Snap Daiq

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Origin: Townsman, Downtown Boston
Take on: Daiquiri

“I never thought I’d want to drink English peas,” says Melissa Benson, a bartender at Townsman, chef Matt Jennings‘ new restaurant in downtown Boston. Melissa’s not talking about some green colored juice bar concoction—she’s talking about a green colored daiquiri.

The Snap Daiq is Townsman’s springtime interpretation of the classic daiquiri, which—contrary to the swim-up bars of the world—consists simply of light rum, lime and sugar. In Havana, Cuba around 1913, at the bar of the Hotel Plaza, the original daiquiri was served frigid and frost-colored, not frozen and pink. Townsman’s Snap Daiq is green—I mean, really green—but it’s also delicious. It can pull it off.

As Melissa was saying, when you drink the Snap Daiq, you’re drinking peas. But don’t think boba tea. The Snap Daiq is sweetened by English snap pea husks that have been reduced and made into a syrup, replacing the original daiquiri’s plain sugar. A little Green Chartreuse and touch of absinthe are used to tie in the botanical notes of the peas, and a dash of saline solution complements the sweetness. “It’s like adding salt to a cookie,” says Melissa.

If you don’t like the idea of putting snacks in your drinks, I get it. But isn’t a daiquiri just as refreshing as a crisp, cool pea on a sunny day? I think it’s time the two met.

“It’s a very aromatic, vegetal cocktail, and I love that it’s so refreshing,” Melissa says. “It’s so pretty, too.”

Townsman is quite a looker itself. It’s a bright, breezy and open space with huge windows and modern, steel dining chairs the color of fire engines. There’s a civilized, “let’s do lunch” downtown-ness to it, but the menu is anything but tame, boasting lamb crudo, a suckling pig ham and pâté Cuban sandwich, and deviled eggs with fried capers and crispy hen skin.

Townsman has only been open four months, but the bar program, run by Sean Frederick, formerly of Citizen Public House in Fenway, is already matching some of the best in the city, from its house blended bitters to its innovative, farm-to-cocktail recipes. Melissa says the Snap Daiq speaks to what the bar is all about.

“It’s really in keeping with the theme of Townsman, since we change the menu as often as we can to keep it in season,” she says. Unfortunately, that also means the Snap Daiq will be leaving the drink list soon. And so it goes—nothing green can stay.

. . .

Snap Daiq
adapted from Townsman

1 1/2 oz Privateer Silver rum
3/4 oz snap pea syrup
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
1/4 oz Green Chartreuse
2 dashes absinthe
2 dashes saline solution

Add all ingredients to mixing glass, add ice and shake vigorously (and I mean vigorously—it’s a daiquiri, so make it cold). Strain into chilled Irish coffee glass and garnish with mint leaf. Spring was in the air; now it’s in your drink.

Follow Melissa Benson on On the Bar! You won’t regret it. Just click here.

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Distract and Confuse

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Origin: Russell House Tavern, Harvard Square
Take On: Negroni

If you want to have a drink with the friendliest bartenders in America, visit Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square. Yes, I’m a little biased—I did work there for over a year. But I’m also an excellent judge of character. Especially when that person is feeding me drinks.

Last Sunday afternoon, sometime between too early and much too early, I took a seat at Russell House’s downstairs bar. It’s an enormous, roundabout white marble bar in the belly of an enormous, bustling two-story restaurant. It’s no easy setting for Russell’s bartenders, but Joe Slavinski works it like a champ. Between talking regional sports with a very sporty-looking New England family (kids included) and professing his love for chef Tom Borgia‘s current pork dish (five ways, on a bed of Anson Mills grits), Joe invited me to try his negroni variation with sherry and mezcal, the Distract and Confuse. Joe says he named the drink after a curious hangover tactic he learned from a local liquor rep.

“She and her friend will wake up, do their hair and makeup really nice, and just try to pretend like they’re not hungover,” Joe says. “They call it distract-and-confuse. It kind of sounds like smoke and mirrors to me, and my drink is a smoky drink, so, you know…”

Clever guy. God knows if distracting and confusing ever worked for the poor girls, but Joe’s drink definitely works for me. I’ve heard it told by other bartenders in the city that mezcal can be a little overpowering in a cocktail. It plays rough. The negroni’s Campari is just as bold, but its bitterness can’t really cut the smoke of the mezcal. Joe says he didn’t want to end up with a “smegroni” (like, a smoky negroni—get it?), and especially not one that’s also a bitter bomb, so he replaced the classic drink’s sweet vermouth with sherry, tuned down the Campari from the negroni’s traditional full ounce, and tossed in a few dashes of orange bitters for good measure. In Joe’s drink, just like at his bar, everyone plays nice.

“The sherry gives this nuttiness and grittiness that complements the mezcal really well,” Joe says. He keeps the gin in there, too, so that it tastes like you’re drinking a negroni inside of a more layered, slightly smokier negroni. A drink within a drink. Within a bar within a bar. Oh, God. How many of these have I had?

“It’s a pretty sweet color, too,” Joe gloats. And he’s right—deep down it has its rougher edges, but when served up the Distract and Confuse has a rosy, polished beauty to it. Reminds me of a couple ladies I know.

