Amaro, Italian for "bitter,” refers to an herbal liqueur category, usually consumed as an after-dinner digestif. With an alcohol content between 16% and 43%, they are bitter-sweet and range in syrupy viscosity. Similar products are available throughout Europe, but tradition and focus here in Boston, Italy sets the standard, and that brings us to
When you see a group of bartenders, with the bar customers six deep, stop everything their doing at 11:00pm on a Friday night, and do a shot, I’ll bet 5 to 1 it’s Fernet- although it’s really meant to be a stomach ailment panacea. It has developed far beyond an industry cult following, can be seen everywhere, locally behind every cocktail bar. On the higher end of the alcohol spectrum, it clocks in at 43%, is bracingly bitter, mint and licorice flavors dominating. Italians really only take it as a sip or two after dinner; I remember being in Rome a few years ago and doing a shot at a cafe in the afternoon to stares that said "that American is crazy."
The history of Fernet Branca revolution in Boston can be pretty much traced to two men. Before the tremendous success of Eastern Standard, ICOB, The Hawthorne and soon to be Row 34, Garrett Harker worked in San Francisco, where he and fellow restaurant workers maybe took sips of Fernet out of espresso cups before service. Traditions tend to follow us, some more than others, and while at No. 9 Park he and Tom Mastricola, then bartender, would come visit me on a nightly basis (we were all a lot younger then). "Josh, could you get us a bottle of Fernet? We'll drink it." I had no idea what they were talking about, but of course ordered a single bottle the next day. A single bottle. In 1998, we were pouring a case a week (12 bottles), and while that didn't touch the present volume of ES, Citizen (Joy has it on tap) or even JM Curley down the street, the fire had been started.
What makes this business rewarding is what comes around goes around, and Kitty Amann, our local Fernet rep to the stars, brought Count Eduardo Branca down for an event at Silvertone this week. What an honor to have the sixth generation of the famous family in the room, I just hoped I wouldn't get in the way. Tremendously gracious and unassuming, he also showcased their other brands, the spectacular Carpano Antica and Punt e Mes vermouths. Time to make some cocktails.
John Nugent (Silvertone, Citizen, Brick & Mortar, Franklin) poured his crowd pleasing Home Wrecker cocktail: 1.5 oz Rye, .5 oz Punt e Mes, .5 oz St. Germain, .5 oz lemon. The drink is delicious, spicy from the rye and vermouth, lechee sweetness from St. Germain, and finishes with the bright lemon and orange flavors. Vermouth works surprisingly well with citrus, so with that in mind comes my version of a classic. My daughters call me Papa, so obviously I poured Papa's Americano, 1 oz Carpano Antica, 1 oz Aperol, .5 oz lime, soda. Perfect for a sunny patio, or at least I think so.
Legendary musician, dj, bartender Brother Cleve pulled an on-the-fly recipe from 1909 out of his vast repertoire, the Fernet Cocktail. 2 oz Carpano Antica, 1 oz Fernet, bar spoon Orange Curacao, orange oil. A full bodied precursor to the Americano, maybe its grandfather.
As we toasted with Fernet Branca to Fernet and the Branca family, things had indeed come full circle. Garrett Harker raised his glass in the center of the room with Eduardo, just as he had showed me the way 16 years earlier.
Cinco de Mayo, the fifth of May, ironically is not a big holiday in Mexico. Here in the states it has become a celebration of Mexican culture, and also a quintessentially American excuse to have a more than a few Margaritas. Technically the day commemorates the Mexican army's 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War, but I must confess I had to look up those details.
So what to do? Well, I for one am heading to Allston's Lone Star Taco Bar for some killer Mexican food and cocktails. Legendary bartender Cousin Dave Cagle always has an ace up his sleeve; in this case a delicious take on a Sazerac "named after Clint Eastwood's character in the old Enio Morricone spaghetti westerns."
Hombre sin Nombre
2 oz blanco tequila
1/2 oz agave syrup (equal parts agave nectar and water)
6 dashes Peychauds bitters
2 dashes molé bitters
Stir and strain into a chilled old fashioned glass the has been rinsed with green Chartreuse
squeeze the oil from a big piece of lime peel into the cocktail and drink!
