t like,” Brian said in his introduction to the evening’s second cocktail, the Ginger Kiss. "You'll like this," he added. Made with Black Grouse, yellow chartreuse, fresh lemon juice, and ginger liqueur, plenty about this could challenge the palate of a timid drinker. But the Ginger Kiss was a vibrant, well-balanced cocktail with a smoky essence and notes of citrus. The distinctive flavor of ginger permeated the drink without overpowering it, and the chartreuse was used sparingly.

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Thankfully there was some food, too, which kept us all upright while we sipped our potent libations. Hearty pulled pork sliders were a good match for the smoky notes of the Sweet Release.

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Peanut Thai chicken skewers were highly addictive and paired well with the sweetness of the Ginger Kiss.

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From there we headed to the cave-like, downstairs bar at Stoddard’s, where mixologist Tony Iamunno offered his take on how to employ scotch in a cocktail.

First up was Someone Else’s Girl, the name of which, Tony wistfully noted, was autobiographical. This decadent drink was a mix of Black Grouse, egg white, Crème Yvette, raspberry syrup, lemon juice, and Angostura bitters. Garnished with raspberries, this cocktail was nothing short of luxurious. The egg white gave it a creamy texture, while the Crème Yvette, a fruity, violet liqueur that reemerged in 2009 after a 40-year hiatus, provided a well-rounded sweetness. Using a smoky scotch like Black Grouse in such a sweet, velvety drink was clever and unexpected.

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Coming on the heels of that soft, creamy cocktail, the final drink of the night was like a bacchanal of bitterness. The Smoky Glasgow combined Black Grouse, absinthe, and dry vermouth in a well-conceived but intense cocktail. This was a serious drinker’s drink, with a prominent licorice flavor from the absinthe and an herbal dryness from the vermouth. Both of the bitter liquors served to enhance the smoky character of the Black Grouse, and an orange peel offered just the slightest hint of citrus. A challenging combination of flavors, but well done.

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All that bitterness was balanced by a plate of Stoddard’s’ chipotle citrus chicken wings, which brought some spice and a little sweetness to the party.

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And as a special treat, we got an order of that timeless staple of French-Canadian cuisine, poutine. These hand-cut fries topped with melted cheese curds and a delicious duck fat gravy went well with both cocktails. Then again, poutine goes well with just about anything.

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As it turns out, scotch goes well with a few things too. While there are, of course, a handful of traditional scotch-based cocktails, they have yet to enjoy a resurgence in popularity; it’s rare that I hear someone order a scotch and soda or a Rob Roy. But the drinks Brian and Tony made for us this week demonstrated an impressive range of styles for scotch drinks, from classic to indulgent to vigorously bitter.

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For those of us who typically wouldn’t pair scotch with anything other than a quality cigar, the experience illustrated the benefits of experimenting with this most distinguished of liquors. Granted, making a whisky sour with an 18-year-old Macallan would be considered an alcoholic atrocity, but using a more versatile scotch like The Black Grouse in a high-end cocktail is unlikely to invite scorn. A glass of scotch served neat may forever be the pinnacle of respectability in the world of booze, but even the most stubborn whisky drinkers know when to bend the rules.

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

Hops N Scotch

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Hops N Scotch – the name is at once playful and pragmatic. Despite the nod to a children’s playground game, the emphasis at this Coolidge Corner bar is on a decidedly more mature diversion – specifically, 40 draft beers and 100+ varieties of Scotch, whiskey, and bourbon.

Hops N Scotch opened last summer in the space vacated by Finale. Darren Tow and David Ng, owners of the adjacent Coolidge Corner Wine & Spirits, converted the former desserterie into a two-floor beer and whiskey bar with a menu featuring Southern-style comfort food.

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As is befitting for a bar that holds beer and Scotch in equal reverence, the décor at Hops N Scotch is a blend of upscale sophistication and laid-back coziness.The gold-painted walls, black ceiling, and track lighting above the bar give it a modern look, while exposed beams, hardwood flooring, and a couple of TVs keep the atmosphere fairly casual. Large windows look out onto the street, and there are a handful of tables downstairs for dining.

