by Clare Leschin-Hoar
It doesn’t take long before I’m able to spot Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, the bar manager at Craigie onMain, mixing a classic old-school cocktail— the Pimm’s Cup. The first few scoops of ice get cradled in his hand and tapped forcefully with a long metal spoon to break the ice into smaller shards to help ensure a smoother drink. His movements
are quick, and after the carefully measured ingredients are assembled and stirred precisely, he stops to flatten the leaves of the plump mint sprig nestled on top, so they’re broad and fragrant.
The customer who ordered the Pimm’s Cup leans in and takes a long draw, openly pleased with the bartender’s skillfulness, but before he can set the drink back down on the bar, Schlesinger-Guidelli is already at work on the next vintage cocktail.
Holding up a short-style bar glass, he smoothly rotates it on its sides, coating it with a layer of pastis. The 25-year old-Schlesinger-Guidelli is crafting a Sazerac for industry colleague Dave Cagle of Deep Ellum in Allston, who came in on his night off and is sitting at the bar with a friend. Schlesinger-Guidelli sets the deep amber-red drink in front of
Cagle, who breaks into a wide grin, delighted with the result.
Watching all this is enough to make a girl thirsty. Lucky for me—er, I mean you—superior cocktails like these can be found regularly all over Boston.
Schlesinger-Guidelli is one of several Boston bartenders at the vanguard of the city’s cocktail renaissance. That’s right, in case you hadn’t noticed—we’re in the midst of a vigorous revival that many say is bartender- driven, rather than customer-driven, and one that can trace its roots back to earlier days at the old B-Side Lounge in Cambridge, which closed in November.
Local blogger Lauren Clark of drinkboston.com says Boston’s cocktail scene is closely tied to its culinary scene.
“They go hand-in-hand.We have curious, intellectual people who like to have adventure in eating and drinking, and they like hearing the history behind classic cocktails. We have all the pieces of the puzzle for a blossoming bartending scene,” she says.
We’re not talking neon green apple martinis or cloying Cosmopolitans here. Instead, we’re being wooed with well-made classics likeManhattans, Negronis or Sazeracs made by mixologists who know it’s cool to measure ingredients to ensure the right proportions. That means consistent and tasty cocktails for anyone imbibing at the right bars this summer.
“Pound for pound, I’d put Boston up against anywhere,” says Jackson Cannon, bar manager at Eastern Standard Kitchen in Kenmore Square. “We’re competitive with Chicago, which is five times our size, and we’re just as good as the [San Francisco] Bay area.”
Just as we’ve come to appreciate seasonality in food—there’s a change of seasons for tippling too. Summer means thirst-quenching drinks made from fresh herbs, ripe berries and even a few surprising vegetables. We’re convinced that the path to a better-tasting cocktail is to follow Schlesinger-Guidelli’s lead: crafting cocktails from freshly squeezed juices and the best ingredients you can get your hands on, rather than being swayed by liquor giants peddling pre-made party-in-a-box concoctions.
The bartenders we talked to suggest looking for inspiration in the kitchen, at the spice shop and while strolling through the farmers’ market. Sometimes ideas can sprout from sheer abundance. This spring, Courtney Bissonnette, bar manager atToro, says her Fresita made with Hendrick’s Gin, rhubarb syrup and strawberry preserves was the byproduct of too much rhubarb coulis in the kitchen.
“That was the first time I’ve worked with rhubarb behind the bar. It has this great tartness to it, so there was less need to use citrus,” she says.
Cannon says it’s an ingredient’s sheer abundance that’s often the secret to a better cocktail.
“Everyone waits for strawberries and cherries to be in season, but sometimes the first of the season isn’t always the best. It’s the end of the season where the fruit is a little overripe that it makes the best infusions,” he says. “And making infusions from fruit means you’re able to stretch the seasons. Even after the strawberries are gone, you’ll have that flavor to work with for a few more months.”
This summer, you’ll find Cannon mixing thirst-quenching drinks like the Blueberry Thrill, Strawberry Rhubarb Highball and the Cherry Amour created with infusions and syrups he’s spent weeks and months tending.
He’s thinking about the source of his spirits selection too, and frequently reaches for regionally distilled spirits like Gale Force Gin from Triple Eight Distillery in Nantucket, or Ragged Mountain Rum from Berkshire Mountain Distillers in Sheffield.*
“There’s a green aspect to drinking things locally made. Part of the price of top-shelf branded products is the advertising dollars spent on them and the greater distances they’ve traveled,” he says. “It used to be that rectified spirits were shipped in barrels all over the country and it was up to the bartender to deproof and blend products. We’re not at that extreme yet, but take a look in your backyard.We’ve got products that are competitively priced and good value for the quality.”
Serving a crowd? We think John Gertsen, general manager at Drink, has the right idea. Gertsen likes tiki-inspired punches served in vintage punchbowls and glassware, and says that kind of sharing creates a more communal experience than having individual cocktails. Popular with his customers, Gertsen has Drink stocked with over 700 pieces of vintage barware, including 20 punchbowls and old-school cocktail pitchers that he picks up at flea markets, antique stores and through friends.
Heavy on the fruit juice, tiki drinks do well in punchbowl-size quantities. Gertsen especially likes the Zombie.
“It’s a fun name and a pretty powerful drink,” he says.
This summer, you’ll be able to spot cocktails made in creative ways with ingredients like cucumbers, blueberries, basil, even chili peppers. Gertsen’s got a winner in his Bee’s Knees cocktail.
“Gin, lemon juice and honey—it’s great this time of year, especially when you think about what’s happening in the natural world,” says Gertsen.
To help you better enjoy some of the flavors of summer, we’ve asked some of the city’s best bartenders to share their recipes with you. But don’t fret if some of the ingredients don’t look familiar. Shops like Brix Wine Shop on Washington Street or The Boston Shaker, an independent boutique inside Grand in Union Square in Somerville, have
hard-to-find ingredients and plenty of functional cocktail gear.
Adam Lantheaume, owner of The Boston Shaker, says he carries 15 types of cocktail bitters, mint julep cups, bar spoons, jiggers and a variety of shaker tins. He also offers classes ranging from how to use all this bar gear to making your own tonic.
“The giant liquor companies are in the mind-set that the general public doesn’t want to do it themselves, but that’s just not the case,” says Lantheaume. “People are realizing it isn’t out of reach. You can learn to make cocktails with a little bit of practice and knowledge. You don’t need mixes filled with corn syrup. And the reward for your time is so drastically better that people are really starting to embrace it.”
To which we say “Cin-cin!” “Cheers!” and “Drink up!”
* Other sources for locally produced spirits include Ryan andWood in Gloucester, which currently produces Beauport Vodka and is planning to release a sipping rum this summer; and Nashoba Valley Spirits in Bolton, which is expected to launch a locally made whiskey in August, in addition to the brandy, gin and other small-batch spirits they currently
For a complete list of Recipes visit our Recipe Section HERE