How to Invent a Cocktail, Part IV of VI

(Recently, my friend Luke quietly published a book of poetry. It's called Abacus, and you can buy or download it here. I created a signature cocktail for the launch party, and because I sometimes get asked how I go about inventing a new cocktail, I thought you might like to see my thought process for this one. It's a longish story, so I've broken it up into six pieces, each of which will be a separate post and conclude with a recipe. Last week's chapter, "What's in a name?" can be found here.)

Chapter 4: Taking stock. Now what have we got?
Incorporating all of the above - the inspiration of Lautrec, the idiosyncratic taste for Gibsons, the love of absinthe, the necessary presence of kirschwasser - I came up with a first draft of the drink. It was going to have a dry gin base, with a quarter or half ounce of kirschwasser, a twist of lemon, a dash of Peychaud's, and possibly a rinse of absinthe. I wanted to import the structure of the Earthquake and adapt it for the audience. I'd paired Peychaud's and kirsch successfully before, so I was confident about that. The one hesitation I had was with the absinthe, which I worried might not play so nicely with the heavy dose of stonefruit. Other than that, I felt confident that I'd just be tinkering with the volumes.

Boy was I wrong.

The absinthe was a clear nonstarter from the very first try. It was complicated, it clashed, it overpowered everything else if there was too much and stuck out like a sore thumb if there was too little. Gone, totally gone.

But once I'd dealt with the absinthe problem, I realized there was a bigger one: the gin. The savory notes of the gin were really coming to the fore, and not in a good way. I thought it might be a problem with the particular gin I was using, so I tried another. And another. Each one worse than the last.

The actual problem was the kirschwasser, of course, which is a tricky ingredient. First of all, it's a strong presence. You usually get all the kirsch flavor you could possibly need with just a quarter ounce. But it's also simultaneously fruity and dry, and either characteristic can pop when you least need it to. You can't reliably use it for a fruit accent, because you might end up drying the cocktail out instead; you can't reliably use it as a better-than-vodka way to dry out a recipe, because the fruitiness can imply sweetness to the palate. And it has the tiniest hint of woody plant matter, like a cherry stem left out in the sun to dry, which you have to figure out a way to work with to have any hope of using this stuff in a cocktail.

It will fight you. Sometimes it will win. But if you can get the hang of it, kirschwasser is an incredible ingredient.

And given that it actually showed up in the book of poetry, I wasn't about to take it out of the recipe. So if it was clashing with the gin, the gin had to go. With the absinthe already gone, that left me with the following recipe:

1/4 oz. Kirschwasser
1 dash Peychaud's Bitters
Lemon Twist

Yeah, not gonna happen. It was time to take this back to the drawing board.

You'll see how this turned out next week, but for now I do feel compelled to say that there is a classic cocktail that uses both kirschwasser and gin, just not in the way I was trying to. It's called the Acacia, and it doesn't go anywhere near bitters or absinthe, balancing the dry gin/kirsch palate with warm, rich, sweet Bénédictine, another favorite ingredient of mine. In other words, I had a decent idea and was playing with it in the wrong sandbox:


2 oz. Gin
3/4 oz. Bénédictine
1/4 oz. Kirschwasser
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

Note that the garnish is very important in this drink. Twist it over the glass, run it along the rim, and then drop it in. That slight hint of citrus ties it all together.

Stay tuned for next week's post, "Chapter 5: Trusting your gut, even when your gut gives you every reason not to."

How to Invent a Cocktail, Part II of VI

(Recently, my friend Luke quietly published a book of poetry. It's called Abacus, and you can buy or download it here. I created a signature cocktail for the launch party, and because I sometimes get asked how I go about inventing a new cocktail, I thought you might like to see my thought process for this one. It's a longish story, so I've broken it up into six pieces, each of which will be a separate post and conclude with a recipe. Last week's chapter, "What goes into an artist's cocktail?" can be found here.)

