Category Archives: Local

Wicked Spirited

Looking Inward
When we think of distilled spirits in the USA we typically draw our 1st glance to the blue grasses of Kentucky. Images of pot bellied men with long, straggly beards and tightly rolled cigars running a make-shift still in the backwaters pop into my mind at least. We seldom think of California where in 1982 the craft distillers movement started, or Ohio where the local water has almost as much viscosity as in Kentucky. Even though I have had the pleasure and good fortune to have a myriad of distilleries to catalog through I am still shocked when I find something right out my own backdoor. New England has a tradition of great beers and beer is the reason the Pilgrims chose Plymouth rock. The long voyage left them with short supply and drinking water was really nowhere to be found so Miles Standish and his posse weighed anchor at the very unimpressive rock and started brewing. Beer is in our collective blood so to speak. Boston and the surrounding towns and cities play host to countless beer bars like Foundry on Elm, Bukowski’s, The Public House and the like, it is our gastronomic narrative. It is also the base of the embryonic collection of cells that will transform when heated and mature into whiskey. Distillation has had a long legacy in the north east. From Apple brandy to Medford Rum, if we could ferment it; we’d distill it.PilgrimAleAd2
Apples to Apples
In 1774 in the Central Massachusetts town of Leominster, Johnny Chapman was born. He grew up with a fondness of apples. In fact I grew up hearing about his love for them as a child in California but I knew him as Johnny Appleseed. Yes, he was real. He spent his life traveling from state to state planting apples.
At the time drinking water was in short supply and most apples were not very palatable. The ingenuity of gene splicing has given us the Red Delicious, Honey Crisp and Granny Smith but unfortunately if you take a Honey Crisp apple and plant its seed you get a tart, tannic and hard crab apple. When life gives you crab apples you make cider. From here it easily ferments with a little bit of time and yeast. Making a distilled spirit out of cider is naturally the next incarnation of inebriated delight. Apple Jack, the American apple brandy was not made however through traditional distillation. It was made through a process called Freeze Distillation. The freezing point of alcohol is -173.2 degrees Fahrenheit so during the fall months when apples were harvested and hard cider was made, vats of cider were often left out in the frigged cold. Keeping in mind that cider are about 7% alcohol and the rest of the liquid is water, once the winter came the water in the vats would freeze. That frozen water was removed and over the winter the liquid you had left had grown significantly in alcohol. Now that 7% cider is roughly a 35% liquor. This became known as Apple Jack because “jacking” was the term used for this type of distillation.
images (6)This was much easier than distilling trough evaporation. As a farmer you could just let your vats sit out all winter and when you had a free moment just remove the frozen water. By spring your brandy was ready to be enjoyed. This was something you could not do in Kentucky. For the purest, yes I am drawing a wide comparison as Apple Jack was most likely 1st made in New Jersey from a Scotsman by the name of Laird but ciders were very common in New England and the process of freeze distillation easy to recreate. In Old Sturbridge Village there are references to this type of distillation dating back to the early 1800’s. Plus any chance I get to reference Johnny Appleseed I take
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Over the River and Through the Woods
 Around 1715 a gentleman named John Hall built a small distillery with some friends on Riverside Ave, in Medford Massachusetts. 300x205xdistilleries_rum-300x205.jpg.pagespeed.ic.7CPkME7cmU
At the time a sugar byproduct called molasses arrived on boats from the Caribbean. Because Molasses is incredibly sweet, fermentation was quick and easy. Once run through a still the concentrated concoction would be known as rum. Medford rum was traditionally made with the last run of sugar processing known as “blackstrap,” this was rich, viscous and rough. It was intense to say the least and it was also very cheap. Today it is used for cattle feed as it is high in vitamins and is nutrient rich but also make a round and robust spirit.images (7)
By the turn of the 19th century there were a handful of distillers in Medford but by 1830 there was only one rum distiller left: Daniel Lawrence and sons. Daniel Lawrence moved to Medford in 1823 and began working at the Hall distillery. By 1830 he purchased and renamed the distillery and held the market for rum in the north east.215x300xlabels_rum-215x300.jpg.pagespeed.ic.bPH6XI4SXc
Because of his high standards and high quality blackstrap, his rum became world famous. This was not a light, thin rum that needed mint and limes to be consumed. It was a rum for a whiskey drinker.  In 1905 the doors sadly closed due to pressures of the local temperance movement and we would have to wait 107 years to until someone finally decided to reintroduce us to our history.demon-rum-5
Going Against the Grain
In 1777 Rhode Island passed a law banning the distillation of grain based alcohol. Fortunately this did not last too long and by the mid 19th century whiskey production became a staple of harbor towns through out the state. By 1814 spirits distilled with oats, Indian corn, molasses, apples, potatoes, rye and peaches were common place throughout New England. In 1810 it is estimated that 1.4 million gallons of alcohol had been distilled in Connecticut alone, about 3/4 was apple brandy. By the end of the 18th century molasses and sugar were harder to come by so fruits and grains began to take center stage in producing hard liquor. Because whiskey took time to rest in oak and come of age (although not as long as today) and gin was grain based the common country gin became a prominent distillate and soon 3 million gallons were being produced by small local distilleries. This “country gin” was juniper rich and had more of a genever quality than the London dry style we are familiar with todayDrink_BarrHillGin
but for roughly $500 ($10,000 in today’s market) one could set up a crude distillery. This was just efficient enough to make a pretty hardy if not rough around the edges spirit but it was at least a stepping stone. Larger commercial farms built proper still houses and were making refined spirits from New England’s finest produce.
Each state had developed their own specialty and fame in distillation. Maine and Massachusetts as we have read were known for great rums. Vermont and Rhode Island became known for gins, New Hampshire for potatoes based spirits. Connecticut had the largest amount of distilleries with 560 registered in 1810. They were pretty diverse and made well known and respected apple brandies, whiskies, rums and gins.
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Applied Alchemy
In trying to create a cocktail that to me exemplifies New England I wanted to be a little “tongue and check” so I opted for a twist on the classic Long Island Iced Tea but like Boston to NY wayyy bettah kid. the Nor’easter (It sneaks up on ya) takes several of New England’s alcoholic delights and blends them into one tasty and potent concoction.
Nor’easter (It sneaks up on ya!)
3/4 oz each of New England Distillery “Gunpowder” Rye, GTD “Medford” rum, GTD Cranberry Liqueur, Berkshire Distillers “Ethereal” gin, Downeast cider, cranberry shrub, maple syrup, lemon
These are shaken in a tin and poured into a double rock glass. It is garnished with a lemon peel and star anise.
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 Looking back at our history and the omnipresent story of alcohol and distillation I have found that great new distillers like Bully Boy, GTD, Berkshire, New England Distilling or Sons of Liberty and Damnation Ally (about 5 blocks from my home) are not just novelties in an ever growing industry. They are as much a part of our regional narrative as John Hall, Daniel Lawrence and all of those who came before. These are the people who paved the path and helped us harvest our nations artisinal freedom all inside simple bottles of inebriated joy.

