Monthly Archives: January 2014

A Horse Named Bully

The Good Bully

On a hidden street in the gut of industrial Boston I drove up to an unassuming warehouse where the small sign on the door humbly read Bully Boy Distillery. With an unlocked door, I walked in to the rich and frankly pungent smell of molasses. “I smell rum,” I say as both Dave and Will greet me.

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About a month ago on a chilly December morning I paid a visit to Dave and Will Willis, brothers and co-owners of Bully Boy Distillery. Since Foundry on Elm and Saloon opened our doors we have had a good relationship with the brand. They are local, they price fairly, they are super nice guys and they make damn fine spirits. I went to get a better idea of distillation and spend a little time hanging out to talk booze which they both do very well.

The warehouse itself is not glamorous. There is no reception area, no pretentious person pouring samples of something they know little about. It is a true work space and these two guys work that space very well. In fact, they do everything from driving the fork lift which Will navigates like a Jedi flying through the Death Star to slapping labels on bottles. It is a total hand over fist product. This is as intensive as a farm work or welding and like those the end result is as satisfying sculpting.

They focus on 3 basic spirits: vodka, rum and whiskey. Both the vodka and white whiskey are certified organic and based with winter wheat which makes a soft and elegant spirit. The rums use black strap molasses which as I mentioned is aromatically intense. On the rum and whiskey end of things there are 2 separate styles. For rums they offer a white rum and their newer release, Boston Rum. Both of these see wood but the white rum is charcoal filtered to remove the impurities of oak. Cask is only used just to help the rum settle and soften some of the harsher edges. The Boston Rum spends a hefty amount of time in barrel and does not go through the filtration. This was how rum was made centuries ago in Boston when it was just a port of the British Crown and I’m sure this helped to spark a revolutionary ideology in what would later be the belly button of our independence. Their whiskeys are made using  different types of grain. The white whiskey like the vodka uses winter wheat. How this is different then vodka is how it is distilled. The vodka distills at a higher proof to remove as many impurities as possible. The white whiskey is distilled at a slightly lower proof leaving many of the aromas present in the spirit and like the white rum it has a brief respite in oak and then it is charcoal filtered. Their American Straight Whiskey has a different mash bill all together. It is 45% corn, 45% rye and 10% malted barley. Using an equal ratio of corn to rye offers balance. The spice from the rye is not overpowering and the earthier aromas of the corn subdued. It rests in oak until they feel it is ready and for the money this is one of my favorite whiskeys. 

The name Bully Boy is said to be inspired by Will and Dave’s great-grandfathers horse named after his collage roommate, Teddy Roosevelt.  That’s not a bad pedigree

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Nitty Gritty 

There are two basic forms of distillation. The 1st which is the oldest still used today is called the Alembic Still or Pot Still. Basically you have a single chamber or “pot” that your fermented liquid goes in. For Whiskey it’s in beer like form, in Brandy it is wine and in rum it is fermented molasses.  As the Liquid is heated the alcohol will evaporate at 173 degrees F which is about 39 degrees cooler than water. The alcohol vapor travels up a pipe where it cools. As it cools through condensers, condensation forms. That condensed liquid is now alcohol. To get a simple understanding of how a condenser works simply blow into your hand opened mouth. It will feel hot. Then blow into your hand with a pucker. As the air compresses it cools. Typically the 1st run off of the Pot Sill is called “low wine” which is about 20% alcohol. This liquid is reintroduced into the still to make the final product which will come out at a much high degree of alcohol. 

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 The 2nd method of distillation which is used at Bully Boy is known as a Column Still also called the Continuous Still . This is called a Column Still for a simple reason… its a column. The column has a series of plates or compartments. Like the Pot Still the mash vaporizes. As the alcohol vapor rises it will condense within each plate then it reheats and distills again to the next level. In short it is continuously distilling so the lowest levels are your “low wine” but within each level or compartment the alcohol increases. This is the how most of our beloved vodkas are made. Because Column Stills can easily distill at a higher degree of alcohol it does not leave all those congeners or impurities that can make you fill ill the next day.  I suppose what gives you the headache after so many Cosmos is all that damn sugar. The Vodka or rum in this case leaves a clean, light feeling in the morning. Ah, the miracle of the Column Still and the wonders of scientific drinking. 