Chapter 2: What goes into this artist's cocktail?
Luke is a case study in how to manage a home bar.

I suspect that most people who keep liquor in their homes do it accidentally, accumulating a seldom-used collection of gifts and one-off acquisitions that they'll someday pass down to their grandchildren, cabinet and all.

There are also some people who become alcohol hobbyists, and like to keep a large bar on hand so that they can conduct experiments and make a wide variety of classics. This group is in particular danger of eventually becoming alcohol professionals. (I speak from experience.)

But the unsung heroes of cocktail culture are people who maintain a small but deliberate home bar, the ones who have one or two cocktails that they know they like, who decide that they should learn how to make those drinks well for themselves, and who are always prepared to make them should they or their guests be in the mood for a tipple.

Luke is one of these. His cocktails are the Gibson and the Old Fashioned, and his house is permanently stocked with the ingredients for both. He makes them carefully and well. He also enjoys absinthe, and has the tools for proper absinthe service.

But that's really it. He has, essentially, a house cocktail menu (and a rotating beer list). It's a good formula, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys cocktails but finds the prospect of building up a home bar daunting or bewildering. It's also a useful thought for those of us who have large home inventories: if you have a few house specialties, it's easier to prioritize when stocking up.

And for the purposes of our devising a cocktail recipe, it's useful to know the tastes of the person you're making it for. In this case: classic, spirit-forward, enjoys both whiskey and gin, and likes slightly savory things. I can work with that.

Because it's his most idiosyncratic preference, I decided I'd especially like to make something that appeals to his Gibson-drinking side. The Gibson, you might recall from my taxonomy of the Martini and its cousins (if not, see here), is today understood as a Martini garnished with a cocktail onion instead of an olive or twist, like so:

2 oz. Dry Gin
1/2 oz. Dry Vermouth
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cocktail onion.

The proportions used reflect Luke's preference for a 4:1 drink. I tend to skew towards 5:2; others may like other ratios. As a general rule of thumb, however you like your Martini is how you'll like your Gibson - although lemon-twist partisans like myself should be prepared for a savorier cocktail than we're otherwise used to.

Stay tuned for next week's post, "Chapter 3: What's in a name?"

Distilled Knowledge Cocktail: The Martini

Damn if I haven't tried to write this post more than once. But we all have our Things, and the Martini is one of mine. And there's a lot to be said about it.

Let's start with the recipe, because I know I have a handle on that. When I sat down to make a Martini for this post, it so happened that I could make a delicious version using just ingredients from Portland, Maine:

3 1/2 oz. Aria Portland Dry Gin
1/2 oz. Sweetgrass Dry Vermouth
Stir with ice and strain into - what else? - a Martini glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

Note for the home bartender: "Garnish with a twist of [fruit]" means take a strip or a small medallion of the peel of that fruit, twist it over the glass to express the oils into the drink, run it around the rim of the glass, and then drop it in. It occurred to me as I was writing that that it often shows up in recipes without explanation, and could easily be confused for, "Drop a piece of lemon peel into the glass," which wouldn't be quite as effective.

Ordinarily, Martinis are garnished with a lemon twist or a cocktail olive (the latter sometimes accompanied by some of the olive brine to make a Dirty Martini). It's easy to overlook garnishes when making cocktails at home, but if you won't take my word that you should avoid doing so in general, please at least take my advice and avoid it here. The Martini is disproportionately defined by its garnish, to the point that one variation - the Gibson - is distinguished today entirely by being garnished with a cocktail onion. There's more to that story, but...well, we'll get there.

I'm a twist man, myself. That little bit of lemon sharpens and highlights the citrus notes already present in the gin; the resulting cocktail is crisp and bracing. To my tastes, the olive garnish slows down the drink - and the drinker - with that heavy, salty/savory flavor. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, and I've enjoyed an olive Martini from time to time. I recommend trying both and seeing which one you prefer. Honestly, that's a good rule of thumb whenever you have a choice between two cocktails.

