I'm undertaking a little project for Negroni Week. For six out of these seven days, I'll be hitting a Boston-area bar that I haven't been to before, where I'll have a Negroni for a worthy cause. (The exception being Wednesday, when I'll be making Negronis for a worthy cause.) First stop: backbar.
backbar [lowercase lettering theirs] is Somerville's entry in two major bar categories: the Speakeasy and the I-Clearly-Should-Have-Come-Here-Sooner.
While it's well-hidden, it isn't the dark, secretive atmosphere that a lot of neo-speakeasies have. There's a massive skylight over the bar, for one thing, and the furnishings make it feel more like you're drinking in your artist friend's living room than worshipping at the Temple of High Mixology.
In short, there's a good reason this place has gotten noticed. But enough about that, on to the cocktails.
backbar has several Negroni specials on the menu this week, of which the Negroni Milk Punch is the one you see above. They have a rotating milk punch special on the menu, so for those who like milk punches, this is the place to come.
For those who don't know what a milk punch is, and have visions of some heavy dairy-Campari concoction, fear not. There are milk punches that consist of milk, liquor, ice, and grated nutmeg, available at some holdover bars in New Orleans, of all places, but backbar belongs to the other school of milk-punch-making.
In this school, the milk is deliberately curdled, usually by the addition of lemon or something similar, and the milk solids are strained out. This leaves just the liquids, with their suspended proteins and whatnot. The flavor of pure milk liquid is, like maraschino liqueur, Chartreuse, and a host of other lovely ingredients, basically impossible to describe to someone who's never tried it.
What it does for a cocktail is similar to an egg, in that it tends to mute other ingredients and quietly slip in its own flavor at the back. It is dissimilar in that it doesn't thicken the drink, being mostly water. In point of fact, backbar adds orange juice to this one for body.
For those keeping score, that means we have a standard Negroni (Campari, Punt e Mes, and Ford's gin), with milk liquid and a splash of orange juice added in. The bartender then took an orange peel to the rim of the glass for an aromatic finish.
The resulting palate was mostly milk-muted Campari, with little sweet, bitter, and herbal amendments by the other ingredients, and a big burst of orange oil on the nose. A great way to begin an evening, but you'll probably miss the subtleties if you're a few drinks in.
Finally, I'm sure you're all wondering where the money from backbar's Negronis goes this week. The answer? Wine to Water, an organization that rebuilds wells, provides sanitary filtration systems, and generally aims to increase access to potable water. According to their website, they've done so for a quarter of a million people since 2004. And their preferred fundraising technique is selling wine.