The famous wine writer (and importer) of the 50s through the 80s, Alexis Lichine once said about learning wine "buy yourself a corkscrew and use it." The message clearly, taste, taste and taste again. I translated this idea with spirits into a visit at the Urban Grape South End the other day where I decided to purchase a bottle I'd never heard of, and, well, taste. As Ben Bouton (of UG and beer buyer) said to me "...either way trying something new is worth it. At worst, if you don't like it, you know you never have to try it again." Words to live by.
I picked Riga Black Balsam, an herbal liqueur from Latvia, created in 1752 to help heal the empress of Russia. Like so many old spirits, began in this medicinal way and today is sipped after dinner or maybe added to coffee or tea. What's in it? Secret recipe of course, but they do admit to birch bud, valerian root, raspberry, ginger, nutmeg, black peppercorn, peppermint and other herbs and blossoms.
It's kind of like Fernet Branca or other Amaros with the addition of berry sweetness (almost, but not quite, cough syrup-esque). Pretty rough and tumble though, trust me, a lot goes a long way, and at 90 proof you don't want to be drinking shots of this all night. So, what do you do with it? Here's what I tried, kind of a Riga Julep:
1.5 oz rye, .5 oz Riga Black Balsam, .25 oz simple syrup, mint, .5 lemon, ginger beer. Pretty tasty and surprisingly light.
Go out and try something new, you just never know.
Riga Black Balsam 375ml available at the Urban Grape, $18.
A cordial license is a funny thing in Boston, it seems there is no clear definition of what it is. Except a grey area. From what I can tell it means you're allowed to sell any liqueur with 2.5% sugar by weight along with beer and wine. In the early 90s this came about at the request of North End restauranteurs who wanted to offer their customers an after dinner Sambucca or Amaro. Anyway, apparently this can include a lot, including Pisco, Grappa, flavored vodkas, flavored bourbons and even Green Chartreusse which clocks in at a whopping 110 proof- or 55% alcohol. I'm not really sure what's going on here.
What all this does mean, however, is that at a great place like the Salty Pig in Boston's Back Bay/South End, Erin Murtagh and team have to get creative with drinks, which they do. I was in the other evening, and had The Greener Side, featuring Lillet, Galliano, Cucumber, Basil, lemon and Erin's celery bitters. Refreshing and delicious, basil mirroring the anise in Gallliano, sweet citrus from Lillet, a well balanced (dare I say) liquid salad for grown-ups? Now just pass me some more of that charcuterie and cheese, I'm not worried about licenses and regulations any more.
Sam's on the waterfront epitomizes everything I love about going out. Esti, Drew and Jon Parsons are the consummate hosts and restaurant professionals always putting friendly, professional customer service first (little things like they offer spare sunglasses if you forget yours). The menu shows a tight, well thought out wine list with great beers and above all a terrific menu. Chef Asia Mei may be Boston's hidden best chef- dinner there the other night was extraordinary- beet terrine, salad of boar bresaola and haricot vert, cod over snap peas- you've simply got to try her food.
Jon's cocktails are equally refined and can be enjoyed on maybe the best patio around, over looking the water and downtown Boston. We tried The Red Wedding (which for you Game of Thrones fans was "formerly called spoiler alert") with blanco Tequila, grapefruit liqueur, sparkling wine, lime juice and hibiscus syrup. It strikes a perfect balance between bitter and bright citrus, floral sweetness and bracing clean young Tequila. Next up, the Clyde, features Pisco and elderflower, lemon, blood orange juice and grapefruit bitters. I like the theme here- a clean spirit with bittersweet floral and citrus, just delicious.
The hits keep coming with new Summer drinks in the works; I'm telling you, there is no time like the present to visit Sam's.
Following up a few posts ago, Eastern Standard has unintentionally upped my ante on Rosè and cocktails. Their Marco Polo features house-made rhubarb vermouth (email me for the recipe if you are adventurous enough to try on your own), sparkling rosè and Aperol. Sipping this is even more fun than playing "Marco Polo" in the water as a kid- all things I love together, the vermouth works with the rhubarb and strawberry in the Aperol, rounded out by cherry, more strawberry and acid in the wine. Yes, please- join me on the ES patio sooner than later, it's like a dip in the pool.
