Menuology: Cordial Cocktails

By Donna Garlough | Boston Magazine |

When Chef Ken Oringer opens his latest venture, Coppa, in the South End this month, you’ll find all sorts of indulgences on hand: house-made pastas, wood-fired pizzas, eclectic Italian wines. One thing you won’t find? The libations poured at his other spots, like Toro’s Gypsy or the La Verdad margarita, since Coppa has only a beer/wine/cordial license.

And yet there will be cocktails here‚ÄĒcuriously good, strong cocktails. Coppa’s liquor license is one of a rare breed, a quirky pass created for Massachusetts restaurants that can’t procure, or afford, a full-bar permit. Ap√©ritifs like Campari and after-dinner quaffs like sambuca are allowed, but spirits like gin and tequila are not. (A “cordial” is defined not by alcohol level, but by sugar content: Green Chartreuse, for example, is a potent 110 proof, yet it qualifies, as do many flavored vodkas.)

Given Boston’s appetite for craft cocktails, cordials-restricted barkeeps have set out to create first-rate drinks anyway. Coppa general manager Courtney Bissonnette (wife of chef Jamie Bissonnette, Oringer’s partner in the restaurant) likes to balance cordials’ sweetness with bitters or add them to dry wine, yielding easy-drinking refreshers like the Aperol Spritz (equal parts prosecco, soda water, and the sambuca-like Aperol). At Taranta, in the North End, cocktails are crafted using pisco, the grape-based Peruvian brandy, while the South End’s Myers + Chang bases several offerings on sake, including the Asian Mojito.

And when the drinks are made well, tipplers don’t bat an eye, Bissonnette says. “Nine times out of ten, when people come in for cocktails, they order off the list in front of them,” she notes. So, will you even miss the hard stuff? We think not.

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