Another year of learning, another year of connecting, another year that felt like it was all over too early.
Two days of seminars. Three nights of parties. Multiple pop-up bars. An after-party here and there.
As I sit writing this on a Tuesday afternoon, following a jam-packed weekend at Thirst Boston, you’d think I’d still be feeling the effects of a spectacular hangover.
Instead, I’m mostly feeling elated.
With its sixth year now officially in the books, Boston’s premier cocktail conference just keeps growing. Every one of Saturday’s seminars sold out, as did much of the Sunday program. The annual spirit showcase State Lines on Saturday night was packed, and so was Sunday night’s trippy Intergalactic Blender Bender.
But measuring Thirst’s growth solely in terms of numbers risks missing the best part of the story. It’s not just an event that keeps getting bigger – it’s a community that continues to evolve.
Plenty to sample at the Origin Beverage Craft Spirits Tasting Room.
Mixed Drinks, Mixed Crowds
I’ve said in the past that there’s something for almost everyone at this event, and Thirst organizers Maureen Hautaniemi and Nick Korn continue to ensure that that’s the case. There are intensive seminars on bar management, workshops geared toward helping amateur bartenders sharpen their skills, and introductory classes for those who just want to learn a little more about a spirit.
A seminar on Canadian whisky gave attendees a chance to choose a flavor profile and blend their own whisky.
Importantly, there’s space for all of those people to mingle – and that’s what keeps this community growing and thriving. People come here with increasingly diverse interests, even if they’re all within the realm of booze.
At the Angel’s Envy Bitters Bar, Thirst-goers could choose from an array of bitters to add to a sample-size Old Fashioned.
At one of the on-site pop-up bars, I overheard someone asking a vendor about unit costs, ingredient sourcing, and whether they could ship their product to certain states. On the other end of the spectrum, I heard someone asking a bartender about the difference between rum and aged rum (you might laugh at that question, but is there a better environment in which to ask it?).
And it’s inspiring to see this community making efforts to take care of itself. This year’s Thirst saw an increased emphasis on sustainability, with the organization eliminating plastic water bottles at the main venue and cutting back on plastic sampling cups and straws.
Flor de Caña’s Kayla Quigley exchanges a plastic cup for a glass of rum.
That sense of social consciousness was apparent in the seminars as well. One class focused on social responsibility in tiki culture. Privateer’s Maggie Campbell talked about transparency in sugar sourcing for rum, while Flor de Caña brand associate Kayla Quigley expounded upon her employer’s dedication to renewable energy, fair trade, and community empowerment. And as seminars began, attendees were informed about resources available to those struggling with substance abuse.
For me, this year’s Thirst was punctuated by a handful of truly memorable conversations. I met people whom I’ve known for years only through social media, commiserated with a fellow partygoer about the challenges of caring for an aging parent, and talked about culture with a welder from Rhode Island. While sipping top-notch drinks, I managed to refresh some old relationships and develop a few new ones. I left each night feeling energized.
Sorry if I’m rambling a bit here. Usually I do a post-Thirst rundown of the classes I attended and share a few foggy recollections from the evening events. But something about this year has me feeling more reflective than analytical. Seven years after unwittingly joining this community, I’ve had the pleasure of watching it grow and feeling my own relationship with it deepen. It feels special to be a part of this, and I can’t wait for next year.
From the standpoint of brand identity, the most entertaining thing about Prizefight Irish whiskey is the unusual inspiration for its name – an illegal, bare-knuckle boxing match between two Irish immigrants in 19th century New York, fought in a makeshift ring in an abandoned brickyard. The brawl is immortalized in an antiquated drawing emblazoned on Prizefight’s label.
But what’s far more interesting to me is what’s inside the bottle – particularly, an Irish whiskey finished in rye whiskey barrels.
Collaboration Across Continents
It’s not uncommon for Irish whiskies to be partially aged in ex-bourbon barrels, or port or sherry casks, which impart sweetness and layers of complexity. But until I encountered Prizefight, I’d never heard of an Irish whiskey spending time in a barrel used for aging rye, known for its spiciness and bite.
