STATE PARK COCKTAIL

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Take on: Whatever

Origin: State Park, Kendall Square

Writing about drinking is me in a nutshell. The State Park Cocktail—a curious mixture of hard rye, pungent amaro and cheap beer—is State Park, the bar, in a bottle of Miller High Life.

First, the drink. The rye is Rittenhouse, a 100-proof bartender’s favorite that makes for a killer Sazerac, or a round of shots that could potentially kill you. The State Park barstaff batches Rittenhouse with Braulio, an Italian amaro of the rich and herbaceous Alpine family. When someone orders the State Park Cocktail, a High Life is cracked, a splash of beer is poured out—approximately two ounces, for the homies—and the rye-amaro batch fills the bottle back up. To complete this strange, surprisingly refreshing beverage, a sliver of lemon peel is dropped in for a bright aromatic touch.

The State Park Cocktail—a high-concept tipple with a twist-off cap—is class in disguise, like George Clooney in a pair of work boots. This is exactly the concept behind State Park. It’s dressed up like an idyllic dive bar, with more time-worn Budweiser signs than a Milwaukee junkyard. There’s a sign on the pool table that prohibits players from resting their cigarette butts on the rails (ah, those were the days), and the jukebox plays actual CDs—that’s compact discs-–ranging from vintage country-western albums to a more East Village dive selection of punk classics and old-school rap.

The kitchen plays along, too, with bartop staples like pickled eggs and popcorn. Except the popcorn here is lightly coated in chicken fat and dusted with rotating house-made seasonings, from salt and vinegar to barrel-aged Tabasco mash. And that’s how it is: the closer you look, the more you’ll find State Park is not really a dive bar—it’s a restaurant as well crafted and meticulously detailed as anything you’ll find in the South End, or anywhere else in Cambridge, for that matter. The only difference is, it’s actually kind of fun.

Co-owner Evan Harrison puts it this way: “We have really world class European beer, but we also have a Surfer on Acid on our menu that’s made with Jaegermeister and coconut rum.”

When the place opened, Evan worked on the State Park Cocktail with co-owner Alon Munzer, who was fixated on serving a signature cocktail built in a High Life bottle. The Pegu Club had its Pegu Club, but what about a bar that loves cheap beer?

Beer cocktails were nothing new at the time—the French had been spiking their lagers with Picon, a bitter orange liquor unavailable in the States, for decades, Evan tells me—but most American bartenders were using beer as a modifier, not as the base of a drink. Evan says he got his inspiration, in true State Park Fashion, from a piss-drunk hillbilly.

“I had just watched this scene from a movie where this redneck gets out of his truck—wasted—and cracks a beer, takes a slug of it, pulls out a bottle of moonshine and pours it into the beer,” says Evan. “It was kind of funny to think of beer cocktails in that sense.”

From there, it just was deciding which beer to use, and what “hooch,” says Evan, his north Texas roots slowly surfacing.

“We tried to make French 75s in a bottle, and it tasted kind of like shit,” Evan says. “But that’s where the lemon peel came from. We really liked Braulio because it was a little bit orange-y like Picon, but more bitter and aromatic, and it stood up to all the sweetness of Miller High Life.”

For the hooch, the State Park team turned to Rittenhouse, which may not be pure moonshine, but at a spicy 100 proof, it’s close enough.

When the State Park batch is poured into the High Life, it floats at the neck of the bottle like some terrible Dark and Stormy variation (“White and Trashy,” perhaps). But when you take your first sip, the rye and amaro run their course through the bubbly liquid, turning the beer’s signature urine-gold sheen into something more complex, dark and unrecognizable—pretty, even. That’s as close as I can get to describing the taste, too.

One of the more adorable items on State Park’s drink list is a tall can of Hamm’s, another beer for the working man, to which you can add a “secret” shot of whiskey poured right into the can’s mouth. The idea is that, if you were an actual working man (in Kendall Square, work is done in expensive labs, not coal mines), the wife wouldn’t want to see you drinking your troubles and pennies away with whiskey, so a secret little shot from your sympathetic bartender lets you get plastered without getting slapped in front of your friends.