I also tend to like my Martinis on the dry side, as, it seems, do most Martini drinkers. But just as it's possible to have too much of a good thing, it's possible to have a Martini that is too dry, usually by preparing one without any vermouth whatsoever.

In fact, let's take a moment to review all the ways in which people insist on soiling the Martini's good name, shall we?

The Herzog Cocktail School's Official List of Martiniological Heresies

  1. Serving a "Martini" that's just gin, or gin with a garnish. Often cutesily accompanied by a "solemn look" in the direction of France, Italy, or the vermouth bottle; equally often served on the rocks in a cocktail glass. Even worse if you do this with vodka.
  2. Failing to assume that gin is the standard base spirit unless otherwise specified. If someone asks you for a Martini, respect them enough to assume that they'd have asked for a Vodka Martini if they'd wanted one. If you ask for a Martini, respect the bartender enough to assume they'll make it with gin; if you want vodka, ask for it specifically. "Gin Martini" should be as necessary a phrase as "Whiskey Manhattan" or "Rum Daiquiri."
  3. Assuming that anything served in a cocktail glass can be called a "Martini." For pity's sake, I see menus all the time that list the Sidecar or the Cosmopolitan under the heading, "Martinis." In fact, I can't count (or conceive of!) the number of times I've seen a "Martini Menu" on which not a single drink contained gin, vermouth, or any other kind of fortified wine.
  4. Ever applying the "-tini" suffix to a drink. Ever.
  5. Shaking your Martini without a very good reason. It won't "bruise the vermouth," as is often claimed, but it will dilute the drink needlessly and take away some of the delightful crispness the Martini naturally possesses. Unless you're drinking a Vesper, can explain why I made an exception for the Vesper, or are James Bond, stir.

But why all these rules, and what's the deal with the Gibson, anyway? Well, all that history is part of what makes this such a complicated drink to write about. But with thanks and apologies to David Wondrich, who covers a lot of this in more detail in Imbibe!, I'm going to give it a shot in a second Martini post (I did tell you I had a lot to say, didn't I?). Stay tuned for Part II!

    Bastille Day Cocktail Recipes

    Thanks to everybody who came to the lesson at Vanderbilt last night! Here are the official Herzog Cocktail School recipes for the drinks we covered:

    French 75
    1 1/2 oz. Gin
    1/2 oz. Lemon Juice
    1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
    Fill with Champagne (about 3 oz.)
    Shake all ingredients except the Champagne. Strain into a flute and top with the bubbles.

    Monkey Gland
    1 1/2 oz. Gin
    1 1/2 oz. Orange Juice
    Dash Grenadine
    Dash Absinthe, Absinthe Substitute, or Pastis
    Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail or coupé glass.

    Stay tuned for a longer recap with pictures!

    Distilled Knowledge Cocktail: The Greyhound

    (Not sure what the title means? The Distilled Knowledge announcement should fill in the gaps.)

    I'm counting down the days to publication with a series on the cocktails mentioned in Distilled Knowledge. They're an odd bunch, I'll grant, but each serves a purpose in the narrative.

    Pride of place goes to the Greyhound, the cocktail that taught us not to mix grapefruit juice with medicine.

    As you may have heard, it's a bad idea to drink grapefruit juice if you're on any kind of prescription drugs. It has a tendency to lead to higher-than-intended blood concentrations of your medications, with consequences that range from "mildly inconvenient" to "literally fatal."

    You may not know that we learned this entirely by accident.

    Researchers were studying the effects of ethanol on a blood pressure medication called felodipine. It was important for the experiment's success that the subjects not know whether they'd been given booze or not, so the researchers tried a variety of mixers (for science!) and concluded that the taste of the alcohol was best masked by grapefruit juice. 

    In the course of the study, they found that their subjects' blood felodipine levels were higher than expected across the board. Imagine their surprise when they realized they'd made a major scientific discovery "following an assessment of every juice in a home refrigerator one Saturday evening."