In what the company calls a “transatlantic collaboration,” Prizefight whiskey is distilled and aged in West Cork, Ireland, and finished in rye barrels used by Tamworth Distilling in New Hampshire. According to Prizefight’s website, the whiskey blends a 10-year-old malt and a 4-year old grain, and spends 6 months in the rye barrel.
It’s an unusual collaboration that makes for a novel whiskey. On the nose, the aroma is very mild and a little flat, though I get some subtle hints of grass, heather, and honey. Things get more interesting on the first sip. The straw-colored liquid is smooth and drinkable, with distinctive floral and fruity notes, a bit of vanilla, and the first indications of peppery spice.
But for me, it’s all about the finish. That’s where I get the most distinctive notes of a good rye whiskey – spicy, lively, and crisp.
I was introduced to Prizefight at a promotional event last fall at Boston’s W Hotel. The bar had whipped up a few Prizefight-based cocktails, one of which was the best Tipperary I’ve ever had. While I don’t know the bar’s exact proportions, the drink adhered to the traditional recipe – Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth, chartreuse, orange bitters, and a splash of water – but with rye notes that gave it a Manhattan-like essence.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t get two big, boozy drinks like this, but I couldn’t resist ordering a second one. This later proved to be a poor decision.
Playing around with Prizefight at home, I wanted to make a chilled version of an Irish coffee. Recipes for this sort of drink abound on the web, but my version plays up the whiskey’s rye-like spice with mole bitters and adds some nice, round sweetness with a brown sugar syrup.
Iced Irish Coffee:
2 ounces Prizefight Irish whiskey
1½ ounces cold brew (preferably homemade, but store-bought will do)
½ ounce brown sugar simple syrup
2-3 dashes Bittermens Xocolatl mole bitters
1 oz heavy cream
Stir the whiskey, cold brew, syrup, and bitters with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. In a shaker, dry-shake the cream for about 20 seconds, just to stiffen it up a bit. Strain the cream onto top of the drink, pouring it over the back of a barspoon for more even distribution.
It’s an intriguing experiment, using a rye barrel to finish an Irish whiskey. Generally, it works – you get all the floral and fruity flavors of an Irish whiskey with some added spice and warmth from the rye. I wonder whether it would benefit from a little more time in the rye barrel; I want those spicy notes to be more prominent.
Prizefight makes for an unusual cocktail ingredient. I don’t often use Irish whiskies in cocktails, but the rye-like flavor profile opens up some interesting mixing opportunities. I look forward to continue experimenting with it.
Note: I received a complimentary bottle of Prizefight Irish whiskey and opted to use it in a product review. No one from or associated with Pugilist Spirits or Tamworth Distilling influenced this content.
Tiger Mama’s tiki program sits at the intersection between tiki culture, world history, and modern cocktail innovation.
Boston may seem awash in tiki culture these days. 2018 was bookended by the opening of two new tiki-themed establishments – Tiki Rock and Shore Leave. And while both opened as dedicated tiki bars, they joined a multitude of bars that already featured strong tiki programs.
In such a crowded market, how is a tiki bar supposed to distinguish itself? One way would be to play up tiki’s kitschy aesthetic – make the drinks more colorful, the garnishes more elaborate, the glassware funkier and more intricate.
At Tiger Mama, bar manager Brian Callahan opts for a more thoughtful approach (though there’s still plenty of tiki-esque razzle and dazzle).
Tiki Around the World
Tropical drinks have been a staple of chef Tiffani Faison’s Southeast Asian-inspired Tiger Mama since it opened in Fenway in 2015. But a dedicated tiki bar at the back of the restaurant is where Callahan and his team devise cocktails that stretch the boundaries of modern-day tiki culture.
Tiger Mama’s beautiful tiki menu, designed by California artist Doug Horne.
Featuring drinks that Callahan calls “history inspired” and “world inspired,” Tiger Mama’s tiki menu, titled “A World Awaits,” dispenses with the notion that tiki drinks should all be rum-forward and Polynesian-themed. With a slew of spirits and influences drawing from an array of world cultures, Tiger Mama’s tiki menu takes guests on a boozy tour of the globe.
The Ballad of the Wind Fish summons the flavors of Japan, with Japanese gin, a hitachino white ale reduction, ginger, peach, lemon, grapefruit, and sesame. A ginger-forward cocktail that’s fruity but not too sweet, it’s deceptively smooth for a gin drink.