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Heads or Tails? I Prefer the Heart

 As your still heats up the 1st thing to evaporate before the alcohol is methanol. This is the hangover inducing, eyesight losing stuff that created much of the roaring 20’s cocktail culture. Once your still heats up to 174 degrees the methanol will burn off and form condensation. Once this is discarded the subtle signs of ethanol begin.This is the good stuff.

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 The 1st truly ingestible parts off the still are called “The Heads“. These are the fruitier aromas that a spirit will have. It is also higher in proof ranging around  95% alcohol or 190 proof (degree is alcohol x’s 2). The heads are way too strong in proof and also can be overwhelming aromatically, the trick here is in the balance. You want enough of those fruity aromas to give body and structure without either overpowering your spirit or your senses. Dave only leaves traces of them in, just enough to give a voice but to bulk up production and product quantity that $6 plastic jug of vodka you find at your favorite package store will be composed almost entirely of “the Heads” which is one reason why cheap liquor is cheap. Then comes “the hearts“. This is the meat and potatoes, the mainstay, the base. Anything that came before and after is only an accent The last part are “the tails” which tends to be funkier and vegetative. Once you you create your final blend of hearts, heads and tails the excess are often reintroduced to the still with more fermented mash (the stuff you start with) hence Jack Daniels Sour Mash .

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From here whiskeys and often rums are barreled. As it sits in the barrel the alcohol, being a gas naturally evaporates. This evaporation is called the Angels Share. Once you feel the spirit has reached its potential in the barrel it will typically be around 130 proof. Then it is either watered down to a lower proof (usually 90 to 80 proof) or if the spirit is complex, smooth and balanced enough at this high proof it might go straight into bottle at what is called “Barrel Strength” or “Cask Strength” and man this stuff can be great but can really pack a wollup.

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With clear spirits like their vodka it will be charcoal filtered to help clean up the edges, water will be added to bring it to an approachable 80 proof and then bottled 

So as I mentioned Dave and Will were making rum that day. It was pretty romantic in what I fell is the truest form of the word. Not a soft emblematic feeling of life, or a withered old Frenchman offering a taste of fine cognac that was laid down by his grandfather. It is the hard work and love that a farmer feels when he tills the land. It was literally gallons of molasses dumping into fermenters to mix with the yeast. Then smelling the intense methanol as it runs off the still until you pick up the faint elegance of what will be the heads, hearts and tails. It is time consuming, it is making mistakes and learning from them, it is understanding not just the science of the still but the intuition of the palate. It is tasting, spitting, dumping and trying again. To me it is inspiring. 

 Applied Alchemy 

Rum is one of my favorite spirits and it is not because it reminds me of tropical vacations where the flavor is taken away by orange juice, lime and coconut. Nor is it watching the bartender painstakingly muddle mint. To me it is a working mans drink. It is a drink of our lineage. It is was one of our 1st undertakings at distillation  and although I get to drink fine wine and try crazy, funky brews I still sweat when I work. Maybe we need the juices and sweeteners to help us feel relaxed from all the hard work we do but I feel that rum can stand on its own and I love spirit based rum drinks. 

After my visit with Will and Dave they graciously offered me a little mini barrel to age a cocktail in. I wanted something to remind me of my visit so I choose the one they were distilling, the white rum. I drew from some of the flavors that are typically paired with rum like the tropical curacao and the fortified Portuguese wine from the island of Madeira which would have been a classic seafaring drink to give some context and history with a bit of dry vermouth to add volume and texture without imparting sweetness (rum has the tendency to enhance sugars in a drink given its base). In the end I wanted to balance the natural flavor that rum can offer but in a way that is not typical but still familiar. The name White Strap is a tongue and cheek reference to the black strap molasses that is used which in the end make a potent and fine white liquor. This is currently available at Foundry on Elm for $8 a pour.

The White Strap

1 1/2 oz Bully Boy White Rum

3/4 oz Dolin dry Vermouth

1/2 oz Blandy Rainwater Madeira

1/4 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao

2 dashes Bittermans Tiki Bitters

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

 Age in barrel for 2 weeks 

Just pour into a small rocks glass and add an orange swath.

 No need to water down the flavors with ice. This should be drunk at room temperature right our of the barrel for a casks strength cocktail.