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But the highlight is the long, angular bar, with a dark wooden top, 15 comfortable leather chairs, and eye-pleasing views of the beer taps and the impressive whiskey selection.

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My first visit to Hops N Scotch came about a month ago, with Melissa and our friends Dave and Christine. I arrived at about 5:15 on a Friday and found the bar nearly full, though it wouldn’t get really crowded for another 45 minutes or so. Torn between starting with beer or whiskey, I opted for a compromise – the bar’s namesake cocktail, the Hops N Scotch.

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A mix of Dewar’s whisky, IPA, grapefruit juice, ginger, and bitters, this is the kind of drink that’ll wake you up if you need a boost. It was bitter at first but mellowed out midway through.

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As I sipped it, a couple of other customers and I watched with rapt attention as the bartender/manager, Adrienne, pulled out an ice ball machine and put on ice-ball-making clinic. We were transfixed as she put large blocks of ice into the machine and then, with a wave of her hand and a few words uttered in a strange but hauntingly beautiful language, extracted a perfect sphere of frozen water. This led to an engaging discussion about various methods of making crystal clear ice balls (and cubes). OK, I guess you had to be there.

Anyway, Melissa arrived next and ordered a Mint Julep, which was appropriate given that the Kentucky Derby was the following day. No, it didn’t come in the iconic pewter cup, but it was loaded with ice, crushed by ice priestess Adrienne herself. It was refreshing, with prominent flavors of bitters and mint.

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Wanting a sweet contrast to the biting tones of my first drink, my next choice was one I don’t ordinarily see outside of Asian restaurants – a Mai Tai. “That’s one of our favorites,” Adrienne told me, explaining that they’d added it to their repertoire about a month ago, when they changed the cocktail menu and needed a rum drink.

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Tropical and not overly sweet, this was an exceptional Mai Tai. What really set it apart was orgeat, an almond syrup used in the original Mai Tai recipe but seldom employed today.

Melissa and I ordered up a couple of appetizers while we waited for Christine and Dave, beginning with fried pickles. As opposed to the typical sliced rounds, they came in the form of spears, kind of like fries. Mel boldly declared them to be the best ever.

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To that we added some delicious crab cake sliders, an order endorsed by bartender Adrienne. Her opinion carries some weight here, since she hails from the Chesapeake Bay region and insists on Hops N Scotch getting “the good stuff” when ordering their lump crab. Served with a spicy remoulade sauce, these bad boys made for a satisfying pre-dinner treat.

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With that it was time to begin the hops portion of the evening. Like any bar that takes its beer seriously and expects that you do the same, Hops N Scotch offers a few well-crafted beer flights. This is especially helpful when you’re staring down 40 draft options (to say nothing of the additional 40 or so in bottles) and feeling indecisive. There are several prearranged flight options, delineated by theme. We settled on the “Wicked Dahk” flight – Unita Baba (a black lager), Left Hand Milk Stout, Mayflower Porter, and Lost Abbey Serpent’s Stout.

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This was a good mix of dark beers – the sour essence of the black lager, the creamy milk stout, the rich porter, and the thick, malty Serpent’s Stout.

Dave and Christine arrived shortly thereafter, and we were shown to a table upstairs. The second floor at Hops N Scotch is a good-size dining room with 16 to 18 tables, surrounded by big windows offering a lovely view of the city through the trees.

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Dave, a whiskey connoisseur with an enviable personal collection at home, ordered the first Scotch of the evening – an Auchentoshan 12-year, a single malt from the Scottish Lowlands. He said it had a subtle, delicate flavor, lighter and fruitier than most single malts.

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Christine opted for the Bitter End, a mix of bourbon, Campari, bitters, and ginger beer. I thought the Campari and ginger beer would make for an intense flavor combination, but the drink was very well blended.

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Melissa ordered that night’s drink special, the Boston Strong. The proceeds of this tangy blueberry lemonade went to the One Fund, benefiting victims of the marathon bombing; its blue and yellow hues were meant to echo the familiar colors of the Boston Marathon. And who doesn’t like drinking for a good cause?

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Dinner began with a few appetizers. First up were light and savory Caprese skewers, with mozzarella, grape tomato, basil, and a balsamic reduction.

