I don't know much about grappa except that it's often rough and tumble, prove your bravery type of shot after dinner. Like so many things, boy am I wrong.
Patrick Gaggiano, colleague, manager and bartender at Trina's Starlite Lounge (protecting myself with an Irish-Italian American) and I sat down with
Francesco Calderaro of Winebow, representing Nardini spirits of Northern Italy. He's from Sicily, by the way, so I got information directly from the source.
First of all, grappa is made from distilling the fermented pomace (skins and seeds left from table wine production), or 'vinaccia' in Italian. The substance is a solid, but spongy and delicate- unlike brandy which is distilled from fermented grape juice. That difference makes it inherently rougher, but also gets closer to the essence of the grapes. Nardini utilizes both pot and continuous stills, a vacuum sealed steam still let's them distill at lower temperatures first, extracting the most possible fragrance and flavor from the pomace.
Bortolo Nardini arrived in Bassano del Grappa in 1779 (about 75km northwest of Verona), traveling from Trentino. The headquarters are located in the original Grapperia on the bridge of the town, operated by the seventh generation of the Nardini family. Focus is, and always has been on quality. Many producers rely on spectacularly ornate glass bottles to sell product- Nardini is about what's inside and prefers classic simple elegance and tradition. Their spirit label even continues to include the old reference to Italian 'water of life' (eau de vie in French)- Aquavite. Certainly grappa did have humble beginnings as a by product of wine making, but if as many producers showed this kind of care it would be discussed in more reverent tones like Cognac.
The Grappa Bianca, is crystal clear, coming directly from the still with no barrel aging, much like a blanco Tequila. Pinot Griggio, Tocai, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are harvested between the Brenta and Piave rivers- premium grapes make a premium spirit. This idea is much like my chef friends who insist on only cooking with a wine they would also like to drink. 50% alcohol is obvious, but there is a generous floral nose from the grapes. Tasting it's more gentle, thanks to quality distillation- lemon, tea, honeyed flavors- an excellent digestif after dinner or mixer in, yes, cocktails. Check out ilovegrappa.com for an extensive history of grappa and some terrific cocktails by the legendary Dale Degroff. Think of using it as an alternative to brandy or pisco in drinks.
The Grappa Riserva has been aged for five years in Slovonian oak, giving it a pale straw/gold coloring and enhancing the honeyed character with vanilla. It seems rounder, softer and more delicate; less of a shot, more of a sip in a snifter. Think Madonna's 'Lucky Star' for the Bianca, 'Like a Prayer' for the Riserva. Yup, I said it.
Grappa alla Ruta is the Bianca that has been infused with Rue grown in the foothills surrounding Lake Garda for a year. The fragrance and flavor is distinctively herbal and I'd imagine it is one of those things you love or hate, not much in between, like Cilantro. I love it by the way. The Ruta would be a great substitute for Chartreuse- think Rye 1.5oz, Nardini Grappa alla Ruta .75oz, and Maraschino Liqueur .5oz, dash of orange bitters (a take on the Green Point cocktail).
Grappa alla Mandorla is also the Bianca, this time with bitter almond essences rounded with distilled cherry juice. It's like brandy meets amaretto- intense, bitter with slight sweetness- delicious! Try this:
Agro di Gaggiano: Nardini Mandorla 1.5oz, lemon juice .5oz, simple syrup .5oz, 1 egg white, topped with orange and Angostura bitters. Dry shake (no ice) the Nardini, simple and egg white vigorously. Add lemon juice, ice and then re-shake. Strain into a coup or wine glass, top with bitters. If you are afraid of the raw egg you can substitute pasteurized egg white which is widely available at grocery stores.
Finally, if you've gotten this far, I have to give a nod to Nardini's Tagliatella. It was created accidentally a century ago when the distillery sold products on tap. As various handles were used, they had a propensity to loosen and drip- waste not, want not- they barreled the drippings. Like the pasta 'Taglia' is a 'cut' or appropriately here a cocktail of all their distillates. It was also what people were drinking to save a little money- I like this idea of a hugely popular cocktail of the people- kind of the original bar mat shooter. Over the years, of course, the technique changed to be an infusion of grappa, cherry juice, orange and other aromatic components. Fruity but very well balanced, I tried it as a sweet vermouth substitute in a Manhattan- the bitter-sweet cherry really stands out- fantastic!