 Cheers

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Local Events Bring Together Friends (Old and New)!

SaloonOne of the things that sets Saloon apart – and there are many – is its welcoming hospitality and its connection to the community. Saloon prides itself as a local Pre-Prohibition style bar with a speakeasy vibe, a neighborhood watering hole where old friends can catch up and new friends can be made. It’s a warm, cozy hideaway – the perfect place to dip in for a drink to unwind after a long day, or to set up shop in a deep, comfortable booth and spend a relaxing evening giving your taste buds a workout.

Saloon’s connection to the local community can also be found in its personal and intimate tasting dinners. The events are spirit-based, with dishes that compliment the flavors of the spirits, whether it’s rum,  whiskey, or mezcal.

The events are kept small, often limited to 25 people, to maintain the intimate feel of a dinner party. Beverage Director Manny Gonzales enjoys these personal experiences, sharing that “there is something special about smaller events.” Held in a warm, inviting dark wood alcove off the bar, the space is conducive to meeting people, chatting with fellow diners, and making new acquaintances.  Manny reflects fondly on past events where previous strangers had met, broke the ice with cocktails and conversation, an ended up talking all night.

Lending itself to this friendly comfortable atmosphere is not only the location but, of course, the libations. Manny carefully chooses the spirits and nurtures long relationships with local companies.  He believes that the great reps who are passionate about their product make the drinks stand out and add a personal identity to each event.

This past summer, Saloon hosted a whiskey themed event in conjunction with Bully Boy Distillers. The founders of the local Boston-based distillery, Will and Dave Willis, were present for the four-course paired dinner and were happy to chat with guests about the product. It’s these personal touches that make Saloon events so special.

November saw a whiskey and pork dinner that featured rye-based cocktails made with WhistlePig rye. Reflecting on the event, Manny pulls a hand-blown glass bottle from a shelf above the bar, a reminder of the successful event. The particular bottle, he shares, is called “102 for the 802” – 102 being the proof and 802 being the area code of the Vermont distillery.  And this is just another one of the personal touches that make Saloon events one of a kind.

But, for Manny, the recent mezcal event was personal for a different reason.  The Mexican spirit is a favorite of Manny’s and one that has ties to his lineage. His mother is from Mexico, and so the flavors of the smoky spirit and tastes of the Mexican inspired menu relayed a personal connection that made the event particularly special.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend one of these unique events, stay tuned and be sure to check the calendar for updates. Whatever the spirit of choice, with Manny and chef Jonathan Schick planning the menu, you know you are in for a memorable and flavorsome evening.

Staff Drinks with Tracy – the “Viva Cortez”

Saloon Viva CortezNothing washes down a cocktail like a revolutionary slogan. Named for a folk hero on the Mexican American border,  Saloon’s Tracy prepared her own creation, the Viva Cortez in front of me, otherwise I would have assumed that this was an established drink ordered from cocktail menus all over the land.

This warm, spicy drink is an homage to cinnamon’s place in Mexican culture, honoring its close relationship with its comrade, Mezcal. The Cortez of the name was a wanted man, Gregorio Cortez, a cause célèbre in the fight for Mexican-American rights, with as much staunch support forSaloon Tracy limes his cause as the Mezcal gives to its warm companion spice. Gregorio was on the run for alleged horse stealing and wound up in eleven Texan jails, before finally being released due to pressure from a massive Defense network. Once a tenant farmer, now a local hero, there was no going back for Cortez,  who gave up the tenant farmer’s life to fight in the Mexican American War and died soon after.

A ½ an ounce of Punt es Mes, the Italian sweet vermouth, is added to the brew. There is also cinnamon syrup and thai chilli peppers. Tracy explains that thai chilli peppers are chosen for their warmth over jalapenos, which have a more herbal flavor. Lime Juice adds a “bright vividness” to the Viva Cortez that is as essential as the legend. The limes must be fresh: Tracy’s emphatic instruction, underlined in my notes, reads: “can’t emphasize enough!”

The drink was born during aSaloon Viva Cortez preparation phase when Tracy was really into Tiki drinks. With all the fascination surrounding these drinks, she recalls how surprised everyone was to discover that one of the so-called ‘secret’ ingredients was nothing more than cinnamon.