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Next was the house-made beer bread – griddled bread made with Allagash White and served with a zesty pimento cheese.

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Hops N Scotch’s dinner menu is stocked with comfort food, highlighted by some Southern classics like a catfish po’boy and shrimp etouffee. We started with an order of mac & cheese for the table. It was creamy and rich, with a little crispiness thanks to the breadcrumb topping.

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Dave ordered the shroom burger, topped with sautéed Miatake mushrooms.

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Christine got the grilled chicken club sandwich, topped with bacon and a tasty rosemary mayo.

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While Dave and Christine both liked their sandwiches, it was the accompanying French fries that seemed to steal the show. “Any French fry that still has the skin on it is f*cking awesome,” Dave sagely observed. So say we all.

Melissa got the roasted beet salad; given my loathing of beets, I will say no more about this.

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The catfish po’boy had my name written all over it, but since I’d been snacking all night, I continued with a couple of small plates. First up was an item I’d picked out long before I even walked in that night – Scotch eggs.

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I’ve been in love with these heavenly things since I first tried them at the Haven, and Hops N Scotch’s “Southern” version did not disappoint. A soft-boiled egg encased in house-made chorizo, battered and fried, and served with a bourbon mustard dipping sauce…phenomenal.

Equally irresistible were the pecan-stuffed dates wrapped with bacon. I had a similar version of these last year at Orinoco. Already packed with flavor, a drizzle of maple syrup put them over the top.

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For dessert, Melissa and Christine split a chocolate chip brownie sundae. Topped with fresh strawberries and butterscotch, with vanilla ice cream oozing down the sides, Christine pronounced it “top of the line.”

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The brownie looked pretty decadent, but Dave and I had other plans – a whiskey flight. As with the beer flights, Hops N Scotch offers a variety of whiskey flights. Some are devoted to single malts, others to blends; I think they shuffle the arrangements periodically. Dave and I split the Global Passion Whiskey Flight, so called because it featured selections from around the globe. Our selections were Hibiki, a 12-year blend from Japan; Reisetbauer, a single malt from Austria; Virginia Highland Single Malt (USA! USA!); and Amrut Fusion, an Indian single malt.

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The samples made their way around the table, and the consensus was that the Virginia whiskey was the best. Dave thought the Indian one tasted like feet. Maybe that’s what prompted him to close things out with he affectionately referred to as “old reliable” – Johnny Walker Black, on the rocks. Even among such an expansive selection, sometimes nothing beats a classic.

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While Dave closed out his night with Scotch, I figured I’d go back to hops.

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But when my Troegs Sunshine Pils arrived, the waitress brought with it a most intriguing message – my beer had been paid for by an anonymous friend of BBH. I scanned the restaurant for a familiar face or a guilty look, but came up empty. With a little sleuthing, I eventually narrowed my list of suspects to one – Liv, of Liv.Love.Blog. She won’t own up to it (and I’m not even sure her name is Liv, which should tell you something about my sleuthing skills). But I was very thankful, and that was a pretty cool way to end the night.

Last Call

There are plenty of bars with impressive selections of both beer and whiskey. Five Horses comes to mind. Often, though, the emphasis is on the beer, and the whiskey seems to be there for a small subset of discerning customers. Hops N Scotch does a good job of putting both on an equal footing. The result is a casual atmosphere for drinkers with sophisticated taste – or for those who are looking to broaden their palate. The well-chosen beer and whiskey flights give novices a chance to become acquainted with different styles while offering microbrew or Scotch lovers the chance to compare.

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Prices are pretty standard. Our cocktails were all $10, most beers were around $6. The “Snacks” and “Small Plates,” which I thought offered the most variety of the menu, ranged from $6 for our beer bread to $14 for the crab cake sliders. The sandwiches were $12 to $13.

Whether you’re there for beer, whiskey, or both, it’s always a pleasure when the person pouring your drink is friendly and able to tell you something about what you’re drinking. Whether the subject was the proper composition of a Mai Tai or the finer points of ice making, Adrienne was chatty and offered good suggestions all evening. Similarly, I stopped in on a Sunday afternoon to get a few more pictures, and the bartender, Matt, was quick to tell me about a few beers they’d just tapped. At his recommendation, I ordered a Jack’s Abby Smoked Maple Lager, made with maple syrup from Vermont. Good stuff, and not nearly as sweet as you’d expect, given that it’s made with real maple syrup.