Even better was Francesco's analysis: "it is a holiday in a bottle!"
I know, I know, what gives? Which is which? Now I'm confused, but basically we've got two versions of the same drink- both old fashioned, but one even older than the other.
I think I hear Bill Belichick muttering "it is what it is."
Simply in the drink, we’re talking whiskey (or maybe even brandy), sugar, bitters, lemon peel- that's it. Famed cocktail historian David Wondrich notes that as far back as 1800 it was in vogue, and if one ordered the original “Cock-Tail” it would have been served. But by the 1870s you would have to call it an “Old Fashioned” as it had been around for the better part of the century. In the 1880s, the drink was with bourbon at The Pendenis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. After repeal, the drink began to change by adding muddled fruit (orange and cherry), becoming the version people are most familiar with today.
So, the 1800 Old Fashioned became even more so- the Old Fashioned Old Fashioned.
Popular culture and all-things-cocktail these days has brought it roaring back- my favorite reference might be the following video clip (mostly because Don Draper uses his fingers as the strainer).
Old-Fashioned Old Fashioned 1855
Place a sugar cube in the bottom of a double rocks glass
Add 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Add splash of soda
Muddle the sugar, bitters, soda until a syrup is formed
2 oz Rye
Lemon peel garnish optional
Old Fashioned 1955
Place a sugar cube in the bottom of a double rocks glass
Add 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Add splash of soda
Add 1 orange slice, 1 maraschino cherry
Muddle all ingredients thoroughly, remove orange rind with a bar spoon
2 oz Bourbon or Rye
Garnish with a fresh orange and cherry
The restaurant and bar business is one of the last apprentice systems. One can start at an entry level job and work their way up- it's what I did. I am continually impressed, being surrounded by talented people who perform at high levels wearing many hats with a variety of duties.
Take John McElroy. When we first met, he was valeting cars at No. 9 Park. Flash forward, he's one of the terrific staff behind the bar at Russell House Tavern. I am thankful for him and this industry- who better to whip up a couple of Thanksgiving drinks?
Nana's Rocker 2oz Laird's Apple Brandy, .5oz Amaro Montenegro, .75oz Pedro Ximenez Sherry, .5oz lime juice, 1 dash Peychaud's bitters, shaken and served on the rocks. While not generically Thanksgiving (no cranberry for example), this drink is perfectly seasonal- the rich sweet sherry balanced by citrus and alcohol of the apple brandy. Amaro Montenegro (the most popular bitter liqueur in Italy) has a slightly bitter and orange component that adds an almost mulled wine spicy-sweet quality. Delicious.
Farwell and Adieu 1.5oz Vida Mezcal, 1.5oz Privateer Amber Rum, .5oz Benedictine, .5oz Drambuie, stirred and strained in a coup glass. Smoke, vanilla, molasses; there's a lot going on here. The drink even nods to December, with Benedictine and Drambuie giving a Christmas spice character- sip this by the fire.
The Hawthorne turns one on Wednesday November 21st, 6-9pm, the night before Thanksgiving. What better way to celebrate than with a cocktail reception and fundraiser? Join Jackson Cannon, Nicole Lebedevitch and the whole Hawthorne crew as they give thanks to:
Lovin’ Spoonfuls, Bully Boy rum, Bols Genever, siblings ES and ICOB, designers Alison and Stephen Sheffield, MS Walker and most of all their customers and regulars (I'm secretly hoping Jackson is wearing a pilgrim costume- wow, over-sharing).
Delicious snacks, cocktails, beer and wine will be flowing in true Hawthorne fashion.
They're even highlighting drinks with song names- you might be drinking a Phil Collins while listening to Phil Collins. Now that's sus-sus-sussudio.
$50 (portion of proceeds goes to Lovin' Spoonfuls) tickets are available on Eventbrite.
The Hawthorne is located at 500A Commonwealth Avenue in Boston's Kenmore Square.
You can tell a lot about a bar when you order a water first. Sometimes, with graceful kindness, it appears with a smile and "please let me know if I can do anything else for you." Emerald Lounge at the Revere Hotel certainly has a late night clubby feel, but on a snowy afternoon that level of service felt more like a comfortable neighborhood bar.