    Distilled Knowledge Greyhound
    2 1/2 oz. Double-Strength White Grapefruit Juice
    1/2 oz. Vodka
    Stir with ice. Serve on the rocks.

    If what you're looking for is a drink with the taste of the booze completely hidden, mixing five parts grapefruit juice with one part vodka is a surefire way to get there. It is not, however, the way the cocktail is ordinarily served; merely an approximation of the concoction the felodipine researchers were using.

    Note that if you'd like to add felodipine to this drink and make a Felodipine Greyhound, do not do so under any circumstances. Did you know that it's possible for your blood pressure to be too low? It is, and you don't want to find out what that's like.

    On the other hand, there are many other versions of the Greyhound that don't threaten your health nearly as much. These days, it's commonly made with a 3:2 or a 2:1 ration of grapefruit juice to vodka. Personally, I prefer the former; grapefruit juice can be quite a lot when it's the majority of a drink by volume.

    Contemporary Greyhound
    3 oz. Fresh Grapefruit Juice
    2 oz. Vodka
    Prepare as above.

    I still advise stirring, because shaking a drink that's mostly juice by volume just seems excessive. Note that a fresh grapefruit will yield about 3 oz. of juice, and the Greyhound needn't be a particularly exact drink; if you'd like to remember the recipe as "two ounces of vodka and a grapefruit," I won't stop you.

    With a pinch of salt and more around the rim, this becomes the Salty Dog, which I assume is so called because "salty Greyhound" doesn't have the same ring. 

    With a gin base instead of a vodka one, it becomes...the Greyhound. Yes, this is one of the (many) cocktails that got its start as a gin drink and evolved into a vodka one as tastes changed.

    It's first attested in the Savoy Cocktail Book, where it's mentioned as a variation on the older Grapefruit Cocktail, a concoction involving grapefruit jelly. In any case, it was a gin drink, and it would be some years before vodka came into vogue this far west.

    Savoy Greyhound

    "Take three and a half glasses of Gin and the juice of   1 1/2 good-sized Grapefruit. Sugar to taste, plenty of ice. Shake and serve."

    Near as I can figure, that works out to about seven ounces of gin, four and a half ounces of grapefruit juice, and sugar to taste. This would have been a batch, with each drink closer to three ounces total. Still boozier than the modern version, and much ginnier-tasting. 

    Once introduced to vodka, the Greyhound ran off with it and never looked back. And honestly, I can't blame it; I say this very rarely, but I think this drink makes more sense with vodka. It's a simple cocktail. It hits a few notes (sour, bitter, ethanol) and it hits them hard. Tossing juniper in there seems more distracting than enhancing in this case, and I expect most people who Really Like Gin will prefer not to cover its flavor with an even larger dose of grapefruit.

    That'll do it for the first installment. Stay tuned for more!

    Bar Staples

    What are the workhorse spirits for a basic cocktail bar? What can you buy inexpensively enough to drink in quantity, that will reliably make decent cocktails?

    I've flirted with the idea of a blog series dedicated to this problem, but that's as far as I've gotten with it. My own bar is very idiosyncratic these days, a combination of my poor self-control when faced with a truly novel beverage, my desire to stay on top of local spirits production, and my friends' assumption that unusual spirits are the best gift to bring to any social gathering at my house (they're not wrong, but it means I can find myself with, say, three Maine gins with weird botanicals in my house at once, and no bourbon).

    There's also my love of rum, which I've allowed myself to indulge in appropriate disproportion for the last year or two. I've probably got ten or so different kinds on hand right now, depending on how you count it. I could actually tally them up right now, but that might discourage me from getting other rums in the future, and we can't have that.

    In any case, I've come back to the idea of a series on workhorse spirits because my own personal list is outdated. I can remember a time when Bulleit and Bully Boy were reasonable choices for general-purpose whiskey mixing: pretty darn good and reliably available for thirty bucks, sometimes less. Not so anymore.