The Italy-inspired Silk Sling is made with an aged demerara rum, overproof St. Lucia rum, kiwi, amaro, Italian falernum, lemon, pineapple, and soda. It’s surprisingly dry and bracing, with spices and subtle notes of kiwi.
The Legend of Kon Tiki smartly incorporates ingredients from Peru, Polynesia, and Scandinavia. Named for the 1940s Kon-Tiki expedition, in which Norwegian scientist/explorer Thor Heyerdahl fashioned a raft out of balsa wood and sailed from Peru to the Polynesian islands, this inventive cocktail features brown butter-washed aquavit, pisco, chichi morada, coconut, banana, passion fruit, lemon, and makrut lime.
You might feel a bit like an explorer yourself while sipping this one, trying to identify each ingredient and wondering whether you’ve ever had aquavit in a tiki drink before. The mug cleverly recalls the famous expedition.
Of course, no tiki program is complete without some pyrotechnics. The Aloha Catrina, inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday, arrives in a blaze of fire. The smoke clears to reveal a fearsome red skull mug with a mix of reposado tequila, navy strength rum, mezcal, coconut horchata, cacao, almond, lime, grapefruit, and fassionola – a lost tiki syrup made with raspberry, mango, pineapple, passion fruit, hibiscus, and lime.
This is an absolutely top-notch tiki drink, with a unique mouthfeel, a hint of smoke, and a burst of complex flavors.
A Drink and a Show
Tiki cocktails are inherently playful and fun, giving bartenders a chance to flex their creative and artistic muscles. But substance ultimately needs to prevail over style.
Tiger Mama’s tiki drinks are delightfully over the top from an aesthetic standpoint, but beyond the funky mugs and garnishes are cocktails that live up to their presentation and stories that make each drink a conversation piece.
A Tunisian fig brandy traditionally consumed before or after meals, Boukha Bokobsa can be a versatile component in cocktails.
For years, I was convinced I didn’t like figs.
Because when I was a kid, I hated Fig Newtons. The first time I tried one, I thought I was being pranked. Cookies were supposed to be fun, sweet, and delicious – three words I would never use to describe Fig Newtons. They were an insult to cookies everywhere.
Or so I thought.
It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized I had it backward. Fig Newtons weren’t an insult to cookies; they were an insult to figs. Because figs, as I eventually discovered, are actually really good. I don’t know what unholy alchemy turned this tasty fruit into a foul brown paste masquerading as a cookie filling, but it delayed my enjoyment of figs by many years.
Today I’m a big fig fan, and last month I was excited to get my hands on a bottle of Boukha Bokobsa, a fig eau de vie.
The National Drink of Tunisia
Boukha Bokobsa is a clear, unaged brandy made from Mediterranean figs. “Boukha” is the category of spirit, and “Bokobsa” is the brand, named for the family that’s been distilling it since 1880. The spirit originated in Tunisia, but today Boukha Bokobsa is produced in France.
On the Nose: Rich, sweet, and complex, like an indulgent dessert. The aroma of figs is unmistakable.
On the Palate: Smooth up front. Alongside the predominant fig flavor are notes of raisin and cinnamon. I would expect a fig brandy to be very sweet, but the sweetness is earthy and restrained. There’s a little heat in the finish.
While the eau de vie can be consumed at room temperature or chilled, the Boukha Bokobsa folks encourage freezing the bottle and drinking it ice-cold. The temperature does make a difference; the chilled version is crisp and bracing, smoothing out some of those hot notes and making the fig flavor more consistent throughout.
Funny thing about boukha cocktails – there aren’t many. Google it if you don’t believe me. You’ll see plenty of fig cocktails, but they usually involve fig jam, muddled figs, or fig-infused vodka or whiskey. But boukha is traditionally consumed neat, and using it as a cocktail ingredient seems to be a relatively new concept.
The dearth of cocktail examples made for an interesting challenge in terms of experimenting with flavor combinations. Here’s what I came up with.
The Ruins of Carthage combines Boukha Bokobsa with Bully Boy amaro, which I chose partly because of its subtle fig notes. Brown sugar syrup adds a little thickness, and chocolate bitters pair well with the fig.