And yet “nothing more than cinnamon” is the main ingredient in a tasty cocktail with a gazpacho tint and a heady warmth. Cortez lived on in the Corridos sung about his deeds; the Viva Cortez has its own longlasting kick. This is definitely one that you’ll remember the next morning.

Saloon’s Manny Gonzales Talks Whiskey on WBUR’s “Here and Now”

SaloonSaloon Beverage Director Manny Gonzales stopped by the WBUR studios this afternoon to chat with award-winning journalist Jeremy Hobson on “Here and Now,” the acclaimed radio news show which airs on over 365 stations nationwide, as part of a segment on the American Whiskey Renaissance.

Manny was excited to share his thoughts on the emergence of craft distilleries and the future of whiskey by leading Hobson through a tasting of three whiskies, from different craft distillers around the country.

The first whiskey Manny presented was Dry Fly’s Washington Wheat Whiskey. Hobson notes the way that Manny handles the drink, tasting it as opposed to shooting it. Manny emphasized the importance of tasting, especially with a whiskey like the Dry Fly, which is “soft, delicate… a nice introduction to craft spirits.”

The second, St. George’s Single-Malt Whiskey, which is out of a craft distiller in California, is sweeter than the first, as noted by Hobson. The sweeter notes, Manny shares, are from the barley itself.

The third tasted was Prichard’s Double Barrel Bourbon based in Tennessee, a whiskey Manny praises as “one of the best on the market.”

When asked by Hobson if whiskey is one of those spirits which is better consumed in its raw form, without the additions of mixers or other elements, Manny muses that it often depends on what you are looking for in a drink, and also, which whiskey is at your disposal.  Some are better in a Manhattan or  margarita. Whiskey in a margarita?, you may ask, as Hobson did.  But whiskey is an adaptable spirit, as anyone who has experienced the creative and flavorful cocktails at Saloon can surely agree. The enthusiasm for the spirit experienced at Saloon — and felt by Manny himself —  is contagious. “A whiskerita,” he affirms, “why not?!”

Listen to the segment online.

The Fire Inside

Lost Souls

 

 Quetzalcoatl (co-ex-all-cuat-ol) the feathered serpent god of redemption one day recalled his passion for Mayahuel (Maya-Who-Well) the goddess of fertility. Finding her asleep in the sky he awakened her and persuaded her to travel to the earth with him. There they joined into the union of a forked tree. When Mayahuel’s grandmother, an evil star demon awoke and found her gone she was enraged and dove straight from the sky to find the two lovers. She tore Mayahuel to pieces and ordered her servant demons to devour her body leaving a saddened Quetzalcoatl alone to grieve. In this state Quetzalcoatl gathered her bones and planted them in the earth. From her humble grave grew a plant, a simple spiny plant called Maguey which we now refer to as agave. And from this simple plant came a milky, viscous sap called aguamiel or honey water. Once fermented this brew would be known as pulque, a true nectar from the heavens. When distilled this rich elixir took on a new life, one that transcended its godly status to reach the hands of  common men so they too could be in tune with Quetzalcoatl and his forlorn lover Mayahuel and this new life was called Mezcal  

 

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The Fire Inside

In 1968 a famous mural was uncovered during an excavation in central Mexico at the Great Pyramid of Cholula, Puebla some 70 miles east of Mexico City. This mural, simply called “Pulque Drinkers” offers a far reaching grasp into the traditions of Mexican culture. The lightly fermented aguamiel has the strength of your classic American canned beer but somehow is the seedling of one of the greatest treasures on the earth. We may think of Tequila as Mexico’s symbolic spirit but the fire inside Mezcal de Oaxaca (Wha-Hawk-a) is unmatched. Tequila is a cousin to mezcal which is just the fermented juice of the Maguey plant that is distilled to make a spirit. But unlike Tequila, Mezcal de Oaxaca has a deep smokiness and fruity aroma that is solely its own.  The process is simple; the hearts of agave are smoked in giant pits and then crushed, fermented and distilled. Easy enough right? Not so much actually. Everything is done by hand and organically and not just in that wholefoods sense but in the way the process unfolds. The maguey is manually harvested and smoked by wooden embers that are gathered from the dead and fallen trees of Oaxaca. Horses still pull the stone milling wheels to grind the hearts into pulp. They are fermented in clay containers and distilled in ancient amebic stills as they were for almost 4 centuries. This is nearly as old as Scotch whisky. The history like pulque itself is a bit cloudy but when the conquistadors came to the new world they tried the brew. This was a very serious offering from the Aztec priests as this was not for the common man. In fact it was only for festivals, ceremonies and sacrifices. Perhaps this was to ease the suffering of the gods’ dainties. Public intoxication was frowned upon during Aztec rule. Needless to say the Spaniards were not impressed with the milky elixir but saw some potential. Perhaps they were the first to distill  pulque into a crude spirit that would later become mezcal but some of the stills used are not the round, bulbous stills of Western Europe. May of these stills that are used today resemble those of the middle ages when it has been highly theorized that the far east had already made contact with the “New World”  hundreds of years before the Europeans. There has even been leaves from the Coca leave found in the wrappings of ancient pharaohs.