The State Park Cocktail, in some ways, serves a similar purpose, if your friends are the kind to drink cheap beer not out of necessity, but out of some ironic yet steadfast principle (guilty). Where a stem-glassed Manhattan would trigger jeers and, in the saddest cases, nicknames (“fancy boy,” “nancy boy,” “fancy nancy boy”) the State Park Cocktail lets you enjoy the finer things in life while still appearing to be the hearty, down-to-earth, blue collar chum that you truly, truly are not.

So, who’s up for a little diving?

.     .     .

The State Park Cocktail    adapted from State Park

1 oz Rittenhouse Rye

1 oz Amaro Braulio

1 bottle of Miller High Life

Pour out two ounces of High Life (at State Park, it’s into the sink, but feel free to indulge). Pour the rye and amaro into the bottle, twist a lemon peel over the lip and drop it in. Don’t forget your work boots.

Follow State Park on instagram! And Facebook! Or get off your ironic ass and go there.

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Dutch Holiday

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Origin: Tiger Mama, Fenway
Take On: Daiquiri

Some folks like to take their minds off winter with a big mug of cocoa nestled warmly between their palms. I prefer a drink served in a coconut, and the kinds of palms that grow on trees.

Tiger Mama, a new tiki-inspired Southeast Asian restaurant in Fenway, has both of these things. Walking through the place, you occasionally have to duck beneath the lush, green tropical leaves that fan out from their pots like plants in a Honolulu hotel lobby. The lamps on the walls throw a red-orange glow over everything—I believe they have the dimmers turned to “Postcard Sunset.” And at Tiger Mama’s decorative tiki bar, separate from the larger bar at the entrance, they serve a coconut drink on a silver platter. But actually.

Something you will notice immediately when visiting Tiger Mama is that, here, presentation is on a monsoon scale. Last Wednesday I watched bartender Jay Miranda, also of Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square, turn out cocktails that might have doubled for centerpieces, some garnished with blushing flower petals, others with giant, spear-shaped pineapple leaves. I ordered the Dutch Holiday, a daiquiri variation on the smaller bar’s exclusive “Tiger Tikis” menu, which features such beachside classics as the absinthe-tinted Jet Pilot. Jay came over and laid down a thin, papery green placemat on the bartop in front of me. I asked him what it was. “Oh, that’s a banana leaf,” he answered. And why not?

Next came a gleaming silver bowl filled with crushed ice, upon which sat a coconut with its top lobbed off and a metal spoon-straw poking out. There was ice in the coconut—shaved ice, made from real coconut water that the prep cooks at Tiger Mama extract themselves. Between sips, you can use the spoon end of the straw to scoop the coconut ice out of the shell, sort of like eating gelato in the Caribbean.

The leap from the stem-glassed daiquiri of the 1930s to the still life painting that is the Dutch Holiday is, mildly speaking, astronomical. In terms of ingredients, the daiquiri’s plain sugar is replaced by syrup infused with lemongrass, kaffir and lime leaf to add a little brightness and spice. In lieu of light rum, the Dutch Holiday features a Dutch spirit and modern gin’s predecessor, genever, which like gin is juniper flavored, but not quite as dry or light.

“It’s a great clear spirit for winter,” says Jay. “It has this breadiness and malt to it. You feel that warmth in your chest as it goes down. And it gives more body to the classic daiquiri.”

Jay made me a straight genever daiquiri just to taste the difference. Whether he wanted to teach me something new about cocktails or was simply tired of watching me scrape the walls of the coconut like a prison escapee, it made me feel a little warmer, too.

.   .   .

Dutch Holiday
adapted from Tiger Mama

1 1/2 oz Bols Genever
3/4 oz kaffir, lime leaf and lemongrass-infused simple syrup
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
shaved coconut water ice

Prepare banana leaf and polished silver bowl, if you’re serious. Then add all ingredients to hollowed out coconut, and swizzle.

What the hell does swizzle mean, you ask? Learn about it here.

Follow Jay Miranda with On the Bar! Just click.

POG Island

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Take On: Rum Highball
Origin: Highball Lounge, Downtown

When you want to feel like a kid again, you ask the bartender for a Shirley Temple, giggling like an idiot. You don’t go ordering a twelve dollar cocktail.

The exception to this rule is at the Highball Lounge, a big, lavish funhouse of a bar on Tremont Street downtown. Here, you can drink a Manhattan—and a good Manhattanover a round of Hungry Hungry Hippos, or Chutes and Ladders, or whatever your sad, nostalgic little heart desires. Trust me, they have it. The bartenders at Highball don’t feel much like growing up, either.