    Whiskey, in particular, has gotten a lot more expensive in a relatively short time. I don't begrudge the distillers their success one bit, mind you. I adore sipping a nice glass of Whistlepig or Gunpowder, and I believe they're worth every one of the many pennies they cost. But sometimes you want to throw a party, and for that, you need a decent knockaround base spirit that isn't chasing the high-end sipping market.

    To that end, I'll be doing a series on spirits that hit the sweet spot for me. How actionable this intelligence is will depend very much on your tastes and where you live. I'll try to stick to brands that are at least theoretically available outside of greater Boston, but there are weird local price fluctuations that may make my recommendations unreasonable (or unnecessary) in other parts of the country. Myers's rum, for instance, is pretty reliably more expensive than Gosling's or Rhum Barbancourt at liquor stores near me, which has to be some kind of Cambridge Triangle effect.

    I'll try to incorporate general advice as well, since the particular contents of any list like this will change over time. I'm also creating a new sub-page under "Spirits" where I'll be keeping track of the most reliable workhorses I come up with. Happy drinking!

    (This is, incidentally, not the exciting announcement I teased in the Patriots' Day post. It is merely an exciting announcement, and quite unrelated to that one, which is still pending.)

    Prohibition Cocktails

    Finally getting around to putting up the recipes from our Repeal Day party - which, in case you're wondering, went very well:

    We'll definitely be using the model again, so keep a look out for announcements on other holidays. In the mean time, here are the recipes we covered:

    1 1/2 oz. Dry Gin
    1 1/2 oz. Sweet Vermouth
    2 dashes Fernet Branca
    Twist of orange or dash of orange bitters
    Stir with ice and serve neat.

    The first patron to consume this drink is said to have downed it in one gulp, and then exclaimed, "That is the real hanky-panky!" At that time, and in Britain especially, which is where it was invented, the phrase would have meant something like "black magic," and the whole sentence roughly, "That's so good I can't believe it." Its *ahem* other connotations, particularly in the United States, didn't exactly hurt the drink's popularity during Prohibition, when speakeasy bartenders were serving titillating drinks like the Between-the-Sheets and the Monkey Gland. (In our age of Screaming Orgasms and Slow, Comfortable Screws Against the Wall, it all seems a little quaint and innocent, doesn't it?)

    Those who know me know that Fernet Branca is, in my view, the most foul drinking concoction yet conceived of by man. Yes, it's worse than Malort - and by a long shot. Yes, it's worse than Dr. McGillicuddy's peppermint schnapps. Yes, it's worse than plastic-bottle Popov vodka. It's like someone took a perfectly good bottle of Amaro Meletti and threw all three of those in there, with a little Aunt Jemima's for color. By what hanky-panky it has brainwashed so many otherwise-reasonable people into claiming that they like it, I have no idea.

    Having said all of that (and much more besides; don't get me started), I have to compliment the Hanky-Panky Cocktail, for being the only drink I have ever had that uses Fernet Branca well. It adds a suite of interesting flavors, including its signature menthol, saffron, and bitter bite, all of which are able to contribute without overpowering one's senses because there are only two drops of the stuff. Perhaps the secret to using Fernet Branca well is to treat it as a non-potable bitters, and never use more than a dash. In any case, it and the little, remarkably essential bit of orange oil are enough to pull this cocktail's flavor profile far away from the sweet Martini it would otherwise be.

    1 1/2 oz. Rye Whiskey
    1 oz. Dry Vermouth
    3/4 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
    3/4 oz. Pomegranate Grenadine
    Shake with ice and serve neat.

    Another Prohibition drink-naming style is the "laugh about how illegal all of this is" school. The Three-Mile Limit falls into this category, named after the distance one had to travel off the coast before reaching international waters and legal hooch. So does the Twelve-Mile Limit, invented shortly after that distance was quadrupled.

