Here’s a thank you to the kind folks at Thrillist.com who listed us as one of the top Whisk(e)y bars in the country
Cheers to the whiskey revival
Here’s a thank you to the kind folks at Thrillist.com who listed us as one of the top Whisk(e)y bars in the country
Cheers to the whiskey revival
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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Tickets are $55 per person all inclusive and can be purchased at eventbrite.com
Yes, we all know that line, the first verse to Auld Lang Syne by the Scottish Poet Laureate Robert Burns. And even though the poet is credited for the work of every corny New Years Eve cliché it was inspired by James Watson with his poem Old Lang Syne which loosely translates to Once Upon a Time.
Regardless of the meaning, the song and sentiment seem an appropriate means to a toast at the dropping of the ball when we drink some bubbles and make ourselves promises that we will never keep. But I was wondering the other day why January 1st when almost every ancient culture celebrated their new years on any date but.
Once again we have to thank the Romans for this. Yes the folks that brought you planet names, the calendar and plumbing. It’s incredible to me that a culture so far removed from us today still makes our cultural world go round. The name January comes from Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings who had one face looking to the past and the other looking forward. Our New Years stems from his celebration. Symbolically this seems apt but I’ve been wondering why not the Solstice which marks the 1st official day of winter. The shortest day seems like a great starting point to me. Or, how about the equinox that awesome day when you can balance an egg on its side. These days seem more magical as well as scientific and universal. No one is excused from the rational of science no matter how hard they try.
Or we could shift our New Year’s around like the Chinese. Perhaps it can reflect our position to the sun. Our next closest pass to the sun will be January 4th. Maybe this is too much for our tweeted generation #Jan4#close to sun#still cold. But no matter when or how we celebrate there are traditions that transcend a date. It could be eating grapes in Spain, lentils in Umbria, crowding into a tiny bar while kissing a perfect or not so perfect stranger or running around the block with luggage in tow for a Colombians hopeful wish of travel. These traditions seem to feel hard wired in our emotional past but whatever they are they always feel like a doorway into another sense of being where anything is possible.
When we think of the New Years Eve we think one drink and one drink only, Champagne. This is another puzzle to me. Champagne is truly one of the greatest gifts we have ever given ourselves. It is a perfect match for food pairings and yet it is one that we ignore until a toast is in order. Could it be the toasty quality due to the bottle conditioning? Coincidence perhaps. I am no exception to this however and when we say good bye to one of our Friends in either Saloon or Foundry on Elm I am more than happy to open a bottle of Perrier Joulet Belle Epoque and even though I know how these flavors delicately pair with food I only seem to open them when it’s a special occasion. Perhaps it is the labor and time that goes into Methode Champenoise that makes me reluctant to pop a bottle while eating a ham sandwich (If the bread is toasted it makes be a bangin’ pairing). The story of Champagne goes back to another age millions of years ago. Old Lang Syne there was an ocean over the region we now call Champagne that left intense calcium deposits and fossilized sea anemones. This gives the wine an immensely mineral backbone with a subtle smoky and saline finish.
Because it is so cold in Champagne the grapes never ripen like they would elsewhere. The Chardonnay grown here is not the sweet, juicy, tropical flavored profile found in Sonoma, nor is it not the creamy, apply brightness you find in Chablis. Here it is lean, highly acidic and minerally. Pinot Noir, the star of Champagne does not carry the same weight and fruity aromas that it would in warmer climates where it is widely planted either. Yes, I said Pinot Noir. The famous black grape made more famous by a silly movie of two friends in Santa Barbara gives Champagne its sophistication. Why a red grape in a white wine? Bill Russell of Westport Rivers Winery some 40 miles south of Boston once told me “Pinot Noir wants to be a white wine and has all the flavor components of one. Every now and again it’s willing to be red and when it is it can be the greatest red there is.” I tend to agree with him on this as there is nothing like great burgundy in a great year by a great producer but it is constantly a perfect fit for Sparkling wine. Westport Rivers is nestled close to the shoreline of Horse Neck beach. Not only is this one of the best beaches in Massachusetts with water you can actually swim in but also has some of the geologic compounds found in Champagne. If you ever take a trip down you may notice all the sea shells on the driveway. I would say that he is one of the best sparkling wine producers in the country. He also makes some great beer too.