“Have you ever played the game POGs?” asked head bartender Shaher Misif, whose business card, just so you know, is a pocket-sized rubber ducky with his name on it. I had just ordered Shaher’s highball off the drink list, which—just so you know—can be viewed using one of these. It’s a juicy, spiced rum drink called the POG Island. And to answer his question, yes, like anyone who was blessed with a 90s upbringing, I have played POGs. Just ask my sister—we traded those cheap, colorful little paper discs like they were gold, or bricks of cocaine.

It was a magical time.

“The first POG pieces were actually juice caps,” Shaher told me last Thursday. “It was this drink from Hawaii made with passion fruit, orange and guava, which is what POG stands for.”

For the POG Island, Shaher took that same fruit mixture and put it in a highball cocktail, using the bar’s own house-spiced rum as the base. Now, for the sake of clarity (which is important when you’re writing about drinking), a classic highball is any liquor topped with soda—a thing of pure destiny. From Jack-and-Cokes to Gin-and-Tonics, it may be the oldest, simplest, and most immortal kind of drink, a favorite among high schoolers and hard-drinking aunts alike. Even celebrated cocktail bars have made a special place for the layman’s highball, stocking tonic bottles from craft companies like Fever Tree and Fentimans. Lone Star Taco Bar of Allston and Cambridge can top your rum with Mexican coke, which, if you don’t already know, is made with actual sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup, and comes in a pretty glass bottle.

The highballs at Highball come in a glass bottle, too—they’re pre-carbonated in house for quick, easy pouring. It’s a neat gag, but it’s also strategic, as the bar can get more lively than a jungle gym, even on weekdays (apparently after a day at work in the Financial District, drinking just makes sense).

“We get everybody,” Shaher told me, just as a young couple, or perhaps two people freshly sprung from a J. Crew photoshoot, sipped delicately from their cocktail glasses next to a string of stocky finance men, all of whom had taken off their ties and were drinking from absurdly tall Budweiser cans.

“We get a lot of cocktail enthusiasts, and a lot of locals who just want to hang out. Not everyone is on their phones, either. It’s really interactive here,” said Shaher. “If you’re interested, we can tell you a lot about the drinks, or cocktail history in general. But we’re not in your face about it. If you want, you can play some board games and drink a great drink, and just enjoy your time.”

Speaking of great drinks, it’s time for a highball.

The POG Island is a cheesy tourist’s idea of a rum cocktail, and in the best possible way. It’s rich and tropical—it tastes, for lack of my own creativity, like an island. Usually when I drink alone, which these days is rather often (you know, for the blog…), I feel a little bit older with each sip, and not in that first-beer-with-the-Old-Man kind of way. When I drink a POG Island, and especially more than one—well, I can’t say I feel any younger. But I do think of a time when I was. I think of POGs.

“We want to be a nostalgic kind of bar,” said Shaher, “Not like a classic cocktail lounge. We want to take people back to a certain place.”

If they can do it with a twelve dollar cocktail, that’s magic for you.

. . .

POG Island
adapted from Highball Lounge

1 oz Highball Lounge spiced rum **
2 oz POG (pineapple, orange, guava juice) ***

At Highball, they force carbonate and bottle the whole drink, then serve it in a highball glass over ice with a mint garnish. You probably cannot do this. Instead, just build the drink in highball glass, fill with ice and top with soda water. Garnish with the toy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle of your choice.

** Unfortunately, the Highball bartenders closely guard their spiced rum recipe. Didn’t anyone ever tell them about “secrets, secrets”? Anyway, here’s a recipe from Imbibe. As an easier route, try Sailor Jerry’s or, if you’re feeling nostalgic about getting blitzed in your parents’ basement, Captain Morgan’s.

*** For this, you can either buy the juices and mix them at equal ratios, or even better, squeeze them yourself.

Follow Shaher Masif on On the Bar here! Or watch him blow your mind to smithereens, here!

FIRST WORD

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Origin: The Hawthorne, Kenmore Sq
Take On: Last Word

A cocktail named the “Last Word” is something of a paradox. Just like any craft, the art of drink-making lies in reinventing the past—there’s no last word about it. The Beatles listened to a lot of blues; in the same light, Sam Ross, creator of the popular Paper Plane cocktail, probably drank a lot of whiskey sours.

