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08.2006

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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Article By: Abigail Ingalls

WHAT'S IN A NAME? Drink invention is, without a doubt, a major component of mixology. Today's mixologists experiment with infused liquors, fruit nectars, aromatics, and flamboyant garnishes, creating unusual signature cocktails which may take inspiration anywhere from a Snickers bar to Thai curry. Some professionals worry, however, that the word mixology excludes other equally important aspects bartending. Jackson Cannon is the bar manager at Eastern Standard in the Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square. When asked about mixology, he said it was an appropriate descriptor for the art of mixing drinks. He was, at the same time, uncomfortable with the title of bartender being replaced by the term mixologist. To him, bartending involves so many other disciplines aside from mixing an original drink. Tom Abisso, of the Professional Bartenders School of New England in Boston, has a slightly different perspective, maintaining that "A bartender is just a bartender, but a mixologist is a well-trained bartender." He has been employing the term of mixologist for the past twenty years with regards to the courses offered at the school. To him, what sets a mixologist apart from a bartender is the quality of service he or she provides - pouring drinks with accuracy and speed, working with special requests, and knowing when not to serve a person who might have already had enough. However you look at it though, the designation of mixologist certainly implies a degree of creative license and dedication to a craft.

MARKETING MIXOLOGY ON A NATIONAL SCALE Over the last couple of years, large liquor companies have realized the increased demand for specialty cocktails and have turned to the mixologist for assistance. Their creativity is now a major component in the marketing of sprits. There's a certain cachet to having a resident drink professional on staff. To come up with enticing drinks, Grey Goose employs resident mixologist Nick Mautone, who creates cocktail recipes used for advertising and special events. Grey Goose has also compiled a Nick Mautone Home Entertaining tip guide, which they distribute to retail stores. Additionally, their website has a link for Mixology filled with tips and recipes.

And it's not just Grey Goose that has seen the merit of having a professional on staff. Other large liquor companies have launched national campaigns, calling on bartenders from around the globe to compete to create the most inventive, delicious cocktails featuring their particular brand. In a recent "Mix Your Way to Amsterdam" contest, DeKuyper invited applicants to submit original drink recipes made with at least one of the eight DeKuyper Pucker flavors and/or DeKuyper Peachtree Schnapps. One of the winners was Michael Del Llano, who works at the Macaroni Grill in Burlington. His winning recipe is the Boston Tea Party, made from iced tea, vodka and DeKuyper Raspberry Schnapps.

In conjunction with the release of their new Blueberi vodka, Stoli recently ran a drink recipe contest open to bartenders. The winner receives fame rather than money: a feature in a press release, and his or her recipe in a cocktail recipe booklet published by Stoli. The website already features drinks ranging from the simple "Stoli Blue-tini", made with Stoli Blueberi and Vanil, to the "Blue Daiquiri," a frozen concoction of Blueberi vodka, banana, banana rum, vanilla ice cream, and blue Curacao. But perhaps the most impressive and lucrative campaign thus far was from Smirnoff Vodka. In February, the company launched a nationwide search for an official Cocktail Consultant. Smirnoff sought mixologists who were innovative and well versed in culinary arts. Entrants submitted applications, a three-minute video and a recipe for a modern take on the Moscow Mule. The winner was Cameron Bogue from Las Vegas, who submitted a recipe for a Beijing Mule, with saffron-flavored simple syrup and Asian peach infused Smirnoff. He will receive salary and budget amounting to $1OO,OOO for one year, allowing him to travel the world, taste up-and-coming products and provide two detailed cocktail trend reports for Smirnoff. Not a bad gig! If these campaigns show anything it's that, for a professional bartender who loves the art of cocktail creation, the possibilities are both endless and very lucrative.

