cocktails

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!

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.

Follow Sam Treadway on On the Bar! Click, click.

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.