The Last Word, a bright, boozy prohibition-era drink that’s equal parts gin, Green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice, never did get the last word. There’s the Final Ward, an almost equally popular rye variation from Phil Ward at the Pegu Club in NYC; and there’s the First Word, which Ingrid Schneider made for me last Thursday at the Hawthorne in Kenmore Square.

It was Ingrid’s final week bartending at the Hawthorne, and the drink is her last word—for real, this time.

“I wanted to create something for my leaving, and I have a sort of obsession with Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy,” she said.

At a lot of bars in the city, you’re more likely to see Laird’s Applejack, a pseudo-apple brandy that’s blended with neutral spirits. It’s sweeter and less potent, and called for in such classics as the Jack Rose and the Pink Lady. For Maeghan Phillips, a former co-worker of mine who was also tending bar at the Hawthorne last Thursday, Applejack has a different name.

“Crapplejack,” she said with a straight face. “It’s just too fruity.” Maeghan planted a bottle of 100-proof Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy on the bar top in front of me, like a gambler with a winning hand. “This is the hardcore stuff,” she said. “It drinks more like a whiskey.”

For the First Word, Ingrid wanted to swap lime for lemon juice and replace the Last Word’s maraschino with falernum, a Caribbean-born syrup dating back to the 1800s that’s popular to this day in a lot of tiki drinks, made using almonds, ginger, cloves and citrus peel. But the falernum and lemon were too tart together, so Ingrid added honey to round the drink out and give it some body.

“You have a lot of sweeteners in there, with the honey and falernum and Chartreuse,” she said. “You still want the base spirit to stick out, so Laird’s Bonded works well.”

The First Word is my kind of seasonal drink. Nothing says autumn quite like apples and honey, and if you ask me, pumpkin beers are better for smashing than drinking.

But no matter what you drink for a blanket these days, you should do it at the Hawthorne. It’s a dim, velvety, lower-level night spot with a candle-lit bar and a lounge made up of quiet, private corners with sofa chairs and little tables, the kind of place where you’d bring your mistress (or mister). Despite its New England gothic vibe, the Hawthorne isn’t named after the guy who wrote The Scarlet Latter—it’s a reference to the hawthorne cocktail strainer, whose round, coiled body is printed on all of the bar’s coasters.

The Hawthorne is flanked by two of its sister restaurants, Eastern Standard and Island Creek Oyster Bar, both of which are known to serve up a mean drink, having been launched in part by local cocktail legend Jackson Cannon. But according to Ingrid, the Hawthorne is Jackson’s pet project; it’s the only bar within the group that he co-owns, with a seasonal drink list that changes every week. Ingrid calls the menu a bookmark—yes, it’s shaped like a giant bookmark, but it’s also just one page out of an epic, stirred and shaken history that the Hawthorne’s bartenders have learned to tell, one drink at a time.

As for the history of the First Word, Ingrid says it wasn’t the first name she came up with for the drink.

“When Jackson tried it for the first time, all he said to me was, ‘It’s a little tart.’ So I thought it would be funny to name it ‘A Little Tart,'” she said. “I also had a few names about me leaving, like ‘The Last Laugh.’ They didn’t pick that one, surprisingly.”

Oh, well—if we learned anything from the Last Word, it’s that there’s not much in a name. At least “The First Word” is honest; someone’s bound to put a new spin on it, whether it’s another Boston bartender, Ingrid herself, or just some amateur with a few cheap bottles lying around. I wonder how it would taste with Crapplejack…

. . .

First Word
adapted from the Hawthorne

1 oz Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz Yellow Chartreuse
3/4 oz honey syrup**/John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum (split)
Dash of Angostura bitters

Add all ingredients into mixing glass, add ice and shake vigorously. Double strain into chilled coupe glass and serve. Last Word my ass.

** To make honey syrup, combine equal parts honey and hot water, stir, then chill. That simple.

Follow Ingrid Schneider and Maeghan Phillips on On the Bar! Click here and here, respectively.

Donga Punch

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Take On: Tonga Punch
Origin: Audubon, Fenway

You can’t order a craft cocktail at a Red Sox game, and for good reason.