INTERNATIONAL INFLUENCES Of course, these large-scale promotions wouldn't exist if individual bars hadn't been gravitating toward this new style of drink creation and service. This zippier, younger brand of cocktail culture is evidenced by the very presence of drink menus at restaurants all over the country. Twenty years ago, you wouldn't walk into a bar and ask what kind of martinis they made or if the Mojitos were any good. Nowadays, a customer expects to try a drink that is unique and different and, maybe, bluish-green, with a hibiscus blossom floating elegantly on top. John Gertsen astutely describes modern mixology as utilizing a "global laboratory". In his bar at No.9 Park, he seeks ingredients from around the world such as "dry apricot brandy or some obscure bitters from South America". Just as American cuisine has become an exercise in fusion, so too has drink mixing. A sushi restaurant will commonly offer Lychee-tinis, sake-tinis, ginger martinis, and cucumber cocktails while restaurants with Latin American orientation will often serve Mojitos, Caipirinhas, sangria, or creative variations on the margarita. And what's next? John says, "Watch out for the flavors of the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean to pop up any day now. I'm dreaming of a retsina/gin cocktail with pistachio foam right now." At the red-hot Stella in Boston's South End, the cocktail menu reflects the restaurant's Italian flair. One of the most popular drinks is their signature Basil Lime Gimlet. Other featured Italianate cocktails are the Camparitini, made with Campari, Ketel 1 Citroen and grapefruit juice, and the Cappuccino Martini, a foamy blend of espresso and vanilla vodka. Many bartenders are challenging themselves to use obscure or random spirits in cocktails; Chartreuse and Campari have made quite a comeback lately. Of course, if a drink is good, customers will ask for it at other places as well. Through word of mouth these drinks make the rounds and suddenly they become so popular that bartenders all over the city are making them.

OLD SCHOOL VERSUS NEW With the rise of new cocktail recipes, some purists are concerned that the classics might fall by the wayside. Martinis and Manhattans are still popular choices although even these, the most traditional of drinks, have been modified for the modern palate. Martinis are commonly made with vodka in place of gin and with a much smaller amount of vermouth, if any at all. In addition, there are cocktails being born every day that have no relation to their forefathers of the past with the exception of the glassware in which they are served. The advent of new flavored liquors, the rainbow of available cordials, and the avant garde approach to garnishing takes the world of cocktails to a new level-or back to square one, depending on who you talk to. When asked his opinion of the modern cocktail culture versus the old classics such as the Manhattan, Sidecar and Old Fashioned, bartender Michael Ray, recently of Stella, replied that the classics are here to stay. Apple-tinis may go out of fashion, but the gin martini will not.

Some of the most successful bars seem to offer a balance between classic and contemporary. Parker's Bar at the Omni Parker hotel in Boston has a comprehensive cocktail list, with classic mixed drinks named after historic and literary figures who have stayed in the hotel. The flip side of their menu offers the title "we might be old but we're not dead" with funkier cocktails such as the "bee-sting" martini (honey-flavored Stoli Okhotnichaya vodka garnished with a fresh flower). At No.9 Park, John Gersten asserts that, while their menu is a mix of old, new and experimental, "Old school drinks are the foundation of everything (they) make." He believes that a mixologist must take his or her cues from recipes of the past, and those tried and true blends provide a more foolproof framework for innovation. His cocktail menu offers drinks that may seem unusual to one unversed in the art of mixology. Current features include the Moscow Mule (vodka, ginger beer and lime juice) and "an el Bulli-inspired, foam topped drink called the Dalmatian" (see sidebar). (el Bulli, as I learned, is a restaurant in Spain that's often referred to as the best eatery in the world. Almost as famous for its presentation as its cuisine, it can take up to a year to get a reservation.) Eastern Standard's drink list also reflects a balance between old and new featuring cocktails such as the contemporary Papi's Punch (Dominican rum and tropical juices) and the classics such as a Sazerac and Hemingway Daiquiri. Jackson reports that their most popular cocktail is the Whiskey Smash, a fresh take on a Mint Julep, with muddled lemon and fresh mint, sugar and bourbon poured over crushed ice.

COCKTAIL CULTURE IS BACK There's an old industry joke that goes: What's the difference between a bartender and God? Answer: God doesn't think he's a bartender. The implication of this joke is disproved by the bartenders' testimonies provided for the sake of this article. Those interviewed displayed passion and professionalism with respect to their careers as mixologists but did not confuse themselves with divine entities. With no end in sight to the current cocktail phenomenon, it's not likely that mixology will be going away anytime soon. Drinks are big business and the masters who create them take the job very seriously. What's more, customers have embraced the notion of bartenders as mixologists. People enjoy experimenting and want to know that their drink of choice is in capable hands. Whether they work locally or nationally, wear jeans and aprons or jackets and ties, it's obvious that the mix masters of today are a breed of true professionals.