The Ruins of Carthage
2 oz Boukha Bokobsa
1 oz Bully Boy amaro
½ oz brown sugar syrup
2 dashes Fee Brothers chocolate bitters
Maraschino cherry garnish
Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail or coupe glass. Garnish with the cherry.
I haven’t come up with a name for this next drink, but it’s lighter and less boozy. Made with Boukha Bokobsa, lemon, and a homemade rosemary syrup, it’s tart and softly herbal. Angostura bitters add some aromatic notes and a bit of color.
2 oz Boukah Bokobsa
1 oz fresh lemon juice
½ ounce rosemary syrup
2 generous dashes Angostura bitters
Rosemary sprig garnish
Shake all ingredients with ice. Double-strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.
Boukha Bokobsa is smooth, rich, and bursting with fig flavor. And while it’s traditionally consumed neat, before or after a meal (or both), on its own I found it to be a bit too intense for my taste. But it’s delightful in drinks, and since that’s still a novel concept, exploring its potential in cocktails can lead to some exciting discoveries.
Note: I received a complimentary bottle of Boukha Bokobsa with the understanding that I would use it in a product review. No one from or associated with the Boukha Bokobsa brand influenced this content.
Want to visit the Seven Kingdoms without fear of being decapitated, burnt to a crisp, or turned into a White Walker? Precinct’s got you covered.
The final season of Game of Thrones is still a few months away. But if you need your fix of Tyrion, Cersei, and Jon Snow, a visit to the Game of Thrones pop-up at Precinct Kitchen + Bar should put you in a Westeros state of mind.
For the second time in two years, Precinct has transformed itself into the Seven Kingdoms, replete with dragons, direwolves, and fearsome white walkers.
Inside, candlelit tables cast an eerie glow over a corner devoted to the infamous Red Wedding. An animatronic dragon glares at you with glowing blue eyes.
Outside, Precinct’s patio captures the rustic, medieval splendor of a castle courtyard. Banners displaying the sigils of houses Targaryen, Lannister, and Stark flap in the wind. You can add your face to a cutout in the creepy wall of faces, relax on a non-iron throne, and don one of Precinct’s faux furs to ward off winter’s chill (I’m not kidding; there’s an entire rack of furs).
Cocktails Fit for a Khaleesi
As with its past odes to Game of Thrones and Stranger Things, Precinct cleverly pairs set design with thematic libations. Dracarys, the command uttered by Daenerys Targaryen when she wants one of her dragons to incinerate a person, army, or village, is made with Flor de Caña 4-year rum, lime juice, simple syrup, and muddled dragon fruit. There’s a bit of smoldering dragon fire on top, so be careful not to singe your eyebrows.
The Red Priestess would be sure to please the mysterious Melisandre with its combination of reposado tequila, blood orange and grapefruit shrub, and lime juice.
Take the Black is good for those long nights when you’re patrolling a giant wall of ice, keeping wildlings and an army of the undead at bay. Made with Flor de Caña 7-year rum, Boston Common coffee, and topped with Guinness and sweet cream, it will help fortify you while you defend the realm.
The Others reflects the bluish hue of the White Walkers. Made with vodka, white chocolate liqueur, house-made vanilla cream soda, and blue curacao, it’s a sweet tribute to a group of supernatural beings that are anything but sweet.
Precinct’s Game of Thrones pop-up opens tonight and runs through February 1. Think of it as a night out in Westeros without all the violence, incest, and betrayal.
I try to avoid using the word “unique” in my bar and cocktail writing. Generally speaking, it’s a term that’s prone to overuse. And seldom is it truly applicable.
But in the case of Better Sorts Social Club, I can’t think of a more apt descriptor.
Stylish but Cozy
Better Sorts opened last October in the space once occupied by Highball Lounge in the Nine Zero Hotel. And while the layout is largely unchanged, the aesthetic is startlingly different. Gone is Highball’s upscale rec room vibe, replaced with something decidedly more sophisticated.
Long tables in the center allow for ample standing room by the bar, while comfortable couches and tucked-away tables lend themselves to more intimate conversations. Dark wooden walls give the space the feel of a beautiful old den. Framed portraits of animals decked out in all manner of outfits add a bit of levity.
OK, Who Ordered the Squash Drink?