Beer cocktails are not easy, but when they succeed, well, everyone's happy, including me. Chris Balchum pouring the other night at Park in Harvard Square is doing just that with:
Tom Terrific by Daren Swisher
1 ¾ oz. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin (slightly sweeter style than London dry)
½ oz. Cherry Heering (Brandy based cherry liqueur)
½ oz. Demerara Syrup (richer simple syrup made with sugar in the raw- named after a formerly colonized area of Guyana)
½ oz. Lemon Juice
2 oz. Great Divide Titan IPA
Combine ingredients over ice. Shake and strain over fresh ice in a Collins glass.
Top with 2 oz. IPA; roll back and forth in a shaker tin.
Garnish with an orange and cherry flag. Sweet, sour, pleasantly bitter hops, perfectly balanced and ready for Spring refreshment.
I think twitter and instgram have eliminated anyone's desire to send me a cocktail (c'mon... a quick photo and recipe to email@example.com- it can really be anything!).
So... I'll submit one we made this weekend: a variation of a classic.
Nicole's Blood Orange Blood and Sand
.75 oz Chivas 18yr Scotch
.75 oz Dolin sweet vermouth
.75 oz Luxardo Cherry liqueur
.75 oz blood orange juice
Luxardo cherry garnish
Smokey malt, sweet ripe cherry balanced with tart blood orange- but not too bitter or sweet. A little commitment to get the bottles which can be found (or easy substitutions) at liquor stores, and a bag of blood oranges is around $4 at supermarkets. Worth the effort!
Booze Époque. Mission statement: "boutique cocktails & spirit alchemy for private parties and events." Honestly, that is just the tip of the iceberg, co-creators Meaghan Sinclair and Harmony Dawn Kelly bring even more to the table. Wow, did they blow me away with a high level of skill (leaps and bounds over me) and more importantly, hospitality. We were friends who had not yet officially met; I was graciously welcomed into Meaghan's home, which by the way, is laid out for epic parties. I felt like a wide-eyed kid in a candy store, peering into a case full of bottles, baskets of fruits and herbs, glassware and bar tools.
These ladies both have worked esoteric jobs from therapist to tarot reader (that's pretty much what a bartender is anyway, right?). Harmony's family owned the Honey Lounge on the site that now houses The Pour House in the back bay, Meaghan's father (bartender and chef) worked on Legal Sea Foods original chowder recipe. The bar and hospitality world is clearly in their genes. But it took days of bartending at 2011 Burning Man to achieve their eureka moment (lots of people, I'm sure have these moments at such a festival and never end up acting on their epiphany). "We were sick of our jobs, thought let's get serious and jump in." Meaghan continues, "we knew the hurdles we might have, but let's elevate this and make it fun!" That's an understatement, by the way- Booze Époque has done more- weddings, pop-ups, competitions, drinks in a peach orchard on Martha's Vineyard, classes at Cambridge Adult education, even Kentucky Derby parties. They make an event an experience.
For me, they lined up careful rows of syrups, tinctures and garnishes which added to the kitchen's wonderful apothecary feel. Lemon, lavender- fennel, lemon grass, lemon thyme- cinnamon- Cocchi Americano (aperitif wine like Lillet) soaked raspberry- brandied maple cranberries- home-brined olive- ginger peppercorn- burnt Taza chocolate and caramel- hot pepper shrub- I was wonderfully overwhelmed. Meaghan's husband Pete arrived and showed off his very clean, pure, orange bitters. He makes his own bacon (as if I didn't love this group enough) which led to a taste of bacon infused Bourbon, then spicy pickled green beans, perfect for a Bloody Mary- or the juice for a pickle-back sip after a shot of whiskey. Flavors and smells swirled around me, I was, indeed in a different era.
Harmony and Meaghan kept my mini-event going, time for a Spring cocktail, a play on the famous Ramos Gin Fizz. Harmony called it the "Ostara, goddess of Spring, who's celebration eventually became our modern day Easter." These women are fabulous, I guarantee you'll being seeing a lot more of them in every season.
2 ounces Barrel Aged Ethereal gin
1 ounce Meyer lemon juice
1 ounce Ostara Syrup (see recipe below)
1/2 ounce cream
1 egg white
1 sprig lemon thyme leaves removed
2 inch piece of fresh lemongrass separated
1 ounce NOS'd Ostara Soda (see recipe below)
Add all ingredients to a shaker, muddle lemon thyme and lemongrass, dry shake. Add ice, shake vigorously for several minutes. Strain into glass. Garnish with thyme, lemongrass, and fennel.
1 Meyer lemon zest twist
1/4 cup lemongrass
1/3 cup chopped fresh fennel
1 sprig lemon thyme with leaves pulled off
1/8 cup fresh fennel fronds
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
Bring to boil then simmer for 40 minutes (see note below)
Strain out fennel at 20 minutes, add same amount of fresh ingredients at 20 minutes and cook together for another 20 minutes. Strain.