    The Scofflaw is another such funny case. I assumed for a very long time that "scofflaw" was a general old-fashioned word for a ne'er-do-well, but it actually referred to scoffing at one law in particular. The Boston Herald held a contest, to see who could coin the best term to describe all the people flagrantly and frequently violating the Volstead Act; "scofflaw," submitted by two different people, was the winner. So, in a purely technical sense, one could argue that the teetotaling '20s kingpin Arnold Rothstein was less of a scofflaw than the average speakeasy patron.

    As for the drink, which is somewhat similar to its cousins the N-Mile Limits, this is a nice case where what you see is what you get. It's sweet and it's tart, and it's a bit smoother and more complex than it would be without the vermouth. The end result is what you would get if a Brooklyn and a Jack Rose met up for a little law-scoffing and ended up with a little hanky-panky.

    Day 7: Trina's Starlite Lounge

    Apologies for the lack of visual for this post - I have no idea what happened to the relevant photograph, but it's time to put this series to bed either way. The final bar on my Negroni Week list was Trina's Starlite Lounge in Inman Square. I went there Sunday evening for dinner and the completion of my quest.

    Trina's is a homey place, cool and dark on the inside. They advertise "drinks and air conditioning" on a sign above the entrance.

    Their service station looks like a house kitchen, with mid-century powder-blue cabinets and a squat white fridge of similar vintage, covered in magnets. The whole place is decorated with Americana, most especially advertising signage and old cocktail shakers. Dark wood paneling suggests a pub or tavern past.

    It's clearly a regulars' bar; the bartender was bidding a patron farewell by name as I sidled up. On Mondays, they have an industry brunch, to cater to folks for whom Monday is the weekend. There's surprisingly little of this type for Boston's barkeeps and restauranteurs, and Trina's is well-known and respected for it.

    As for the cocktail, it was the most classic, archetypical Negroni I'd had all week. It tasted like a bitter orange peel with a burst of sweetness. A good ruminating drink. It was the right way to finish the experiment.

    This week forced me to give more consideration than I ever had to the Negroni, naturally, and to its role in the wider cocktail world. In the end, I come back around to the bold and bitter classic recipe as the proper standard version of the cocktail - although if many are to be consumed in a fairly short period, a lighter variation is definitely preferable.

    I do come down more harshly on the game of ingredient substitution than I did before we started all this. The Negroni is a recipe, not a category heading. Not everything containing potable bitters qualifies. The formula, though standard, is not fixed. It can be tweaked, stretched, and twirled around a spoon, if you like, but the end result should bear some resemblance to what was started with, if you're going to use the name.

    Well done on that front at Trina's. It's also worth noting that their food is delicious (I'm assuming my experience is representative). I had a baked haddock to follow my Negroni, on a bed of sauteed spinach and sweet potato bacon hash. Yes, it was as good as it sounds. I highly recommend it.

    Money from my Negroni went to the Sean A. Collier Memorial Fund. I expect Boston-area readers will recognize that name; the Fund will provide annual scholarships in his name at both MIT and the Boston Police Academy, and maintain a permanent memorial to him in Cambridge. The Globe has more detailed coverage, for those who are interested, but you don't have to read the article in order to donate.

    This was a fascinating undertaking, from both the mixological and the philanthropic sides. My compliments to Imbibe and Campari for making Negroni Week a major, annual event; and to the 1,325 (at last count) participating bars around the world.

    And if you missed out on the fun, don't worry: with numbers like that, they'll be back in 2015.

    Day 5: Nebo

    Day five and Negroni fatigue was setting in. Even the weird-spin versions were still high-sugar, big on syruppy cordials and fortified wine. I was flagging. I needed a drink that could remind me why I was doing this in the first place.

    Kudos to Nebo's Jenna, who mixed my favorite variation all week. It came just in time.

    It starts with a house-infused Carpano Antica vermouth, which sat three days with basil, orange peel, and lemon peel. (The basil was more of a subtle herbaliness than what you have in mind.)

