Books : Check Em Out is an infrequent series of posts on books related to drinks. It's also a PSA that gets stuck in my head. It's probably a given but I'm going to mention it anyway - these reviews aren't written by a professional book critic. They're written by me. I like to read and I like to make drinks. Please adjust your expectations accordingly.

Drink & Tell - A Boston Cocktail Book by Frederic Yarm

One of my favorite online drink resources is the blog Cocktail Virgin Slut. It would be difficult to estimate how many drinks I've made from the recipes posted there. It's largely based on drinks consumed in and around Boston with frequent postings by one of the blog's contributors Frederic Yarm (who now also heads up the monthly online cocktail party Mixology Monday). The posts are usually a concise recounting of the drink - where he had it, who made it, the origin or inspiration behind the drink's creation, and tasting notes. Recipes are included as is, in most cases, a picture. Another nice feature of the blog is the listing of spirits on the margin. Found a bottle of Kummel and want to make use of it? Looks like there's 18 drinks for you to try. Still in love with Fernet but want to try it in something different? You're in luck because there's 101 drinks to look through. Seriously, the blog is amazing and even if you don't pick up the book I'm eventually going to mention, you should pay a visit to the site.

There's one more blog feature worth mentioning. And it ties directly to the book. Which I'll get to, I promise. Above the list of base ingredients in the margin there's a list of Boston bars and restaurants along with a number corresponding to the amount of posts related to those places. If you've heard of places like Drink and Eastern Standard but haven't made it there you've got over 250 posts related to those two places alone. And most of them are going to have recipes related to those establishments. There are numerous other bar/restaurant posts worth reading through including ones with drinks from Clio, Backbar, Brick & Mortar, Independent, No. 9 Park, Craigie on Main, and many others.

When I read online that Frederic was putting out a cocktail book I was pretty excited. Yes, the blog is great, but so are books. And while, like the rest of the world, I can waste a ton of time on a computer I still enjoy rifling through an actual book and randomly coming across new recipes and interesting bits of information. Drink & Tell - A Boston Cocktail Book is a collection of recipes specific to the bars and restaurants in and around Boston. The recipes are all originals though frequently inspired by both classic and contemporary drinks. Each recipe is annotated and includes the origin/attribution of the drink as well as a brief explanation regarding some facet surrounding it - the name, the event it was created for, the inspiration behind it, if it won an award, etc.

Drink and Tell includes recipes for 505 cocktails. And while there will certainly be ingredients called for that you may not have on hand the drinks included were meant to be made easily at home. Recipes were weeded out if they had house-made bitters for which there was no readily available substitute or a hard to find spirit (hard to find in Boston at least). Some drinks will require special syrups and the recipes for those syrups are consolidated in the back. Brands are listed because that's how they are made at the bars from which the recipes came but Frederic notes that you should feel free to use what's on hand and perhaps consider the brands specified and less common spirits when expanding what you have access to at home.

Another topic addressed concerns the community-minded nature of Boston's bar/cocktail culture. Recipes developed at bars and the techniques bartenders employ are openly shared among one another. Drink & Tell benefits from this as well in situations like the discussion of egg fizzes where the practice at Drink of adding seltzer to the serving glass prior to straining is an interesting and effective variation on the standard construction of drinks like the Ramos Gin Fizz (you can get the same amount of pillowy fluff with considerably less shaking time). There are numerous recipes where the anecdotal information refers to a bartender riffing off another bartender's creation. If you like one of those drinks, chances are you can track down the other one and compare the two. Or make your own variation. That's how these things evolve. I personally am a fan of the Ponte Vecchio (Cynar, Fernet, Lemon Juice) but created a drink based on it (The Arno - Fernet, Meletti Amaro, Campari, Lemon Juice) since we can't stock, let alone serve Cynar up here.

The book also includes a section which is incredibly handy should you find yourself in Boston and thirsting for something along the lines of what's listed in the book but aren't quite sure where to go. The city is broken down into various sections, squares and neighborhoods where many of the bars with recipes in the book are listed. You might be interested to know, for example, that if you're at The Boston Shaker, stocking up on awesome books, bitters and barware, you can stay in Somerville and head over to Union Square and check out Backbar or Independent. If Eastern Standard and The Hawthorne are mobbed with baseball traffic you won't have far to walk to get to Citizen Public House or Clio. Fortunately, this section isn't just a list of bars and restaurants. There are a few sentences which describe what you're likely to find at each place (like Fernet on tap at Citizen Public House).

Finally, the book makes it pretty clear that Boston has an abundance of bars making good use of interesting ingredients. While it's meant to enable you to replicate those drinks at home it stresses that the drinks themselves are part of a larger experience. Being in a bar and having the opportunity to interact with the bartender and maybe taking a chance on a drink with an unfamiliar ingredient - this is all good stuff. Luckily for us it's just a couple of hours away (and Drink isn't too far from the bus station). Plus, you're going to need to stock up on Cynar, Smith & Cross, Ransom...so you might as well head down there anyway.

Nonatum Cocktails
Nonatum Cocktails

Rye, Punt e Mes, Strega and bitters. What's not to like? This drink is fantastic and another in the long list of Manhattan variations. The book points out this is a riff on the Green Point which is similar but uses Yellow Chartreuse instead of Strega.