But what truly distinguishes Better Sorts is its beverage program. With a cocktail menu delineated by categories such as “Squash,” “Greens,” and “Pear,” Better Sorts declares itself a bar intent on doing things differently.
Head bartender Naomi Levy, former bar manager at Eastern Standard and recipient of a slew of industry awards, leads a highly original drink program that emphasizes presentation, uncommon ingredients, and fresh ideas. Even cocktail enthusiasts who feel like they’ve seen it all are likely to be intrigued by drinks that incorporate zucchini syrup, seaweed, and coconut curry.
A gorgeous cocktail with an unexpected sweetness, the Return of Major Tom combines Asian pear-infused Toki Japanese whisky, orgeat, a burnt toast tincture (!!!), and egg, with a striking garnish of ash.
The Tide is High is stunning as well. Made with Plantation pineapple rum, kale, Giffard Crème de Banane, and lime juice, it balances sweet, tropical, and vegetal notes.
Tasting every bit like an adult PB&J sandwich, Fifteen Minutes combines peanut-infused Basil Hayden, collards, aquafaba, lemon stock, and hot pepper jelly, served in a glass that’s equal parts elegant and adorable.
For the More Cautious Palate
Despite their unusual composition, Better Sorts’ original cocktails are entirely approachable. But if black pepper pasta water syrup and gouda-infused vermouth aren’t your thing, other drinks are refreshingly familiar.
The timeless Sherry Cobbler is perfect for the cold weather, with a blend of sherries, lemon, thyme, and cranberry.
The Hanky Panky packs a boozy punch, with Beefeater gin, sweet vermouth, and Fernet Branca.
And if those don’t grab you, just relax and order a Sazerac.
Thanksgiving arrived a little earlier than usual this year, and in my naiveté, I thought that might translate into a less frenetic holiday season. More time for sleigh rides, hall decking, figgy pudding, and general holiday revelry.
No such luck.
The season has once again flown by faster than Santa on a sleigh. I still have gifts to buy, cards to sign, and a substantial volume of eggnog to drink. But no matter how busy life gets at this time of year, I always try to find time for my favorite annual BBH holiday project.
And with that, I present to you the Seventh Annual Boston BarHopper Christmas Special. If you’re unfamiliar with the drill, every December I ask a few Boston-area bartenders to each share an original cocktail that reflects the spirit of the season. This year we’ve got drinks that capture the sweet and savory flavors on your holiday dinner table, transport you to warmer climes, and remind you of a time in your life when you still believed in magic.
PastoralJoe Bork Dugan
It’s hard to imagine a more welcome aroma on a bitter December night than that emanating from the wood-fired pizza oven at Pastoral. That rich, smoky scent greets you as soon as you step through the door of the Fort Point Italian restaurant, conjuring images of cozy fireplaces and wood stoves, warm blankets, and holiday feasts, and follows you all the way to the bar, where beverage manager Joe Bork Dugan has an array of cocktails to match the mood.
‘Tis the season for sweet, decadent drinks. But Joe takes things in a different direction with his savory House Salad cocktail. True to Pastoral’s Italian roots, the House Salad reflects so many of the flavors one might find at the dinner table this time of year, presented with a flourish that makes it look and feel like a special drink.
Made with Uncle Val’s peppered gin, lemon, aquafaba, Strega, and a tomato-thyme-balsamic shrub (made with tomatoes from Italy that grow only at the base of Mount Vesuvius), this is an outstanding cocktail with soft herbal tones and a rich, creamy texture. A cherry tomato and thyme garnish is as striking as it is effective, making the drink both as aromatic and delicious.
Drinks with ingredients like these can be aggressively vegetal or sharply herbal. The House Salad is smooth and frothy, perfectly balancing notes of citrus, herbs, and botanicals. The flavor is surprising and complex, and worth savoring while the smoke from Pastoral’s oven wafts over to the bar.
Address: 345 Congress Street, Boston
Seasonal libations can help you cope with winter’s chill in any number of ways. Some double down on the indulgent flavors of the holidays while others fortify you against the plummeting temperatures. But Ian Swindlehurst of Explorateur would rather transport you to a different climate altogether.
As Explorateur’s beverage manager, Ian tends to put several drinks on each seasonal menu that emphasize a particular spirit. For winter, the focus is on rum, and Ian’s hopeful that he can help guests see rum as something more sophisticated than what they might have poured into a Solo cup of Coke during their college days.
