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FIRST WORD

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Origin: The Hawthorne, Kenmore Sq
Take On: Last Word

A cocktail named the “Last Word” is something of a paradox. Just like any craft, the art of drink-making lies in reinventing the past—there’s no last word about it. The Beatles listened to a lot of blues; in the same light, Sam Ross, creator of the popular Paper Plane cocktail, probably drank a lot of whiskey sours.

The Last Word, a bright, boozy prohibition-era drink that’s equal parts gin, Green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice, never did get the last word. There’s the Final Ward, an almost equally popular rye variation from Phil Ward at the Pegu Club in NYC; and there’s the First Word, which Ingrid Schneider made for me last Thursday at the Hawthorne in Kenmore Square.

It was Ingrid’s final week bartending at the Hawthorne, and the drink is her last word—for real, this time.

“I wanted to create something for my leaving, and I have a sort of obsession with Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy,” she said.

At a lot of bars in the city, you’re more likely to see Laird’s Applejack, a pseudo-apple brandy that’s blended with neutral spirits. It’s sweeter and less potent, and called for in such classics as the Jack Rose and the Pink Lady. For Maeghan Phillips, a former co-worker of mine who was also tending bar at the Hawthorne last Thursday, Applejack has a different name.

“Crapplejack,” she said with a straight face. “It’s just too fruity.” Maeghan planted a bottle of 100-proof Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy on the bar top in front of me, like a gambler with a winning hand. “This is the hardcore stuff,” she said. “It drinks more like a whiskey.”

For the First Word, Ingrid wanted to swap lime for lemon juice and replace the Last Word’s maraschino with falernum, a Caribbean-born syrup dating back to the 1800s that’s popular to this day in a lot of tiki drinks, made using almonds, ginger, cloves and citrus peel. But the falernum and lemon were too tart together, so Ingrid added honey to round the drink out and give it some body.

“You have a lot of sweeteners in there, with the honey and falernum and Chartreuse,” she said. “You still want the base spirit to stick out, so Laird’s Bonded works well.”

The First Word is my kind of seasonal drink. Nothing says autumn quite like apples and honey, and if you ask me, pumpkin beers are better for smashing than drinking.

But no matter what you drink for a blanket these days, you should do it at the Hawthorne. It’s a dim, velvety, lower-level night spot with a candle-lit bar and a lounge made up of quiet, private corners with sofa chairs and little tables, the kind of place where you’d bring your mistress (or mister). Despite its New England gothic vibe, the Hawthorne isn’t named after the guy who wrote The Scarlet Latter—it’s a reference to the hawthorne cocktail strainer, whose round, coiled body is printed on all of the bar’s coasters.

The Hawthorne is flanked by two of its sister restaurants, Eastern Standard and Island Creek Oyster Bar, both of which are known to serve up a mean drink, having been launched in part by local cocktail legend Jackson Cannon. But according to Ingrid, the Hawthorne is Jackson’s pet project; it’s the only bar within the group that he co-owns, with a seasonal drink list that changes every week. Ingrid calls the menu a bookmark—yes, it’s shaped like a giant bookmark, but it’s also just one page out of an epic, stirred and shaken history that the Hawthorne’s bartenders have learned to tell, one drink at a time.

As for the history of the First Word, Ingrid says it wasn’t the first name she came up with for the drink.

“When Jackson tried it for the first time, all he said to me was, ‘It’s a little tart.’ So I thought it would be funny to name it ‘A Little Tart,'” she said. “I also had a few names about me leaving, like ‘The Last Laugh.’ They didn’t pick that one, surprisingly.”

Oh, well—if we learned anything from the Last Word, it’s that there’s not much in a name. At least “The First Word” is honest; someone’s bound to put a new spin on it, whether it’s another Boston bartender, Ingrid herself, or just some amateur with a few cheap bottles lying around. I wonder how it would taste with Crapplejack…

. . .

First Word
adapted from the Hawthorne

1 oz Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz Yellow Chartreuse
3/4 oz honey syrup**/John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum (split)
Dash of Angostura bitters

Add all ingredients into mixing glass, add ice and shake vigorously. Double strain into chilled coupe glass and serve. Last Word my ass.

** To make honey syrup, combine equal parts honey and hot water, stir, then chill. That simple.

Follow Ingrid Schneider and Maeghan Phillips 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.