boston

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.

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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.