Ommegang Brewery and HBO Bring Game of Thrones to Saloon

I Will Take What Is Mine with Fire and Blood.

Game of Thrones at SaloonWhen you are sipping one of their signature cocktails at the classic, cozy bar of Saloon Davis, your first association may not be the medieval fantasy Game of Thrones. But pre-prohibition has its own dark swagger, and it’s not as far off from the Seven Kingdoms as one may think.

Saloon Davis was the perfect venue for a Game of Thrones event, and it appears that Ommegang Brewery agreed. The Cooperstown, NY brewery approached Saloon about hosting a launch for their latest Game of Thrones inspired beer, Fire and Blood, to benefit the American Cancer Society, and Saloon was more than happy to oblige – opening its doors to hundreds of Game of Thrones fans Thursday, who came ready to celebrate the new beer and the new season of the HBO hit series.

Game of ThronesOn an average night, the dark leather booths of Saloon recall turn of the century pre-prohibition, yet they also provided the perfect place for one to sit in medieval costume and faux animal skins. In fact, the only more suitable place to sit on Thursday was the Iron Throne itself. And this was also a possibility. A replica Iron Throne was available for photo ops, where people mugged for the camera in full costume and business attire alike. It was the only East Coast launch event for Fire and Blood to feature this life-size replica, and Boston.com was even there to capture the action for their Spotted in Boston feature. The throne was impressive — so impressive in fact that it found a home in Foundry (Saloon’s sister restaurant one floor up) when it couldn’t be navigated down into Saloon.

Iron Throne Photo OpFire and Blood joins Ommegang’s previous Game of Thrones beers Iron Throne Blonde Ale and Take the Black Stout. It is a flavorful addition, a red ale with a color that perfectly suits its name. Fire and Blood is inspired by Daenerys Targaryen and her three dragons, Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion, and each dragon gets its own unique label created by the series’ visual effects specialists.

And the Fire and Blood was surely flowing on Thursday, served up in souvenir custom Game of Thrones Fire and Blood glasses. Along with the beer, Saloon offered a signature cocktail – the Battle Axe. Saloon is known for their creative and tasty libations, and this simple specialty made with brandy, honey and lemon was no exception. But it was a beer event, after all, and so it was only fitting that Saloon work in the main attraction by creatively topping the cocktail with a GOT beer float.

Beverage Director Manny Gonzales was especially excited about the event. While he has yet to get into Game of Thrones, he appreciates the fandom. He has utmost respect for the costumed revelers, admitting that he never had the guts to take it that far.

Chris, Boston, MA

There was no shortage of costumes at the event, with outfits ranging from animal carcass headgear to medieval inspired dresses and armor. While many people had to create a costume especially for the event, Chris from Boston happened to have one ready to go. He is a medieval reenactor and wore part of his actual costume. But he is quick to add — the lion detail makes it a perfect Game of Thrones homage to House Lannister.

Alyssa, Holden, MA

Alyssa from Holden, MA also had her costume prior to Thursday’s event. She made it herself for a Game of Thrones event at King Richard’s Faire. A dedicated fan, she read the first book with the first season of the HBO series – but ended up finishing the rest of the books before the start of season two!

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The beer makes its nationwide debut on Monday, March 31st — right in time for the following Sunday’s season premiere.

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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Should Old Acquaintance be Forgot

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.

 

Ball Drop

 

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.

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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.

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Tiny Bubbles

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.

Old France

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.

 

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Applied Alchemy

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

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Whatever your New Years Eve tradition is and whichever resolution you break I wish you all a prosperous and happy 2015 and beyond

Cheers ,

Manny