NOS'd Ostara Soda
3 ounces water
1 ounce Ostara syrup
Add to whipped cream maker, discharge nitrous cartridge, shake.
What’s better for Valentine’s Day than a battle of the sexes? I’m not much for the cheesy hoopla anyway- it can end up being a worse night than New Year’s Eve to go out.
In one corner,
Heather Mojer (Hungry Mother) vs. Evan Harrison (Highland Kitchen)
in the other.
This is quite a battle of not only the sexes but, without a doubt, two of Boston’s best bartenders who just happen to be my favorite couple.
Valentino Cocktail by Heather Mojer
1.5oz Tequila Por Mi Amante*
.75oz Espinheira Ginja (brandy-based fruit liqueur from Portugal)
.75oz Lemon juice
topped with 1.5oz sparkling wine
Build the first three ingredients in a tin, shake with ice, and strain in to a coupe or flute. Top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon twist or ginja cherry. Get housed.
*Tequila Por Mi Amante: Wash, hull, and slice in half 3 pints of fresh strawberries and place them in a clean, sealable container. Add 750ml of 100% agave blanco tequila (reposado works well too). Seal the container and let steep in cool dark place for 2-3 weeks. After steeping, strain out solids and pour tequila into a clean sealable container (perhaps the original tequila bottle or mason jars). Keep refrigerated. Adapted from Charles H. Baker Jr's The Gentleman's Companion.
Heather: "While thinking about a Valentine's Day cocktail, and after tossing around a few ideas, I opened my fridge and saw jars of tequila por mi amante from last June. Though usually Evan and I carry it with us in a flask to enjoy amongst ourselves or share with friends at weddings and other special occasions, the name "tequila por mi amante" lends itself quite nicely as a base for a Valentine's themed drink. Citrus and Ginja round out the spirit, and bubbles always pair well with romantic celebration."
Basilica Cocktail by Evan Harrison
1oz Cocchi Americano (aperitif wine from Asti- like Kina Lillet)
1oz Cinzano Rosso
.5oz Suze (a French aperitif bitters)
1 dash Angostura Orange Bitters
Build all ingredients in an old fashioned glass. Add one large ice cube (or a few small ones) and stir. Express orange oil over the drink. Cheers.
Evan: "For my Valentine's Day drink I decided to go with something inspired by the Old Hickory, a vermouth based old-fashioned variant. Over the past couple of years I've found myself drinking Old Hickory cocktails on date night because it tastes like a real drink, but it's relatively low in alcohol content. The Basilica fits the same description, but it has a slightly more bitter, more herbal character, and a blood red hue that fits our Valentine's day scheme. I imagine an ideal Valentine's Day cocktail to be something delicious and sophisticated that you can drink all night without slurring your sweet nothings.
The name refers to the Basilica di San Valentino in Terni, Italy, which actually has nothing to do with Saint Valentine. I just thought it sounded cool."
Tough to pick a winner here (although Heather is much, much cuter- well, Evan is kind of dreamy too), but I do have Valentine’s Day advice. Go have a surprise romantic dinner on another night (this will impress your sweetheart more), instead find a bar and have a cocktail-
or maybe two.
Flaming an orange peel’s oil imparts a wonderful burnt orange character that enhances a variety of cocktails. Plus, it looks super cool.
The legendary Dale Degroff even flamed an orange peel over Madonna’s Cosmopolitan in the late 80’s at the Rainbow Room in New York- could this have been the start of our present cocktail revolution?
I guess I need some kind of disclaimer, like... professionals only (assuming I'm a professional in the first place). Here’s what you do: slice a quarter-sized peel off an orange without going deep and removing too much pith. Hold the circular sized peel with the outside rind facing the drink (the oil is on the exterior of the orange skin) between your thumb and index finger. An inch above your cocktail, light a match with your opposite hand and snap the orange peel near the flame by pressing your index finger and thumb together. This action sprays orange oil toward the match flame, catching briefly on fire and covering the cocktail with burnt orange.
If this seems too complicated here’s more fire fun (insert second declaimer here: fire is dangerous, even Beavis thinks so). Pour some Green Chartreuse onto the rim of your close friend’s Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Its high proof will allow it to catch flame and presto- hipster beer Pu-Pu Platter! Blow it out, don't get burned and enjoy.
