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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