. . .

Distract and Confuse
adapted from Russell House Tavern

1 1/2 oz Plymouth Gin
3/4 oz Lustau San Emilio PX Sherry
1/2 oz Campari
1/2 oz Xicaru Silver Mezcal
Dash of Reagan’s No. 6 Orange Bitters

Add all ingredients to mixing glass, fill with ice and stir. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with an orange twist. Or just have Joe make you one, and tip generously.

Follow Joe Slavinsky (aka Joey Roach) on On the Bar! Just click.

And follow chef Tom Borgia on Instagram! right here.

THE MAMACITA

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Origin: Toro, South End
Take On: Margarita

Believe it or not, the margarita wasn’t invented at a Tex-Mex restaurant. It was recorded as early as 1938 by Carlos “Danny” Herrera at his restaurant Rancho la Gloria, halfway between Tiujana and Rosarito. 77 years later I’m inside Toro, a well-beloved tapas spot on Washington Street in the South End, looking to write about a classic cocktail with an elegant, authentic Spanish twist. Then I noticed on the menu a margarita they pour a can of beer into. They speak Spanish in Mexico, right?

The Mamacita is Toro’s most popular cocktail. It’s a classic margarita—just tequila, triple sec, and fresh lime juice, plus a little agave nectar—served in a highball glass and topped with Tecate, like a Tom Collins on Cinco de Mayo.

The result is sweet, fizzy and totally refreshing, the kind of drink someone would deliver to your poolchair. When you’re sitting in the sun on Toro’s European-style patio, shaded by pretty pink flowers in little hanging pots, how could you say no?

“It’s been on the menu for forever,” says bartender Christopher Ratay. “For people who don’t drink cocktails, it feels like they’re drinking alcoholic soda. The beer just makes it super crushable.”

Crushable. I’ve been hearing that word a lot lately. Maybe it’s time we all slowed down a little, I thought to myself, sitting alone, two drinks deep, staring at the bull’s head that hangs on the wall at Toro. Then I had my first sip of a Mamacita. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Puerto Vallarta at eighteen, but the Mamacita tastes like all seven days dumped into a glass over ice. Somehow, incredibly, this is a good thing. A very good thing.

And is it crushable, you’re wondering? You betcha.

. . .

The Mamacita
adapted from Toro

1 oz Zapata white tequila
1 oz fresh lime juice
3/4 oz agave nectar
3/4 oz Luxardo triple sec
1 can of Tecate

Shake all ingredients (except beer) with ice, strain into highball glass over fresh ice, top with Tecate. Crushing is optional, but recommended.

Reverend Craig

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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.

. . .

Reverend Craig
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.

Goodbye Blue Monday

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Origin: OAK Long Bar + Kitchen, Copley Square
Take on: Moscow Mule

The OAK Long Bar + Kitchen at the Fairmont Copley Plaza is the hotel bar you thought only existed in Audrey Hepburn movies. White, gorgeously carved ceilings as high as the heavens; an impeccably mannered staff plucked right out of a 1920s Brooks Brothers ad; and a lovely, sprawling copper bar that will cost you anything but pennies.

But underneath all the glitz and glamour, side-by-side with a $22 Manhattan, there’s a drink made with blueberry vodka. If you didn’t guess, it’s not on the menu.

Goodbye Blue Monday, the secret brainchild of OAK bartender Lou Saban, is a riff on the ever popular Moscow Mule, a simple, refreshing vodka number that calls for lime and ginger beer. Lou’s seaside take on the drink is just as good—and it’s purple, too.

“A lot of my friends do the Nantucket thing,” Lou says, “and one of the most famous drinks around there is lemonade mixed with blueberry vodka, which I actually like a lot.” I’ll go ahead and assume that the Nantucket “thing” is getting good and plastered on the beach at two o’clock in the afternoon. When your vodka tastes like a popsicle, it’s all too easy.

To make the drink more his own, and to give it a nice kick, Lou muddles some fresh lemon slices in place of the sweeter lemonade and adds ginger beer, floating the violet-colored vodka on top. Essentially, it’s a Moscow Mule in board shorts. It’s a good look, too.

“I like it because it’s a twist on a classic, and it’s also very New England,” Lou says. “It’s very crushable, too.”

No kidding. If a little kid climbed off his boogie board and asked me for some, I’d probably forget what was in it. It tastes that innocent, like a drink dropped out of a poolside vending machine (Lou, if you’re reading this, that was a compliment). It’s the bite of the ginger beer that finally warns you, like those colored flags you see on a stormy beach—these are dangerous waters.

So why the name? It turns out Goodbye Blue Monday is the alternate title of one of Lou’s favorite novels, Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut, who apparently worked one of his first jobs at a car dealership on Cape Cod. Just like my drink, it didn’t last.

. . .

Goodbye Blue Monday
adapted from OAK Long Bar + Kitchen

2 slices lemon
2 oz Triple 8 blueberry vodka
Gosling’s (or better yet, homemade) ginger beer

Muddle the lemon slices in a lowball glass and top with ice. Pour in the ginger beer, leaving enough room to float the 2 ounces of blueberry vodka on top. It looks pretty, but Lou recommends stirring the drink for best taste. Swim at your own risk.