Of course, New England sports fans don’t need any added help getting obliterated by the time “Sweet Caroline” detonates midway through the eighth inning. But when you’ve got two-hundred sweaty Sox fans waiting in line for a twenty dollar cup of alcohol, you can’t spend forever muddling, measuring, shaking, and straining each drink without getting a Papi-signed baseball thrown straight at your head.

For the bartenders at Audubon, a sleek, modern cocktail bar and kitchen on Beacon Street just blocks away from Fenway Park, not only is this a reality—it’s a challenge as regular as fruit flies.

“During baseball season, if you put something on the menu with a ton of ingredients, you can’t expect people to wait,” says Taylor Knight, who presided over Audubon’s stone, smoke-grey bartop last Wednesday. “There’s no shortage of spirits for us to play around with here, but you’ve got sixty people out there who don’t expect a drink to take twenty minutes.”

Sports bars everywhere have strong-armed this problem with sour mix, Jack-and-Cokes, scorpion bowls, and of course, buckets of Bud Light (cocktails are for chicks anyway, bro). Audubon’s bartenders can hustle plenty, but they’ve found ways to preserve a quality cocktail program while they’re at it. Their most innovative solution is to batch classic highball cocktails like the Paloma, a tequila-grapefruit drink that’s adored in Mexico, and carbonate and bottle them, thus removing the step of topping each drink with soda.

One day Taylor was looking to create a tiki-style drink for Audubon’s summer menu using the house-made grapefruit syrup they carbonate for the Paloma. He thought of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the cocktail historian who helped revive the mid-century tiki craze that gifted us with the Zombie, the Mai Tai, the Jungle Bird, and other drinks best served in a pineapple. One of Berry’s greatest accomplishments was to decipher the closely guarded syrup recipes of Don the Beachcomber, the tiki guru whose 1930s Hollywood nightclub had stars like Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin buzzed on Daiquiris and Planters Punches.

In his book Potions of the Caribbean, Berry unearths “Don’s Mix” as a combination of fresh grapefruit juice, vanilla, allspice and cinnamon. Drawing inspiration from the two tiki legends, Taylor dreamed up a cocktail using the Paloma’s grapefruit syrup—which comes from both the juice and the peel—a house-made cinnamon syrup, lime juice, and a blend of rums.

“We never want to have eight Manhattan variations on the menu, even if they’re really good. We wanted something bigger and juicier,” says Taylor. “From there, it was just figuring out what rums to use.”

He ended up with two amber rums out of New England, Privateer and 8 Bells, and Old Monk, a darker rum from India that would bring out the vanilla notes included in Don’s Mix. The three rums are blended and put in a single bottle, which means you can order a serious, six-ingredient cocktail on game day without waiting six innings to have it made. Good thing—Taylor says it’s a pretty popular drink.

He named it the Donga Punch because, coincidentally, it ended up resembling a classic drink from another mid-century tiki master, Trader Vic. His was the Tonga Punch, and “Ton” rhymes with “Don,” or something like that. Truth be told, Taylor didn’t put much thought into it.

“When you name something quickly and it becomes popular, sometimes you really regret that name,” he says. “One day I realized Donga Punch kind of sounds like donkey punch.”

If you don’t already know what a donkey punch is, sorry—my research stops here.

. . .

Donga Punch
adapted from Audobon

1 1/2 oz rum blend (8 Bells, Privateer Amber, Old Monk)
1 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz grapefruit syrup **
1/2 oz cinnamon syrup ***

Add all ingredients to mixing glass, add ice and shake. Strain into lowball glass over fresh ice, and garnish with a little umbrella—it would make the beachbums proud.

** To make the grapefruit syrup, combine:

1500 gm sugar
600 gm fresh grapefruit juice
100 gm grapefruit peel
75 gm citric acid

Let it sit for a little less than a week, tasting occasionally. When it tastes ready, strain into a lidded container and refrigerate. It’s tiki time.

*** For the cinnamon syrup, combine:

25 gm cinnamon sticks
1 qt water
1 qt sugar (approx.)

Crack the cinnamon sticks and add to boiling water until they dissolve. Add sugar equal in amount to the final volume of the water and cinnamon, then stir until dissolved. Fall’s coming—why not put it in a cocktail?