Thank you Tyresse.
Equally as friendly and welcoming, is Emerald’s beverage director, Teodora Bakardzhieva, an industry veteran who has worked bars and clubs from the now shuttered Club Trio to Locke Ober to Mantra. She slips behind the bar and as quickly appears her Fig Sidecar, featuring fig infused vanilla cognac and Pineau des Charantes (fresh press grape juice where fermentation has been stopped by adding brandy). The drink is rounded out with lemon juice and a terrifically over-the-top gold sugared rim. Sure, a nod to late night club antics, but it really works. Balanced, rich caramel and fig flavors cut by lemon acidity.
Sometimes you have to go big or go home.
After a pleasant moment chatting with Bryan Barbieri the hotel's PR director, snowing, cold, we decide it's time for bourbon. Teodora had already sensed I needed a winter warmer- her Fallen Angel- with Angel's Envy bourbon (I need to do a future post on this delicious whiskey), Amaro del Capo (a bitter from Calabria- not sweet but shows orange and citrus), and honey syrup. The Angel's Envy rests for a few months in Port casks, so it's rich caramel, vanilla spice of the bourbon paired with an almost maple syrup like quality. This, the bitter and honey, make a wonderful cold weather reviver.
Emerald is highly designed from the center piece stainless sculptural work, mass art student designed uniforms, to the hidden Ruby Bar (you have to stumble upon it). The sound system is unprecedented and the room is slick- you could be in Vegas, baby. But it's all about service, as Teodora mentions "often clubs will stop serving craft cocktails at 10:00 turning to vodka sodas, etc." Not here: jiggers, fresh ingredients, care.
I can only imagine how busy they are at 1:00am on a Saturday, so, more my speed, maybe meet me here on a Tuesday or Wednesday after work.
Now that's a date.
Working the bar Bobby Flay's Mohegan Sun, it almost didn't happen. Kevin was about to move to New York City, but luckily for us, heavy recruiting swayed him to Boston. A leap of faith landed him squarely on his feet at the new (although it will celebrate one year in December), popular, jm Curley downtown.
This kid is serious about cocktails, but maybe it's his family's sports bar, where he grew up working that has rounded out his style- he puts in front of you what you want to drink. Friendly, gracious, low key, accommodating. Kid- wow, I could, in fact, be his father. Ouch.
Anyway, I stopped by the other night and tried a couple drinks- he always features a Seasonal Collins, for Autumn it's 1.5 oz Greylock gin, .5 oz rosemary simple syrup, 1 oz lemon juice with 8 muddled Concord grapes and a rosemary sprig. Deliciously refreshing.
For his Zen Den he thoughtfully credits Jeffrey Morganthaler from Portland, OR for inspiring his 5 spice rum. 1.5 oz Chinese 5 Spice Goslings, .5 oz Pierre Ferrand Orange Curacao (orange liqueur) .5 oz ginger simple syrup, .5 oz lime, orange zest.
To me the 5 spice is perfectly fall, I love the idea of contrast with a seemingly summer libation that works so well on a chilly Boston evening.
Kevin Mabry's shift drink? A pint "of whatever's hoppy on tap" (check his hop tattoo) and, you guessed it, a shot of Fernet. Maybe young and up and coming, but that is old school- I'll raise a glass with you anytime my friend.
Mariposa in Spanish is butterfly. Indeed the liqueur kind of flutters (sorry) around the idea of Tequila being made from Tequila, Vodka, agave and rose water. Even the bottle is softer. Purists might find issue here, but I have to say that it is well made and tasty (Heaven Hill Distillery also makes Lunazul Tequila, Rittenhouse Rye and Elijah Craig Bourbon).
Non-cloying sweetness, spicy floral, almost orange peel citrus notes makes it a good substitute for Curacao or other orange liqueurs.
Enter the lovely Erin Surprenant: Tequila and all-things-agave lover, also happens to fittingly be the general manager of Masa in the South End. Who better to drink Mariposa cocktails with? I suggested an ounce of Mariposa with sparkling wine; her staff split 50-50 on it, the results coming down to personal preference. I better leave this up to Erin.
Below is their standby Margarita, which precedes her time; and then a new creation which has a wonderful seasonal, fall take. A spicy, cool weather Tequila cocktail? Yes, please.