STRIVING FOR PERFECTION:
THE JACK ROSE SOCIETY

As is evidenced by this article, Boston has no shortage of accomplished mixologists, many of whom are colleagues and friends with one another. About a year-and-a-half ago, some of these perfectionist bartenders formed the Jack Rose Society - a group that meets regularly to create and tweak drinks that they can serve at their respective restaurants and bars. Jackson Cannon of Eastern Standard is a founding member. He started the club so that bartenders could have a chance to practice recipes outside of the bar, without the added pressures of service. The group has five core members including John Gertsen of No. 9 Park, but is open to anyone wishing to learn more about drink mixing.

The society takes its name from the Jack Rose cocktail, popular in the early 19OOs made with apple brandy, grenadine, lemon juice and bitters. Naming their club for a vintage cocktail shows that while creating new drinks is often on the agenda, members of the Jack Rose Society also enjoy reviving old recipes and studying the history around them. John Gertsen says, for example, that one of his favorite drinks at the moment is the Hearst, named after William Randolf Hearst. It's made with gin, sweet vermouth, orange bitters and Angostura bitters. John loves the drink, but he says, "Even more, I love the conversation it starts." Both in meetings and at Eastern Standard, Jackson believes in using all sizes of jiggers when making specialty drinks. To him, making a drink is like baking, and an extra teaspoon of Cointreau could affect a cocktail as much as an extra teaspoon of yeast could affect a loaf of bread. Precision is key. In keeping with the cooking motif, many of these bartenders prefer to make ingredients, such as grenadine and bitters, from scratch. Whether it's cuisine or cocktails, fresh makes everything taste better.

SO YOU LIKE IT HOT?

Feeling a little spicy? Not every cocktail needs to be sweet and smooth. Twice a year, the East Coast Grill in Cambridge offers a series of three "Hell Nights" involving ridiculously spicy foods with specially designed cocktails to complement. Like the culinary offerings, each drink is defined by zero to ten bombs in order to alert drinkers of their pain-factor. These cocktails are not for the faint of heart or stomach!
1 Scary 'Rita with Habanero infused tequila-4 bombs
2 Cold Fusion Martini from Hell (transported from MIT in a plutonium vacuum canister)-5 bombs
3 The Hurler from Hell- a Raw Oyster and a shot of Hell Vodka-5 bombs
4 West Indies Style Bloody Mary with Real Inner Beauty Hot Sauce-2 bombs
5 Habanero Tequila Shot with a Tecate Back-4 bombs

RECIPES OF THE MASTERS

Boston Tea Party
(Michael Del Llano, DeKuyper contest winner)
3/4 ounce DeKuyper Pucker Raspberry Schnapps
1.5 ounces Absolut vodka
4 ounces freshly brewed unsweetened iced tea
Combine ingredients over ice in a pint glass.
Shake well and garnish with a lemon wedge or fresh mint.

Watermelon Martini (Stella)
3 ounces Skyy vodka
2 ounces fresh watermelon puree
Splash lemon juice\
Simple syrup
Serve chilled, straight up.

Whiskey Smash (Eastern Standard)
Lemon, quartered
8 mint leaves
1ounce simple syrup
2 ounces Wellers Reserve bourbon
Muddle lemon, mint and simple syrup, add bourbon, shake and strain over shaved ice.
Garnish with a mint leaf.

Palladin Pear (Nick Mautone, Grey Goose Mixologist)
1 part Grey Goose La Vanille Vodka
1 part Belle de Brillet Pear Liquor, Massenez Poire,
or other fruity pear liqueur
Pinch cinnamon
Pinch grated nutmeg
Sliced fresh pear or dried pear for garnish
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice add the vodka, pear liqueur and cinnamon. Shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker is frosted and beaded with sweat. Strain into a rocks glass and sprinkle nutmeg on top; garnish with sliced pear.

The Dalmatian (No. 9 Park)
1/4 ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur
2 ounces Reyka vodka
Combine the two liquors over ice, stir and strain into chilled martini glass. Garnish with housemade maraschino cherry and housemade foam. The foam is made in large batches and is a multistep process. Here is the recipe for a batch: Zest from 2O lemons, 4 quarts simple syrup, teaspoon almond essence, 1/4 teaspoon orange blossom water. Steep zest in simple syrup for one week in fridge, strain out the zest, leave 3 quarts cold, warm 1 quart and add 2O grams of gelatin, almond and orange blossom essences. Run this mixture through a fine strainer, re-chill and combine with the three quarts of cold, lemon-infused simple syrup. Small quantities at a time are charged with nitrous oxide via a whip cream cartridge to make drinks to order.

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