It’s also a way to bring a tropical mind-set to the winter months. Ian’s Bank Robber cocktail is made with Plantation Xaymaca special dry rum, lime, mint, angostura bitters, and a cinnamon and sumac (!) syrup. This one has all the familiar components of a classic tiki drink, but the dry rum keeps the sweetness at bay, resulting in a refreshing cocktail that’s tangy and slightly tart. A couple of these and you’ll be rockin’ around that big Christmas tree on nearby Boston Common.
Address: 186 Tremont Street, Boston
Ritcey EastMichaela Ritcey
For me, Christmas is the most nostalgic of holidays. No matter how old I get, I still remember what it was like to be a kid during the holiday season. The colors, the songs, the smells, the thrill of tearing open a present – it doesn’t take much to rekindle those feelings.
All of which made Ritcey East an obvious choice for this project. With a menu that includes playful twists on comfort food classics like the Big Mac and Oodles of Noodles, nostalgia is in this Watertown restaurant’s DNA. And owner Michaela Ritcey takes it even further with a cocktail that’ll bring you back to an age when you believed in flying reindeer.
If there’s such a thing as a comfort food cocktail, Captain’s Cream is it. Made with Old Monk rum, Plantation rum, milk, and a simple syrup made from Cap’n Crunch, it’s an adult drink with some familiar kid-like flavors. Rich and creamy but not overly sweet, Captain’s Cream has all the special-occasion decadence that you’d expect of a festive winter drink. And yes, it indeed tastes remarkably like the breakfast cereal that inspired it. A tiny bag of Cap’n Crunch serves as a garnish, in case you need a reminder.
Address: 208 Waverley Avenue, Watertown
The AutomaticAnthony Mottla
When he’s not manning the bitters bar at the Boston Shaker or sharing his expansive selection of booze-branded pins on Instagram, you’ll find Anthony Mottla behind the bar at the Automatic. His drink, called …And Everything Nice, lives up to its name. Anthony considers it a holiday nightcap, a way to wind down after a busy day of wassailing.
Made with Old Overholt bonded rye, Pierre Ferrand curaçao, a Berkshire Brewing Company Coffee House Porter syrup, and the Automatic’s house-made mole bitters, it’s dessert-like but not too sweet, with notes of chocolate, baking spices, and a fruity finish.
Address: 50 Hampshire Street, Cambridge
I want to thank Joe, Ian, Michaela, and Anthony for being part of this year’s holiday post. It’s always such a pleasure to sit at their bars, catch up, and talk booze, and I look forward to visiting them often in 2019. I suggest you do the same!
This is probably my final post of the year, so I’ll catch up with you in January. I hope your holidays are warm, peaceful, and merry, and as always, thank you for reading.
The concept of an American-made amaro is fairly new one. That makes sense; our infatuation with amaro here in the U.S. is a relatively recent phenomenon, at least when you consider Italy’s been cranking out these bittersweet herbal liqueurs for centuries.
But as American craft distilleries continue to grow and expand their product offerings, domestic amari are becoming increasingly common. Among Boston-based distilleries, Bully Boy Distillers became the first to release an amaro when its Italian-inspired digestif debuted this past October.
The Long, Bitter Road to Amaro
At its core, making amaro is a reasonably simple affair: toss some herbs, spices, citrus peels, and other botanicals in a neutral grain spirit; let it all sit for a few weeks; strain out the solids, add a little sweetener, and you’re good to go.
Perfecting the recipe is another matter entirely.
Bully Boy’s amaro is the culmination of a two-year process of discovering the right combination of botanicals, tweaking their proportions, and letting each batch rest for three weeks before it could even be tested. The subtlest change to the composition would cause the process to start all over again.
In November 2017 I participated in an amaro tasting panel at Bully Boy’s Roxbury distillery as they sought feedback on their upcoming release. It would be almost another full year before the amaro was ready.
The final product comprises 26 botanicals, including grapefruit, rhubarb root, Szechuan peppercorn, and fig, rested in a combination of rum and neutral grain spirit. A blend of Amarillo, Cascade, Citra, and Galaxy hops contribute a sturdy bitterness.