A good cocktail certainly does not need to have any alcohol in it. My two girls prove that all the time by making a variety of beverages. It's getting warmer, so Emily penned the following:
By Emily Childs
Hi, I’m Emily Childs, Josh’s oldest daughter. I will be going into the sixth grade this September and planning to spend long days lounging around during the summer. So, I decided to make a sweet and sour mocktail for your lounging around!
Emily’s Lip-Smackin’ Lavender-Basil Lemonade
This lemonade calls for some simple syrup, so let me explain how to make it (get help from a grown-up).
Ingredients for the Simple Syrup
2 oz dried lavender (Christina’s in Cambridge has the best)
10-15 good-sized basil leaves (any supermarket)
1 ½ cups water
1 ½ cups sugar
Put water into a pot and heat on stove for a minute. Then, add the sugar. Stir sugar around until dissolved and put lavender and basil in. Push it down with a spoon so it’s wet, then you let it heat to a boil. Once it boils, turn burner off and cover with the top of the pot. Let it cool until room temperature.
Ingredients for the drink
1 ½ oz lavender-basil simple syrup
1 oz lemon juice
1 ½ oz water
Basil leaf garnish
Hirsch Canadian Rye is sourced for the Anchor Distilling Company from Glenora Distillery located on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Double distilled (second in pot stills), aged in oak and bottled by hand this is serious stuff, true to older Canadian Whisky roots. The style is more subtle, lighter with fruit and honey flavors than American versions, but there is still spice from the 100% rye and 3 years in oak. Think of this selection's weight more akin to a lowland Scotch, where say the American Bulleit Rye would be like the much bigger Islay whiskies. Now I've confused myself.
Enjoy this with a couple of ice cubes, but really it shines in cocktails, particularly lighter Collins-style drinks. I've recently been re-making a variation I came up with last Summer:
Check the Rhyme
1.5 oz Hirsch Canadian Rye
.75 oz Cocci Americano (an Italian aperitif- like the French Lillet)
.75 oz thyme simple syrup
.5 oz lemon
Serve as a Collins- on ice with a splash of soda if desired. Garnish with thyme sprig.
Make simple syrup 1 to 1 water to sugar. Heat until sugar is dissolved, then simmer with thyme (a cup should work) for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, cover until cool and strain out the thyme.
Rebecca Jane Millette and Phil Naslund have been concocting. I better leave this up to Becca to explain.
Things I've learned in the past few months: asking for your tab at the bar actually means "I'll have a High Life" and when Josh Childs asks you to do something, you probably can't say no. I'm Rebecca, the girl who had to drink Negronis and photograph them for Josh's post during Negroni Week. I know, you feel awful for me.
I was celebrating Aperitivo Day at Trina's Starlite Lounge a couple weeks back and I looked up (from Instagram, most likely) and there was suddenly Aperol being poured into a High Life bottle for our friend Phil. Wait, what? I was intrigued and ordered one myself. The orange color of the Aperol turned the bottle a light rose color and there it was, The Rosé of Beers. A little sweet, a lot cold, and even more delicious.
Be sure to stop by Starlite, high five Phil for having this genius idea, and order one as your nightcap.
I do, however, also recommend stopping by to visit my friends at Urban Grape and stocking up on actual Rosé for patio drinking on a warm summer night.
The Algonquin Hotel in New York City was built in 1902, and although technically dry in the early years, held court to a group of poets, editors, actors, playwrights and humorists; most notably Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley during the 1920s (they were called the Vicious Circle). One of Ms. Parker's most famous quotes "I like to have a martini, two at the very most, after three I'm under the table, after four I'm under the host" leads me to believe that's what they were drinking, not the hotel's namesake cocktail. Of course no one may have been allowed to drink in the hotel during prohibition at all- but I think they probably were, right?
So, anyway, it's uncertain (and unlikely) if any of them drank Algonquin cocktails in the Algonquin. But I do know that Algonquin peak is the second tallest mountain (5,115 ft) in the Adriondack High Peaks of upstate New York, just below its neighbor Mt. Marcy. That's where I was over Memorial Day weekend, so we had to make the cocktail- why not drink an Algonquin looking at Algonquin? As the lovely and talented bartender Emma Hollander would say: "I mean, obvi."
1.5 oz Rittenhouse Rye
.75 oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
.75 oz Pineapple juice
Lemon peel garnish if desired.
The drink is pretty easy quaffing, maybe not as complex as the Vicious Circle, but probably goes down a whole lot easier.