Ponte Vecchio left, Arno right
Ponte Vecchio left, Arno right

Deeply bitter drinks get frequent attention around the house. Both of these drinks employ lemon juice to keep things from getting too heavy but not so much that they're tart or overly acidic. The Ponte Vecchio is rich and dark and makes use of two of my favorite amari - Fernet and Cynar. The Campari in the Arno (named for the river running below the Ponte Vecchio) maintains the bitter theme, brightens things up a bit and together with the lemon juice, manages to keep the sweetness of the Meletti in check.

A/B'ing Bustamantes - Amontillado on the left, Fino right
A/B'ing Bustamantes - Amontillado on the left, Fino right

The book notes that the Bustamante won a 2010 Appleton mixology contest. I enjoy mixing with Appleton's and when I saw that the recipe also had Campari and Benedictine I was fully on board. The Bustamante calls for sherry too but since it didn't specify which type I thought I'd a/b two different ones that I happened to have open. The version using amontillado was deeper, sweeter and rounder than the fino version. Even though the fino I used had been open for a while (I keep it in the fridge but at this point it's still probably past its prime) that version of the drink was lighter, brighter, drier and more vibrant. Both versions were great.

69 Holland left, Snap Point right
69 Holland left, Snap Point right

The 69 Holland is a pretty amazing cocktail with layers of flavors working together. It's named after the address of The Boston Shaker. This drink uses both Plymouth and Bols genever for a soft, slightly sweet and malty base rounded out by the Meletti amaro and amontillado sherry. It also has peach bitters and some grapefruit oil expressed by a twist and even though those two elements are added in small amounts they really make themselves known right up front. There are notes of chocolate, nuts, raisins and dark fruit as well as some peach from the bitters. Expressing the oil from a piece of grapefruit peel is key though. It manages to keep the sweetness from taking over and lingers long after the finish. As I've probably mentioned in an earlier post, I have a long-standing fondness for the Martinez and the Snap Point is a nice variation on that classic. Ransom, Bonal, Yellow Chartreuse and orange bitters make for a tasty combination. No mistaking the Ransom with its cardamom which gets backed up by additional herbs from the Chartreuse. I like that the Yellow is called for here as it sweetens things up a touch and adds some herbal qualities but mostly lets the Ransom and Bonal do their thing.

Rum, tea and lemon...oh my. Lioness (Of Brittany) at left, Two Worlds Sour on the right
Rum, tea and lemon...oh my. Lioness (Of Brittany) at left, Two Worlds Sour on the right

Both of these drinks use tea as an ingredient. This adds considerable character. The tannins in the tea play off of the lemon juice, offsetting some of the acidity there while contributing depth and a nice, slightly astringent quality. The Lioness greets you with absinthe on the nose which yields to a layered sour with hints of orange and tea. The Two Worlds Sour has all sorts of tasty stuff going on. Lots of smoke, from the tea and the scotch, but the rhum agricole keeps the scotch from taking over.

Recipes:

Nonatum Cocktail - Evan Harrison, Independent, Somerville
1 1/2 oz Old Overholt Rye
3/4 oz Punt e Mes
3/4 oz Strega
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1 dash Regan's Orange Bitters
Garnish - Marasca Cherry

Stir with ice, Strain, Up

Ponte Vecchio - Sam Treadway, Backbar, Somerville
1 1/4 oz Cynar
1 1/4 oz Fernet Branca
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
Garnish - Lemon Twist

Stir with ice, Strain, Up

Arno
1 1/2 oz Fernet Branca
1 1/2 oz Meletti Amaro
1/2 oz Campari
1/2 oz Lemon Juice

Stir with ice, Strain, Up

Bustamante - John Mayer, Craigie on Main, Cambridge
1 1/2 oz Appleton Reserve Rum
3/4 oz Campari
1/2 oz Sherry
3/8 oz Benedictine
2 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters
Garnish - Orange Twist

Stir with ice, Strain, Up

69 Holland - Hungry Mother & Adam Lantheaume
1 oz Plymouth Gin
1 oz Bols Genever
3/4 oz Meletti Amaro
1/2 oz Dry Amontillado Sherry
2 dashes Fee's Peach Bitters
Garnish - Grapefruit Twist, express oil over drink and discard

Stir with ice, Strain, Up

Snap Point - Bobby McCoy, Island Creek Oyster Bar
1 1/2 oz Ransom Old Tom Gin
1 1/2 oz Bonal Gentiane-Quina
1 barspoon Yellow Chartreuse
1 dash Regan's Orange Bitters
Garnish - Lemon Twist

Stir with ice, Strain, Up

Lioness (of Brittany) - Andrea Desrosiers & Frederic Yarm
1 1/4 oz Amber Rum
3/4 oz Grand Marnier
3/4 oz Darjeeling Tea (chilled)
1/4 oz Lemon Juice
Absinthe Rinse

Stir with ice, Strain, Up

Two Worlds Sour - Ben Sandrof
1 oz Neisson Rhum Agricole Blanc
1 oz Balvenie Doublewood Scotch
1/2 oz Lapsang Souchong Tea Syrup*
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Garnish - Lemon Twist

Shake with ice, Strain, Up

*For the tea syrup make 1 cup Lapsang Souchong (1 Tbsp) letting tea steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea and add 1 cup sugar. Stir to dissolve.

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AuthorTrey