Scorched Earth

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Origin: Ward 8, West End
Take On: Old Fashioned

Everyone deserves a vacation once in a while. Having gone by the same recipe for more than a century, so does a classic drink.

The last variation on an Old Fashioned I featured came from Eastern Standard, which took the all-American cocktail down to Brazil, exchanging whiskey for cachaca at the gate and sweetening the drink with a house-made, Spanish kalimotxo-style red wine cola. At Ward 8, a casual cocktail spot around the corner from TD Garden, bartender Rob Haberek told me about their Scorched Earth, a south-of-the-border Old Fashioned with a kick—boot spurs included.

The drink uses mezcal, tequila’s smoky evil twin, which has become increasingly popular despite the fact that, for the most part, people mix drinks to mask the taste of liquor. Mezcal doesn’t play that way.

“It can be a little overpowering,” Rob says. That’s why the Scorched Earth calls for Ancho Reyes, a spicy and delicious liqueur made using ancho chiles from Puebla, Mexico. “The spiciness kind of cuts out the intense smoke of the mezcal,” says Rob. “Ancho Reyes adds a bit more complexity, too.”

In keeping with the heritage (and earthiness) of its spirits, the Scorched Earth employs agave nectar as its sweetener and Fee Brother’s Aztec Chocolate Bitters in place of the Old Fashioned’s traditional dashes of Angostura. The result is a tough little drink that is perfectly spicy, strangely seductive, and a little bit sweet—like a cantina girl in an old Western film. For added smoke on the nose, Rob flamed an orange peel over the amber glass, like a flash of heat lightning over the desert. Whoever named the drink needs an award.

Sipping happily at the Ward 8 bar, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of tiny tincture bottles along the counter, the absence of bartenders with fitted vests and ties, and the presence of Third Eye Blind on the restaurant’s radio. As sophisticated of a drink as the Scorched Earth is, Rob insists that the bartenders at Ward 8, which is named after a 19th century cocktail created in Boston, try to keep things simple, classic and casual.

“We don’t try to go too crazy with anything,” Rob says. “You’re not going to find seven-ingredient drinks here. We try to keep things simple and let the quality of the ingredients shine through.”

Rob, here’s to you.

. . .

Scorched Earth
adapted from Ward 8

1 oz Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
1 oz Ancho Reyes chili liqueur
1/4 oz agave nectar
2-3 dashes Fee Brother’s Aztec Chocolate bitters

Add all ingredients to lowball glass, add one large ice cube and stir. Garnish with flamed orange and discard peel. If you’re not usually the kind to play with fire, here’s how.

Follow Rob Haberek on On The Bar! Just click here.

Poor Little Rich Man

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Origin: Eastern Standard, Kenmore Sq.
Take on: Old Fashioned

Every so often I find myself in the fortunate position of sitting at the long, luxurious white marble bar at Eastern Standard in Kenmore Square. Seriously, fortunate—with a fat paycheck in my pocket aimed straight for the drink list. It was on one such occasion, my reflection appearing by the hundreds in the restaurant’s glitzy sea of glass and mirrors, that I was treated to a conversation with bartender Kevin Morrison about the allure of classic cocktails.

“If you go to a couple of different bars in Boston, New York, LA, Chicago, Denver, and order a classic drink, some part of it is going to be tweaked,” he said. “With the Old Fashioned, you never know what you’re going to get. They could be using a different kind of sugar, different bitters, different ice. But there’s no wrong way to do it.”

There’s certainly nothing wrong about the Poor Little Rich Man, an E.S. original that’s basically an Old Fashioned as you would enjoy it on a leafy terrace in Rio de Janeiro. The traditional whiskey base is replaced with cachaca, a sugarcane-made spirit and the preferred poison of the people of Brazil (for the wary, it’s pronounced ka-SHA-sa). Cachaca comes either aged or unaged, clear or amber, and Kevin says the Poor Little Rich Man calls for aged cachaca to match whisky’s color and complexity, while at the same time creating a brighter, more exotic drink.

“There’s a lot of tropical fruit going on,” he said. Even the Old Fashioned’s signature muddled orange and cherry is replaced with the clean, bright sliver of a fresh lime peel. As for the sweetener, the O.F.’s dissolved sugar is switched with a house-made red wine cola, also known as kalimotxo, a sort of poor man’s Cuba Libre they like to drink in Spain
(and most likely the reason for the drink’s name, though Kevin couldn’t recall its precise origin). Add a dash of Angostura bitters and there you have it, a variation on a three-ingredient classic that’s anything but simple.

As they shout over the bar counters in Brazil, Saúde!

. . .

Poor Little Rich Man
adapted from Eastern Standard

1 1/2 oz Leblon Reserve cachaca
3/4 oz red wine cola
1/2 oz Beefeater gin (to counter the sweetness)
Barspoon lime juice (same deal)
Dash Angostura bitters

Add all ingredients to lowball glass, add ice and stir. Garnish with fresh lime peel.

Follow Kevin Morrison on On the Bar by clicking here. It’s that easy.