Contrary to popular belief, it was not the famous seventeenth century Dom Perignon who created bubbles in wine, it was actually the simple process of fermentation. When yeast eats sugars they poop alcohol. If stored in an enclosed space the alcohol being a gas has nowhere to go thus Carbon Dioxide is born. What the famous Dom did was understand wine making techniques within the cool climate of Champagne. Like Bill from Westport, Dom Perignon believed that Pinot Noir wanted to be a white grape. He lightly pressed his grapes to have little to no color extraction with the run off juice. These delicate, sparkling wines developed their finesse and elegance with the intuition and foresight of the Monk
The most plausible story was told 100 years prior to the most famous Dom’s legend in the Pyrenees region of Limoux (Lee-moo) with once again a group of monks. In 1531 there were detailed descriptions for the production of Blanquette Limoux (little white of Limoux). These wines which are now always frothy were said to have cork stopped flasks’ which was not the common practice of the time, in fact wine was often consumed in a sheep’s bladder. Once bottles became more prevalent the use of cork was the next step to make wine as we know today. Cork itself was easy for the monks to obtain as they bordered a cork forest. Once that piece to the puzzle was solved secondary fermentation that makes what we call sparkling wine would have been easily achieved.
Leave it to the monks to make the best of anything. They truly were and are the keepers of culture, I mean what else is there to do other then make bread, cheese, beer, wine, spirits, cordials, write books, create art and learn. This is almost selling point to me.
Most of the Champagne cocktails we drink today are only sour cocktails finished with a bit of bubbles. I prefer the simplicity of a sugar cube and bitters. The true toasted quality of the wine remains a prominent fixture in the glass. This is a simple play on the classic Champagne cocktail coming from a Foundry/Saloon alumni Tracy Witkin.The Opening Act (this is an apt name for a New Year’s cocktail)
This is built in a Marie Antoinette rather than a mixing glass
1 sugar cube
3 dashes of Peychauds bitters
3 dashes of Fee Bros. Rhubarb bitters
¾ oz Dubonnet rouge
top with sparkling wine
Whatever your New Years Eve tradition is and whichever resolution you break I wish you all a prosperous and happy 2015 and beyond
A Tale of Two Cities
Ah, the holidays. The time to loosen our belts, tighten our tongues around the obligatory visit with Aunt Betsy and max out a card or two. But at least we can drink: after all nothing says the birth of Christ like a case display of Jack Daniels or Jameson at your favorite package store. But the story of inebriated holiday cheer is much older than 15% off 6 bottles of assorted spirits, and whether it’s my Grandfather’s brandied eggnog, the ever famous Wassail or the resurrected cult favorite Tom and Jerry, the story is in the teller… or two.
Cat and Mouse Part 1
The latter holiday classic recalls two stories. The first is of author Pierce Egar and his work “The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn esp. and his Elegant friend Corinthian Tom“. The novel showcases the day and nighttime adventures or misadventures of Jerry and Tom as they cruise down London’s streets with a couple of friends looking for a good time. Think of it as like the early 19th century version of Super Bad, or License to Drive or any other story of two or three friends trying to meet women, scrape a little and have a drink or four. . .
The book later became a famous London play called “Life in London“. In the play, Egar incorporated a host of characters based on many of the downtrodden well known street beggars and pan handlers such as Ex-American slave Billy Waters who took part in a scene or two. Billy, to escape slavery like many of African descent had joined the royal British navy where he had lost his left leg. He was an impoverished but common fixture outside of many a London theater playing his violin for people waiting to see the show. For the shows’ 300 night billing he was a celebrity – the catch was that he was poorly paid, because nobody wanted to give him money to play his violin outside of the theater when they were paying money to see him play his violin inside. Kind world huh? He died 2 years later penniless. His last words were reportedly “Cuss him dam Tommy Jerry.”
To promote his book and play, Egar was said to have came up with a wintry holiday classic simply called “Tom and Jerry”. This jazzed up eggnog was and still is a must have at any holiday party.