From its beginnings pulque was an intrinsic part of Mesoamerica. It was the corner stone of every celebration, sacrifice and ritual. It was the essence of the spiritual being. Little has changed throughout the centuries. The idea of mezcal as being all curing is still a common theme throughout the southern state of Oaxaca.

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Que Viva la Revolucion

Mezcal has become the latest craze in cocktail bars throughout the country. The interest has grown immensely over the past three years and although for my mother who 1st tried mezcal as a child in Hermosillo, Mexico I am tickled by this. But I do worry that the demand will, like it had done to Tequila; steal the generic integrity of the spirit. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great Tequilas produced and imported into the country but there are also a ton and I mean a ton of poor, inferior brands to make sure that there is plenty of product to keep a humble salt and lime industry operational. To be honest I have only come across a couple of poor brands of mezcal which I will not name in this blog but I will say that even though the thought of eating a worm or scorpion sounds cool (I have done this numerous times and yes it is fun) it is not the hallmark of what  mezcal is. Talking about great mezcal and focusing on these brands would be like talking about foie gras and offering you liver and onions. These all have their place in the world but not here.

Two distillers, Fidencio and Piedre Alamas, in my mind create two of Oaxaca’s greatest artisan spirits. Fidencio which is certified organic has an edge to it and yet it is complex and balanced. The Sin Humo (without smoke) gives the subtle flavor of the maguey. The Espadin varietal of maguey which is the great grandfather to the blue agave has a sweet fruity aroma with bright pepper. Their other bottling, the wild maguey called Tobala is harvested in secret locations like it was a white truffle in a Piemontese forest. This has a rich funkiness that holds the viscosity of mother pulque in the forefront.  These are both like Mexico. They are bold, somber, tough and yet elegant. Then there is Piedre Almas which loosely translates to lost soul and to me it is like a great burgundy. This is a distillery that does not seek uniformity or status quo. Every batch is completely different. They are always great but every bottle is like an individual painting and expression of mezcal. Imagine Picasso reproducing el Guernica over and over again. Although it is impressive to have a style of absolution I am not sure if I would classify it as art. One of Mezcal de Oaxaca’s greatest gems is the Pechuga or poultry breast and to be quite frank it is hands down, the best spirit I have ever tried. That’s right, they use poultry breast in the production of this elixir, turkey to be specific for Piedre Almas. The breast is studded with berries, nuts, herbs and spices. The aromas are sweet and enchanting. The palate is lush yet clean with sweet spice and cherries on the finish. This may seem odd initially but the earliest practices of great nations such as the Aztec, Toltec and Maya continue to pulse through the soul of Mexico so that she may still give her offerings to the gods and goddess’ and  we too can grace ourselves with her holiest of beings.

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Sun Surfing

In early January the earth will be the closest it gets to the sun during its annual cycle and although January seems reserved for Scotch whisky and Bobby Burns I cannot think of a better way to honor this moment then by treating ourselves to the flavors of fire. So on January 14th in Saloon at 6:30 we will be having a 4 course dinner featuring the mezcals of Fidencio and Piedre Almas and just as we would with great Scotch we will be enjoying the purity of these liquids in their nudity. No sour mix, no licking the salt and sucking of the lime. Tonight we will drink as it deserves; Mexico’s brown, white spirit.

sun surfing

 Tickets are $55 per person all inclusive and can be purchased at eventbrite.com