Dutch Holiday

FullSizeRender (3)

Origin: Tiger Mama, Fenway
Take On: Daiquiri

Some folks like to take their minds off winter with a big mug of cocoa nestled warmly between their palms. I prefer a drink served in a coconut, and the kinds of palms that grow on trees.

Tiger Mama, a new tiki-inspired Southeast Asian restaurant in Fenway, has both of these things. Walking through the place, you occasionally have to duck beneath the lush, green tropical leaves that fan out from their pots like plants in a Honolulu hotel lobby. The lamps on the walls throw a red-orange glow over everything—I believe they have the dimmers turned to “Postcard Sunset.” And at Tiger Mama’s decorative tiki bar, separate from the larger bar at the entrance, they serve a coconut drink on a silver platter. But actually.

Something you will notice immediately when visiting Tiger Mama is that, here, presentation is on a monsoon scale. Last Wednesday I watched bartender Jay Miranda, also of Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square, turn out cocktails that might have doubled for centerpieces, some garnished with blushing flower petals, others with giant, spear-shaped pineapple leaves. I ordered the Dutch Holiday, a daiquiri variation on the smaller bar’s exclusive “Tiger Tikis” menu, which features such beachside classics as the absinthe-tinted Jet Pilot. Jay came over and laid down a thin, papery green placemat on the bartop in front of me. I asked him what it was. “Oh, that’s a banana leaf,” he answered. And why not?

Next came a gleaming silver bowl filled with crushed ice, upon which sat a coconut with its top lobbed off and a metal spoon-straw poking out. There was ice in the coconut—shaved ice, made from real coconut water that the prep cooks at Tiger Mama extract themselves. Between sips, you can use the spoon end of the straw to scoop the coconut ice out of the shell, sort of like eating gelato in the Caribbean.

The leap from the stem-glassed daiquiri of the 1930s to the still life painting that is the Dutch Holiday is, mildly speaking, astronomical. In terms of ingredients, the daiquiri’s plain sugar is replaced by syrup infused with lemongrass, kaffir and lime leaf to add a little brightness and spice. In lieu of light rum, the Dutch Holiday features a Dutch spirit and modern gin’s predecessor, genever, which like gin is juniper flavored, but not quite as dry or light.

“It’s a great clear spirit for winter,” says Jay. “It has this breadiness and malt to it. You feel that warmth in your chest as it goes down. And it gives more body to the classic daiquiri.”

Jay made me a straight genever daiquiri just to taste the difference. Whether he wanted to teach me something new about cocktails or was simply tired of watching me scrape the walls of the coconut like a prison escapee, it made me feel a little warmer, too.

.   .   .

Dutch Holiday
adapted from Tiger Mama

1 1/2 oz Bols Genever
3/4 oz kaffir, lime leaf and lemongrass-infused simple syrup
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
shaved coconut water ice

Prepare banana leaf and polished silver bowl, if you’re serious. Then add all ingredients to hollowed out coconut, and swizzle.

What the hell does swizzle mean, you ask? Learn about it here.

Follow Jay Miranda with On the Bar! Just click.


Donga Punch

FullSizeRender (1)

Take On: Tonga Punch
Origin: Audubon, Fenway

You can’t order a craft cocktail at a Red Sox game, and for good reason.

Of course, New England sports fans don’t need any added help getting obliterated by the time “Sweet Caroline” detonates midway through the eighth inning. But when you’ve got two-hundred sweaty Sox fans waiting in line for a twenty dollar cup of alcohol, you can’t spend forever muddling, measuring, shaking, and straining each drink without getting a Papi-signed baseball thrown straight at your head.

For the bartenders at Audubon, a sleek, modern cocktail bar and kitchen on Beacon Street just blocks away from Fenway Park, not only is this a reality—it’s a challenge as regular as fruit flies.

“During baseball season, if you put something on the menu with a ton of ingredients, you can’t expect people to wait,” says Taylor Knight, who presided over Audubon’s stone, smoke-grey bartop last Wednesday. “There’s no shortage of spirits for us to play around with here, but you’ve got sixty people out there who don’t expect a drink to take twenty minutes.”

Sports bars everywhere have strong-armed this problem with sour mix, Jack-and-Cokes, scorpion bowls, and of course, buckets of Bud Light (cocktails are for chicks anyway, bro). Audubon’s bartenders can hustle plenty, but they’ve found ways to preserve a quality cocktail program while they’re at it. Their most innovative solution is to batch classic highball cocktails like the Paloma, a tequila-grapefruit drink that’s adored in Mexico, and carbonate and bottle them, thus removing the step of topping each drink with soda.

One day Taylor was looking to create a tiki-style drink for Audubon’s summer menu using the house-made grapefruit syrup they carbonate for the Paloma. He thought of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the cocktail historian who helped revive the mid-century tiki craze that gifted us with the Zombie, the Mai Tai, the Jungle Bird, and other drinks best served in a pineapple. One of Berry’s greatest accomplishments was to decipher the closely guarded syrup recipes of Don the Beachcomber, the tiki guru whose 1930s Hollywood nightclub had stars like Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin buzzed on Daiquiris and Planters Punches.

In his book Potions of the Caribbean, Berry unearths “Don’s Mix” as a combination of fresh grapefruit juice, vanilla, allspice and cinnamon. Drawing inspiration from the two tiki legends, Taylor dreamed up a cocktail using the Paloma’s grapefruit syrup—which comes from both the juice and the peel—a house-made cinnamon syrup, lime juice, and a blend of rums.

“We never want to have eight Manhattan variations on the menu, even if they’re really good. We wanted something bigger and juicier,” says Taylor. “From there, it was just figuring out what rums to use.”

He ended up with two amber rums out of New England, Privateer and 8 Bells, and Old Monk, a darker rum from India that would bring out the vanilla notes included in Don’s Mix. The three rums are blended and put in a single bottle, which means you can order a serious, six-ingredient cocktail on game day without waiting six innings to have it made. Good thing—Taylor says it’s a pretty popular drink.

He named it the Donga Punch because, coincidentally, it ended up resembling a classic drink from another mid-century tiki master, Trader Vic. His was the Tonga Punch, and “Ton” rhymes with “Don,” or something like that. Truth be told, Taylor didn’t put much thought into it.

“When you name something quickly and it becomes popular, sometimes you really regret that name,” he says. “One day I realized Donga Punch kind of sounds like donkey punch.”

If you don’t already know what a donkey punch is, sorry—my research stops here.

. . .

Donga Punch
adapted from Audobon

1 1/2 oz rum blend (8 Bells, Privateer Amber, Old Monk)
1 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz grapefruit syrup **
1/2 oz cinnamon syrup ***

Add all ingredients to mixing glass, add ice and shake. Strain into lowball glass over fresh ice, and garnish with a little umbrella—it would make the beachbums proud.

** To make the grapefruit syrup, combine:

1500 gm sugar
600 gm fresh grapefruit juice
100 gm grapefruit peel
75 gm citric acid

Let it sit for a little less than a week, tasting occasionally. When it tastes ready, strain into a lidded container and refrigerate. It’s tiki time.

*** For the cinnamon syrup, combine:

25 gm cinnamon sticks
1 qt water
1 qt sugar (approx.)

Crack the cinnamon sticks and add to boiling water until they dissolve. Add sugar equal in amount to the final volume of the water and cinnamon, then stir until dissolved. Fall’s coming—why not put it in a cocktail?

Follow Taylor Knight on On the Bar! Click me.

Hojoko Piña Colada

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.