    Then they add the Campari - real, honest-to-God Campari, because after all they were the ones sponsoring Negroni Week. Jenna informed me that all Campari sales, Negroni or otherwise, counted for charitable purposes; and that, in her view, ditching the red bitters was cheating. She had a point.

    Ingredient No. 3 is G'Vine's Floraison gin, which has grape-flower as its primary botanical - so primary that if there were any others, I couldn't tell you what they were. Very light, slightly sweet, and delicate. The success of this Negroni owes much to the success of this gin, and each is in its subtlety. Non-gin-drinkers might even appreciate G'Vine - it hasn't got the heavy evergreen taste that turns some people off.

    They also add a bit of Bénédictine, and garnish the concoction with a double-skewered lemon peel and a maraschino cherry. Served down and on the rocks, as it ought to be.

    So. Damn. Good.

    This Negroni - I don't recall it having a kitschy name, which is fine since it was pretty clearly a Negroni - has a lower sugar content than most of the others. The folks at Nebo also deliberately eschew the bitter-on-bitter tactic - Campari was undoubtedly less than 33% of this drink.

    But enough about what the cocktail isn't, let's talk about what it is.

    Fresh, light, and invigorating, it hits your system like water, but crosses your tongue like all the reasons you ever liked a Negroni decided to visit you at once. The nose is precisely what it should be: gin-dryness, Campari's distinctive aroma, and the whole pervaded with the essence of citrus - in this case, of lemon. (I'm told the local Campari rep calls this the "Citrus Burst Negroni.")

    The body of the sip is like chilled mineral water - all the work is in the details. A wave of Campari-bitterness covers the tongue on the swallow, tinged with the citrus infusion and the Christmas spices of the Bénédictine. Slowly, but noticeably, the aftertaste evolves - resolves, even - through a citrus crest to an appetite-whetting bitter finish. Each sip begets another. I could hardly put it down long enough for a photograph. 

    Remember, a Negroni should be refreshing. It should put more back into you than it takes out. If it feels like work, you're doing it wrong. A+ work at the Nebo bar.

    And apparently, my timing was doubly good - they had just recently set up the outdoor-dining tables, so the bar was practically deserted. That left me plenty of time to chat with the bar staff, sample the G'Vine gin straight, and swap blog information with Jenna, who maintains one of her own.

    My Negroni, as well as all Campari sales during that week at Nebo, served to benefit the Italian Home for Children in Jamaica Plain. The Italian Home started as an orphanage after a 1918 flu epidemic left a lot of Boston's children parentless; today they specialize in programs for children with learning disabilities and behavioral or mental health issues.

    If you missed out on Negroni Week, you can approximate the experience by giving them money at this link while having a drink at Nebo.


    AccesSport Young Professionals' Event (Also, Day 3)

    Here are some shots from the AccesSportAmerica young professionals' networking event! We had a great showing, and raised a bunch of money for an awesome organization.

    It was a two-drink menu, consisting of the Negroni and the Frisco Sour - the theme was "herbal cocktails for the summer." We had 3-oz. paper cups instead of 1-oz. ones, so our pouring was...generous. We ended up needing six shakers' worth of each drink, but nobody was complaining.

    These were the recipes we used:

    1 part Beefeater gin
    1 part sweet vermouth
    1 part Campari
    Stir with ice. Strain into cups. Garnish with a tiny orange peel.

    Frisco Sour
    4 parts Michter's rye
    1 part Bénédictine
    1/2ish part lemon juice*
    Shake with ice and strain into cups. Garnish with a tiny wedge of lemon.

    The asterisk in the Frisco Sour indicates a deviation from my standard recipe of 4:1:1, because that preparation assumes fresh lemon juice. We had the more concentrated, bottled variety, which called for a (roughly) 50% reduction in volume. 