Worth the Wait
The resulting amaro is spicy, floral, citrusy, and bitter. The aroma, bright and vibrant, jumps out of the bottle as soon as the cork is removed.
On the nose, the amaro pops with grapefruit and peppercorn. On the palate, the amaro is smooth and herbal, with big notes of citrus and fig, along with tart and earthy flavors like rhubarb. The finish is long, with a warm, spicy bite. The flavor is bitter, of course, but not aggressively so. It’s easily one of the most floral amari I’ve encountered.
In the Glass and in a Drink
Like any good amaro, Bully Boy’s needs little or no adornment. A splash of lemon or a dash of bitters might play well with some of the botanical notes, but I’m happy to just enjoy it on its own. Smooth and drinkable at 58 proof, the amaro serves as a splendid way to conclude an evening or round out a satisfying meal (making it especially useful in this season of overeating).
Which is not to say that it’s not a welcome addition to cocktails. Amaro often plays a complementary role in drinks, but I wanted to try something that would showcase it.
The Reverse Manhattan turns one of the world’s most iconic cocktails on its head, with two ounces of sweet vermouth and one of rye whiskey. I swapped the vermouth for Bully Boy’s amaro, obviously. And in place of rye I opted for bourbon, which served to balance the amaro’s spiciness with some sweetness. Grapefruit bitters and an orange twist help accentuate the citrusy notes in the amaro.
Reverse (Amaro) Manhattan
2 ounces Bully Boy amaro
1 ounce bourbon (I used Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut, an overproof bourbon)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash grapefruit bitters
Stir all ingredients with ice; strain into a chilled glass and garnish with an orange twist.
The Loews Hotel bar is hosting not one but two popup bars.
Eggos, arcade games, and drinks that change color before your very eyes. Just in time for the season of trickery and disguise, Boston’s Precinct has done itself over as Hawkins, the fictional Midwestern town at the center of Netflix’s smash series Stranger Things.
Welcome to Hawkins
Summoning all the creepiness of the Upside Down and the warm nostalgia of the 1980s, Precinct’s popup is a near-immersive Hawkins experience, beginning with the bar’s subterranean patio. Even in the middle of a busy city, the spooky vibe out here is enough to send shivers up your spine.
Strands of overhead Christmas lights flicker and flash, hinting at a desperate message from another dimension. Steam oozes out of a fenced-off corner, a restricted area where sinister government scientists are busy covering up a supernatural discovery (the effect is diminished somewhat by a TV showing sports highlights).
The trusty bicycles of Mike, Will, Dustin, and Lucas are parked in another corner, while pumpkins – some painted to look like they’re rotting – add to the eerie ambience.
Things are a bit less menacing inside. You can try your hand at a few vintage arcade games while enjoying a mostly 80s soundtrack.
No Dig Dug, unfortunately.
There’s also a replica of the Byers family living room where guests are invited to take selfies. Hopefully you don’t get photobombed by a Demogorgon bursting through the wall.
Precinct’s food and drink menu, meanwhile, is filled with clever references to the show. There’s a burger named for Benny, the friendly but ill-fated diner owner; a meatloaf TV dinner, served exactly the way you’d expect; and of course, a dish that would please the show’s beloved main character. Eleven’s sliders pack deep-fried chicken in between a malted waffle, served with maple bourbon butter.
Hawkins police chief Jim Hopper gets a namesake cocktail that appropriately reflects his fondness for coffee and cigarettes. Made with Illegal Joven mezcal, Patron Café, and cold brew, it’s served in a smoked glass container; once the smoke infuses the drink to your satisfaction, pop the top and pour it into a glass.
The 008 is named for a season two character who’s capable of inducing hallucinations. This striking purple drink combines Hendrick’s gin, mint, and simple syrup, and comes with a syringe of lime juice. Inject the lime, stir, and watch the purple change to pink.
The Stranger Things popup is open nightly through November 16.
The Bellhop Bar
Amid all the Hawkins fanfare, it’s almost easy to miss Precinct’s other popup.
The Bellhop Bar is a vintage steamer trunk serving pre-batched cocktails out of apothecary-style bottles, along with red and sparkling wine. If you’re a weary traveler looking for a drink, just approach the big trunk and tap the service bell.