Follow Taylor Knight on On the Bar! Click me.

Hojoko Piña Colada

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Take On: Piña Colada
Origin: Hojoko, Fenway

You don’t have to be a teenage girl in Montego Bay to enjoy a frozen piña colada. You can have a cocktail blog, too.

Hojoko, a new, manically Japanese tavern attached to the Verb Hotel near Fenway Park, serves a frozen colada you can drink with your pinky lifted. The pineapple juice comes from a pineapple, not a metal Dole drum, and it’s mixed with sugar and Japanese rice wine vinegar to create a shrub. In the history of drinking, and not just booze, shrubs were a way to preserve fruit juice before anyone had ever heard the words General Electric. In cocktails today, such as in the Hojoko piña colada, bartenders use shrubs as a sweetener that’s not just sweet; the vinegar also brings out the tartness of fresh fruit.

“We wanted our piña colada to be something that would pair well with our food,” says Joe Cammarata, who co-manages the bar at Hojoko alongside Daren Swisher, formerly of Jm Curley downtown. “We go through tastings with the chefs. Rice wine vinegar goes well with sushi and other things on the menu.”

I’ve never been to Tokyo, but I think I got a taste of the weird neon jungle when I visited Hojoko last Thursday. It’s like being inside of a Hello Kitty bento box—every room is square and low-ceilinged, and the walls are decked with clusters of stylish, candy-colored Japanese toy dolls with grinning cartoon faces, all of which seem to converge onto the projection screen at the rear where they play a loop of dazzling Anime movies (last Thursday was Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke).

The bar at Hojoko is long and lime-green with pink and yellow straws poking out of their caddies, like a 1950s tiki dive in Palm Beach. Behind the bar, a row of “tanks” filled with florescent-colored batched cocktails and bobbing rubber dolphins promise a mean but delicious hangover, while a slushie machine, decorated after Hello Kitty herself, stands ready to ooze out my drink, the wonderful Hojoko piña colada.

On top of the homemade pineapple shrub, Hojoko’s colada is elevated by its blend of Carribean rums (Plantation 5 Year from Barbados, plus Wray and Nephew, a white overproof rum from Jamaica) and its house coconut mix, a blend of equal parts coconut milk and Fluff, a strange marshmallow cream with an even stranger cult following all across New England. The stuff was even invented right here in Union Square, Somerville, which hosts the annual Fluff Festival, a celebration featuring artists, musicians, games, and a Fluff-focused cooking contest.

Why in the hell am I talking about the Fluff Festival? Because that’s where Joe Cammarata first used Fluff in a cocktail. Before Hojoko, Joe worked at Backbar, the acclaimed Union Square speakeasy where, during the festival each year, the bartenders dream up drink specials that incorporate Fluff. Now Joe has brought that little experiment down to Fenway for the Hojoko colada.

“Real coconut milk is unsweetened, so the Fluff makes it sweet and adds this creamy texture,” Joe says. As a garnish, Joe torches a skewered marshmallow before your eyes, Hibachi-style, and perches it on the rim of your glass, which at Hojoko may range from a simple Irish coffee-style glass to a tiki mug carved into a giant, upside-down toucan (often reserved for another tiki classic on the menu, the Jungle Bird).

“I want everything to be thoughtful,” says Joe. “Tanks and levers make bartending easy, but it should also be something you actually want to taste.”

Who would have guessed that Boston’s most honorable cocktail was a slushie? Somewhere behind the bar at Hojoko, a little painted doll is bowing.

. . .

Hojoko Piña Colada
adapted from Hojoko

1 1/2 oz Plantation 5 Year rum
1/2 oz Wray and Nephew white overproof rum
1 oz pineapple shrub **
1/2 oz fresh pineapple juice
1 1/2 oz coconut-Fluff syrup
Pinch of salt

Blend all ingredients with 1/2 cup of ice and serve in the strangest glass you own. Garnish with torched marshmallow. Piece of cake.

** For the pineapple shrub, combine 5 parts shucked pineapple to 5 parts sugar and 4 parts rice wine vinegar, letting it sit for as long as you can stand.

Follow Joe Cammarata and Daren Swisher on On the Bar! Click here and here, respectively.