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That’s two visits and two solid experiences at the bar. And that’s pretty important – because you can have all the beers and whiskies in the world, but it’s the people behind the bar who tend to make it a good or bad place to drink at.

Address: 1306 Beacon Street, Brookline

Website:http://www.hopsnscotchbar.com/

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

The BBH Book Club

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Are you sitting down? Good. Because I’ve got some bad news. As a result of my procrastinationstunning hangoveranxiety due to persistent rash scheduling restrictions, I’ve had to hold off on publishing my usual Friday post. I realize this is simply devastating for many of you, and it breaks my heart to let you down. Fortunately, all is not lost – today’s would-be post will should be up on Monday. In the meantime, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce a new feature here on Boston BarHopper – the BBH Book Club.

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Don’t let the name fool you. There’s no required reading, and I won’t be organizing discussion groups. It’s not even a club, really. But it will involve books. My thought is that whenever I happen upon a book that has some sort of relevance to my mission – whether it’s about Boston, cocktails, spirits, beer, what have you – I’ll give it a mention here on BBH. And don’t be cowed by the rigidity of that criteria; I encourage you suggest any tomes that might qualify. I figure this will be an occasional thing, something I do once every couple of months (I’m a slow reader, don’t judge).

Anyway, just such a scenario presented itself about a week ago, when I got an email from a gentleman named David Kosmider, founder of 27Press.com, which recently published a book on a topic that’s dear to me – Irish whiskey.

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7 Lessons on Irish Whiskey: An Introduction to Drinking and Enjoying the Whiskeys of Ireland is an informative guide that outlines the fundamentals of what can be a daunting subject. Whiskey itself is an acquired taste, and for the uninitiated, the path to enjoying it is cluttered with questions: Should I drink it with ice? Should I add water to bring out the aroma, or is that messing with the flavor? Which whiskeys should be enjoyed on their own, and which are best suited for mixing in cocktails?

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No matter how long you’ve been enjoying whiskey, there was a time when you didn’t know the answers to those questions. That’s why it’s helpful to have a resource like this at your fingertips. And although 7 Lessons is aimed primarily at whiskey novices, it addresses topics that might be of interest to a more experienced drinker. Maybe you don’t need to brush up on terms like “neat” and “rocks,” but perhaps you’re gaining an appreciation for single malts over blends, or learning to distinguish between Irish whiskey and Scotch. Having a guidebook with you on such an auspicious journey never hurts. Plus, when you find yourself at a fancy bar, staring at whiskeys ranging from $20 to $75 a glass, you can never be too informed.

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In addition to accessible discussions about the flavor profiles of various Irish whiskeys, the book explores the spirit’s long history, describes the events that nearly brought Irish whiskey production to a standstill in the early 20th century, and acquaints you with Ireland’s few remaining distilleries. There are even recommendations for making Irish whiskey cocktails, along with helpful advice on why you should think twice before ordering an Irish Car Bomb here in Boston. And while the focus is on Irish whiskey, there’s plenty of useful and interesting stuff on the spirit in general, including an overview of the distillation process and the characteristics of non-Irish varieties.

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None of these topics are covered exhaustively, but that’s very much by design. "What we're doing with 27Press is working to create really good, short, information-dense, inexpensive beginner's guides on a variety of topics," Kosmider told me (they also have a book on tea). Thus, while learning to appreciate whiskey's subtle charms can be a lifelong endeavor, 7 Lessons is brief and to the point. And unlike a top-shelf whiskey, the book is affordable – you can download it for $0.99 from Amazon (available exclusively for the Kindle). That leaves plenty of money in the jar-o to buy yourself some Jameson, Bushmills, or Tullamore D.E.W. Sláinte!

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The book is 7 Lessons on Irish Whiskey: An Introduction to Drinking and Enjoying the Whiskeys of Ireland. It’s published by 27Press, a new-ish publishing company devoted to sharing their knowledge of food and drink. And if you have a Kindle and 99 cents to burn, you can acquire 7 Lessons at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BOWUBNO .

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