The Mayflower is a riff on the Aviation, made with Hanger One vodka, crème de violette, and lavender syrup.
The Midnight Ride is like a spicy Old Fashioned, made with Angel’s Envy bourbon, Ancho Reyes, and vanilla and Peychaud’s bitters.
You can ring for service at the Bellhop bar between 5 and 7 p.m. through mid-January 2019.
With its combination of Scottish and Indian barley, Amrut Fusion is a single malt whisky in a category all its own.
If you find yourself talking with someone about the world’s great whiskey-producing regions, Scotland and Kentucky are likely at the forefront of the conversation. Japan certainly belongs in the discussion. Perhaps Ireland, as well.
India probably doesn’t come up. Which is a little ironic, given that the country produces something in the vicinity of 300 million cases of whisky every year. (The U.S., by comparison, produces about 37 million cases.)
As staggering as that figure may seem, it comes with a caveat – the vast majority of Indian whisky is made from fermented molasses (making it more like a rum), so it doesn’t meet the European definition of whisky.
But a few Indian whiskies do meet that standard. And leading the way – while defying expectations, stunning long-time scotch drinkers, and racking up a slew of prestigious international awards – is Amrut.
Indian Single Malt
Amrut Distilleries has been making liquor since 1948. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that the distillery began tinkering with its recipes with the aim of creating a premium whisky in a more traditional European style, with malted barley.
Years of experimentation and discovery followed, with the distillery eventually importing barley and peat from Scotland and combining it with barley grown in northern India.
By the early 2000s, Amrut had itself a fine single malt whisky that was unlikely to gain a foothold in the Indian market and had no reputation to speak of anywhere else in the world. So in an effort to establish their name and gain some serious credibility, Amrut made the most audacious of gambles – bringing their single malt to Scotland and persuading a renowned whisky bar to serve it to customers in a blind taste test.
As the story goes, the customers were enamored of the unknown whisky and assumed it was a product of the Speyside region. They were shocked to discover its true origin. A little later, in 2004, India’s first single malt whisky was officially launched – in Glasgow, Scotland.
I recently had the opportunity to get acquainted with Amrut’s product line during a master class at the Whisky Extravaganza in Boston. Assistant distiller Ashok Chokalingam was on hand to talk about Amrut’s fascinating history, including the unique conditions under which it’s made. The country’s hot, dry climate accelerates the whisky’s aging process; a whisky that spends three years in an oak barrel in southern India tends to take on the flavor profile of a 12-year old scotch.
The company’s flagship, Amrut Fusion, has garnered a number of accolades, including being named the third finest whisky in the world in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible in 2010, the same year it entered the U.S. market.
On the Nose: The aroma is robust, with notes of citrus and spice along with chocolate, butterscotch, and oak.
On the Palate: Fruity and spicy. The oak becomes more pronounced, and there’s some moderate peatiness. A splash of water opens it up a bit, bringing out notes of toffee and caramel.
Finish: Smooth and round, with a hint of baking spices.
I’m instinctively leery of using single malt whiskies in cocktails; I find that most of them, especially a high-quality single malt like Amrut Fusion, are best on their own. But I opted for a simple, whisky-forward cocktail that would accentuate the flavors in the Amrut, then tried it in a more supportive role in my second drink.
The Bobby Burns is a smoky, sweet, slow-sipping cocktail. Bénédictine and sweet vermouth play well with the Amrut’s fruity and spicy notes. (Numerous variations of this recipe can be found online; mine combines elements of several.)
2 ounces Amrut Fusion
¾ ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
¼ ounce Bénédictine
1 dash Angostura bitters
Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Mr. Howell is a smoky, cool-weather sort of daiquiri. Amrut adds a soft, peaty finish that doesn’t overwhelm the cocktail. This version is based on one by my good friend Fred Yarm, with a few modifications.
1½ ounce aged rum (I used Havana Club 7-year)
¾ ounce lime juice
½ ounce maple syrup
½ ounce Amrut Fusion
Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a coupe glass.
Amrut Fusion is an exceptional single malt whisky. It’s best to drink it neat or with a little water, taking time to both contemplate the whisky’s rich flavors and appreciate its compelling story. It works well in scotch cocktails, if that’s your thing, but I think it’s best on its own.