Gin Cobbler #4

IMG_6490 Origin: Ames Street Deli, Kendall Square
Take On: Sherry Cobbler

Most people don’t have the brains to get into MIT. Most likely, neither do you. But anyone with twelve dollars to burn can take a crash course on cocktails at Ames Street Deli, a college cafe with a drinking problem in Kendall Square, just down the street from geeksville itself.

The inside of Ames Street is like an upscale study lounge, complete with stylish metal chairs, a Jackson Pollock-esque mural splattered on the wall, and a small, busy coffee bar that fills the room with the smell of espresso beans and chai lattes. When I visited last Monday, the actual bar, presided over by bar manager Sam Treadway, an award-winning Boston bartender and co-owner of Backbar in Somerville, wasn’t quite as crowded as the cafe. MIT was never much of a party school.

But the bar at Ames Street isn’t just there to party, either—it’s a bit of a nerd itself. The cocktail list is literally a matrix, with each drink appearing at the crosspoint of a specific flavor (there’s “refreshing,” “strong & smooth, “a wee bit sweet,” for example) and a base spirit, each of which is named in terms of its chemistry (rum is listed as “sugar,” cognac as “fruit,” gin as “juniper,” and so on). It’s a bar you can learn from, only where the lessons aren’t painful ones.

Today’s subject will be history—the history of the sherry cobbler, that is. It’s a classic cocktail that’s as rich and fruity as it sounds and just about as old as, well, the cocktail. Drinking in class has never been more respectable.

“The cobbler is classic to the eighteen-teens, and the sherry cobbler was the most popular,” says Sam, my professor, who may as well hold a PhD in all things cocktail. In Jerry Thomas’ legendary 1862 Bartender’s Guide, the recipe for the cobbler includes sherry, sugar, orange slices, one raspberry and one blackberry, shaken and served over a mound of crushed ice. Sam tells me that what made the cobbler so drinkable—literally—was the advent of the straw. Remember this was the 1800s, and dental care was lacking, to be generous. As Sam puts it, “With the cobbler, you could actually use ice in your drink and not hurt your shitty teeth.”

The Ames Street bartenders have been doing a series of variations on this forgiving refreshment, changing up the fruits depending on what they’re in the mood for, and also adding gin into the mix. Right now it’s the Gin Cobbler #4, a cocktail to please the toothless on their days at the beach.

“It’s Cape Cod season, and people want to drink vodka-cranberries. We’re basically taking that cranberry-lime flavor and adding it to the cobbler,” Sam says. “When I think of Cape Cod, I think of the sea—I think salty. Sherry adds that sort of savory element ”

The Gin Cobbler #4 isn’t the only drink in Boston this summer to bring a classic cocktail to the New England shore (OAK Long Bar is serving a blueberry vodka Moscow mule), but as a variation on the cobbler, it’s one of a kind. In keeping with the drink’s local personality, Ames Street uses a cranberry mixer from Frutations, a company out of Lynn, MA that strictly uses natural ingredients in its mixers and sodas. Sam held up the bottle last Monday to read the ingredients out loud. “Water. Sugar. Cranberries. That’s the way it should be.”

When he was creating the Gin Cobbler #4, Sam realized the cranberry and sherry alone made for a drink that was too tart and too dry—he didn’t want people actually drinking the sea. That’s when he reached for a bottle of Benedictine, an herbal and delicious Cognac-based liqueur whose recipe has remained closely guarded for centuries by French monks. “I wanted a sweetener that would smooth out the edges, and simple syrup just didn’t work,” says Sam. “Benedictine added this element of spice that I really liked.”

As part of the history lesson, Sam tells me the cobbler got its name in the early 1800s from crushed ice’s resemblance to cobblestones. To me, the great thing about cocktails served over a ton of crushed ice is that you can’t really see how much you’ve had; as the ice slowly melts and blends with the drink, it feels like it might never end. When sipping a Gin Cobbler #4 at the Ames Street bar, I’d call that wishful thinking.

. . . .

Gin Cobbler #4
adapted from Ames Street Deli
1 oz Beefeater gin
1 oz Lustau Amontillado sherry
1/2 oz Frutations cranberry mixer
1/2 oz Benedictine
1/4 oz fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt

Add all ingredients into steel julep cup, fill with crushed ice, and give a quick stir. Garnish with fresh lime wheel and serve. I recommend you cheers to your dentist.

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