Origin: Lucca Back Bay, Back Bay
Take on: The Manhattan
Can you keep a secret? Yesterday I found a hidden treasure in Back Bay. Far out of sight of the herds of quacking duck boat tourists, there it stood: a two-foot tall glass jar of Woodford Reserve bourbon, visibly infusing with real figs and vanilla. An actual hidden treasure—does it sound like I’m joking?
The jar was perched behind the bar at Lucca Back Bay, a chic, dimly lit Italian restaurant on Huntington Avenue across from the Prudential Center. Lucca’s white tablecloths may not suggest the kind of place you’d stroll into for a happy hour cocktail, but the bar inside is small, easy-going, and kindly tucked away from the dressy dining room, sort of like a kid’s table for grown-ups. The drink list has an understated, creative Italian flair, including a barrel-aged Negroni and a spin on the French 75 with Marolo, a chamomile-flavored grappa.
“Cocktails are a passion of mine, and I want to keep it going here,” says Ryan Polhemus, a bartender at Lucca. “Plus, the drink scene in Boston is doing nothing but growing.”
Behind the bar, the fig and vanilla infused bourbon is poured out of its giant jar through a spout at the bottom, like a batch of iced tea. It’s created specifically for one of the bar’s most popular cocktails, a Manhattan variation known as the Reverend Craig.
“Originally, this drink was conceived for the winter time,” says Ryan. “The fig and vanilla are things you crave to warm you up. But it became so popular that it never came off the menu.”
The Reverend Craig holds on to the classic Manhattan’s red vermouth, but adds a touch of Thatcher’s Apple Spice Ginger liqueur and chocolate bitters to blend with the sweet, floral notes of the infused bourbon. It’s a rich, seriously delicious cocktail. And it’s true, drinking the Reverend Craig would make more sense in a snowstorm. Before it even reaches your lips, the apple and spice drift warmly up to your nose like chimney smoke from an old cabin. But that’s the mark of a good drink—one that can make you actually miss being cold and miserable.
The Reverend Craig is sweet, but you wouldn’t pour it on your flapjacks. There’s a slight, welcome bitterness from the chocolate and Punt e Mes vermouth to balance it out. Ryan tells me the drink was named after a previous bartender at Lucca by the name of Craig, though he’s not sure why. “He definitely isn’t a reverend,” Ryan says.
Yes, at the end of the day, you’re drinking a winter cocktail in June. So what? If I ruled the world, in December we’d all be drinking daiquiris.
. . .
adapted from Lucca Back Bay
2 oz fig and vanilla infused Woodford Reserve bourbon**
3/4 oz Punt e Mes vermouth
1/4 oz Thatcher’s Apple Spice Ginger liqueur
2 dashes The Bitter Truth Chocolate Bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters
Add all ingredients to mixing glass and stir with ice. Strain into chilled coupe glass (the fancy-looking one with the stem) and garnish with a brandied cherry. Happy holidays!
**And in case you were wondering, to make the bourbon, use a rough handful of dried figs per 750 ml of liquor and half of a sliced vanilla bean. Let it sit for about a week, stirring and tasting periodically. When it’s ready, share it to impress as many people as possible.
Follow Ryan Polhemus on On the Bar! He’s right here.