    The Negroni got a fair bit of it's-just-not-for-me, which makes sense, because both Campari and gin are love-it-or-hate-it spirits for a lot of people. I found myself explaining that Campari is a "potable bitters" a lot that night. I also couldn't resist the (perhaps apocryphal) story that Campari was legal during Prohibition, because the regulators couldn't believe anyone would drink it who wasn't taking it medicinally. It's easy for cocktail enthusiasts to forget, given how much we all love the Negroni, but it really isn't for everyone.

    The Frisco Sour, on the other hand, was almost comically popular. The nice thing about events like this is that it's really easy to judge your success - the Frisco Sour was the only thing going around in cocktail glasses, and there were a lot of those to be seen. I owe a debt of gratitude to Frank Bruni of the New York Times, for first introducing me to the drink in this article.

    Thanks also to North 26, for donating the space and the liquor, and to everyone who came out for AccesSportAmerica - this is the second year in a row they've asked HCS to play this event, and I feel good about our odds of a third performance.

    For more pictures, check out our facebook page. You should also feel free to like us, along with North 26 and AccesSportAmerica!

    Day 2: Russell House Tavern


    I confess: I've been to Russell House before. Many times. Yes, we're two days into Negroni Week, and I've already broken my own rule.

    Believe it or not, I planned for this. Russell House was my dedicated fallback bar (distinct from a fall backbar, where I assume one can get a pumpkin milk punch). If one thing led to another and I needed someplace convenient, of guaranteed quality, I had every intention of ending up at Russell House Tavern.

    They're still billing themselves as a "New American Tavern" on their website, but the tavern is a fixture in Harvard Square. It was full but not packed when I was there last night, and last night was a Tuesday.

    Mention Negroni Week at Russell House, and you'll get a Negroni Week Passport, with spaces to stamp for ten participating bars in each of ten cities. Suddenly, my own seven-bar project seems far less ambitious.

    It was at this establishment that I first fell in love with the Jungle Bird, so I tend to trust Campari experiments conducted here. They're serving both classic Negronis and a special variant called the Palazzo this week. I opted to try the latter.

    The Palazzo starts out with gin and Campari, like you'd expect. The Russell House twist is to finish it with a 50/50 mixture of Booker's bourbon and St. George raspberry liqueur, with the goal of hitting sweet vermouth's flavor notes without actually including any. It's garnished with a slice of orange peel, as usual, and served neat.

    It's a pleasant drink, but it strikes me as quite different from a standard Negroni. Most of the sip is the bourbon-raspberry combination, until the Campari hits on the aftertaste. The result is that it's less complex than its parent cocktail, while at the same time being more subtle than you expect it to be. Probably not one for the Negroni purists, but I liked it well enough.

    Sales of both the Palazzo and the classic Negroni benefit the Leary Firefighters' Foundation, founded in 2000 by actor and local son Denis Leary. In those fourteen years, the foundation has given out millions of dollars to fire departments around the country for equipment, training, and facilities - a good chunk of that in Boston and Worcester.

    Two days down, five to go. And remember - tonight, we drink for AccesSportAmerica!

    Negroni Week Day 1: backbar

    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.

    One day down, six to go. Check back in tomorrow - and don't forget to join us on Wednesday, when I'll be behind the bar, making Negronis to raise money for AccesSportAmerica!

    Jen Rose

    Jen Rose

    1 1/2 oz. Berkshire Mountain’s Greylock Gin
    1/2 oz. cranberry syrup
    1/4 oz. lime juice

    Shake with ice and serve neat.


    A gin spin on the Jack Rose, created as a test drive for homemade cranberry syrup. This was one of my earliest ideas for a locally-sourced ingredient substitution, taking the place of grenadine. Properly, grenadine is sweetened, boiled-down pomegranate juice. Cranberries have the same tart, bitter palate pomegranates do; I haven’t yet found a cocktail in which you can’t substitute one for the other.

    This of course means you can make a Jen Rose with grenadine, too.