Martinez 2 oz Gin, .75 oz Sweet Vermouth, .5 oz Maraschino Liqueur, 1 dash Angosura bitters (original recipe calls for orange bitters).
Stir ingredients with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Burnt orange peel garnish.
Robert "Rabbie" Burns (1759-1797) was a Scottish poet considered a pioneer in the Romantic movement and perhaps the most famous Scot. To this day, his birthday is cause for celebration worldwide, not just in his native Scotland- and it's this Friday, January 25th. While almost a month too late to sing his 'Auld Lang Syne,' have a Scotch or Bobby Burns cocktail this weekend and toast the old country and its Ploughman Poet:
"Nae man can tether time or tide."
"O thou, my muse! guid (good) auld Scotch drink!"
The Bobby Burns cocktail may have originated at the Waldorf Bar in the early 1930s as a take on the Rob Roy; Scotch, sweet vermouth with the addition of Absinthe and orange bitters. I personally am a fan of present cocktail guru Dale Degroff's version: 2 oz Highland Scotch, .75 oz sweet vermouth, .5 oz Benedictine (slightly sweet herbal liqueur), shortbread cookie on the side as garnish.
Picon, or Amer Picon, is a French caramel colored bitter aperitif made from dried orange, gentian root, and quinquina. Slightly off-dry and with the orange component dominating, it is sipped before dinner on ice with an orange peel or often consumed with a beer. In fact, the bottle I have is also labeled Biere, there is a Picon Club version which while similar, is more focused on use in cocktails and with white wine.
Invented during the mid-1800s and originally produced in Algeria, Gaetan Picon founded the first French factory (still in operation) outside Marseille. The original recipe was at 40% ABV, and has slowly been reduced to the 18% it is today. Perhaps it may be a shadow of its former self, but it's really quite good, even simply on the rocks.
Approximately $20 in a European supermarket, it is unavailable in the US, I luckily received a bottle from a kind friend returning from Paris. Pretty fun for a bartender, I could actually make a true Brooklyn cocktail 1.5 oz rye, .75 oz dry vermouth, .5 oz Picon, .25 oz maraschino liqueur, orange peel. This drink can very closely be approximated by using the Italian Amaro, Amaro Montenegro, as a substitute, and makes a fine spicy-citus and bittersweet winter warmer. In other words, maybe think of Picon as Bridget Bardot and Amaro Montenegro as Sophia Lauren.
I additionally tried a take on a Hearst cocktail 2 oz gin, 1 oz Picon, 2 dashes of Angostura bitters (because of the orange in Picon I omitted the normal addition of orange bitters). A citrus heavy gin- like Beefeater- works well with the orange flavors, creating a nuanced, flavorful cold weather drink for martini lovers. Also delicious was an ounce of Picon with a short pour of Ipswich winter ale and an orange peel. Clove and orange flavors pleasantly mix with rich maltiness, a perfect winter beer cocktail.
A general rule I use often for punches (and drinks too) is 2 parts strong, 1 part sweet and 1 part sour. This is simplified, of course, but with slight adjustments for taste, really works. I think the best way to group punches might be by type or flavor profile rather than strength. A drink might taste "stronger" depending on the liquor used and relationship to sweeteners, citrus, and as you mentioned, ice. The first punch below, for example, is "strong" but very well balanced so does not taste overly boozy.
The following punch is a really terrific variation of a drink called The Gentleman. I would like to take credit for it, but both were created by my business partner
at Trina's Starlite Lounge, Beau Sturm. He made this punch with me recently for 50 people during a Christmas holiday event at the Urban Grape South End, with great success. -- Josh Childs
The Grinch Stole My Punch by Beau Sturm, Trina's Starlite Lounge
1.5 liters Bourbon
1 bottle (750ml) Belle de Brillet (pear cognac)
peels of 6 lemons
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup superfine sugar
muddle lemon peels and sugar together
stir lemon juice with muddled peels and sugar until sugar is completely solved (creating oleo saccharum)
add booze & lemon peel mixture
stir again vigorously
add big ice cube*
top with 1 liter soda water
garnish with thin pear & lemon slices
* At the restaurant, we fill quart sized Tupperware containers with water and freeze them. A big ice cube melts slower, thus slowing the dilution of the punch.
My recent post for Christmas featured this recipe as an individual drink but it could also make a wonderful punch.
Natale a Padua
.5 liter Gin
.5 liter Aperol
.5 liter rosemary simple syrup
.5 liter lime juice
1 bottle of Prosecco
rosemary sprig garnish
large ice cube