Nine Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep the Party Going
Low proof never means low flavor with easy drinkers from the Hawthorne, Tiger Mama, Lincoln Tavern, and other Boston-area bars.
It’s going to be a long weekend, so you might want to pace yourself. Luckily, Boston-area bartenders have been embracing lower-proof cocktails all year long. Whether you want amaro, sherry, shochu, or another cordial with a lower alcohol-by-volume than standard spirits, or simply just a well-balanced drink with more soda water than bubbly, here are nine cocktails that won’t end your weekend early.
Pimms & Lemon, at Café ArtScience
From reasons ranging from sitting down to a lengthy dinner, to avoiding drinking and driving, “There’s a very real use for [low-alcohol cocktails],” says Todd Maul. “I’m all for it. You can craft very fine drinks that do not need to be alcohol-forward, or that are alcohol-forward tasting without being that alcoholic.” The mixolo-genius might be known for infusions, vapors, and other innovations behind the stick, but he can—and wants to—make whatever a guest wants to sip, including a variety of lower-proof beverages. “Not only am I going to try to accommodate that, I’m going to make it mind blowingly good,” he says. Want to order from the menu? Pimms & Lemon is one such sipper that’s always available, with an ounce of the English liqueur, a summer classic at just about 50 proof, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, simple syrup, and soda. Or, try the Sparkling R, a half-ounce of a rhubarb syrup (created by pastry chef Renae Connolly) with soda and champagne.
650 E. Kendall St., Cambridge, 857-999-2193, cafeartscience.com.
Nighttime Sparkler, at Deadhorse Hill
Co-owner Sean Woods often reaches for a low-alcohol drink himself. “It means you can have a lot of them with full composure,” he says. “For me, a low-ABV beverage should be bright and refreshing.” He loves sherry drinks, and anything with bubbly, like the Nighttime Sparkler at his new, Worcester destination. With lemon juice, grenadine (Deadhorse Hill’s is made in-house), just a half-ounce each of Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao and Rittenhouse Rye, and a “cheap, dry sparkling wine,” like Freixenet, “It’s very easy to make, bubbly and delicious but with a fancy feel.”
281 Main St., Worcester, 774-420-7107, deadhorsehill.com.
Coppi Speciale, at Fat Hen
The Italians know what’s up: The culture has long embraced the aperitivo, a class of often (but not always) low-booze drinks meant to open the stomach and palate ahead of a big meal. From Coppa to Cinquecento to SRV and beyond, Boston’s Italian-inflected hotspots can help you viva la dolce vita, and the new Fat Hen will, too. The debut from L’Espalier alum Michael Bergin makes use of sister restaurant La Brasa’s full liquor license, but consultant Matthew Schrage chose to develop an apertivo menu instead of a full-fledged cocktail list to go with Bergin’s antipasti, house-made pastas, and rustic entrees. “If you’re going to dining for an extended period of time, you’re going to want to be drinking thinks that allow you to enjoy yourself to the very end,” he says. Il Coppi Speciale is a refreshing, approachable option, with macerated local berries, a hint of vanilla, fresh squeezed citrus, Cinzano Rosso vermouth, and a sprig of rosemary.
Fat Hen, 126 Broadway, Somerville, 617-764-1612, fathenboston.com.
The Optimist, The Hawthorne
This drink is for the Manhattan fan who wants to take it a bit slower. Palo Cortado sherry, Amaro Nonino, a splash of E.H. Taylor barrel-strength bourbon, maple syrup, and a dash of chocolate mole bitters provide some of the caramel, herbal, and rich flavors of a whiskey drinker desires, with less of a punch. “Sherry brings a ton of flavor, complexity and acid to a cocktail without overpowering other ingredients,” says bar manager Jared Sadoian.
500A Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-532-9150, thehawthornebar.com.
The Navigator, Loyal Nine
“There’s definitely a time and a place for low-octane drinks. They help you appreciate food better,” says head bartender Fred Yarm, who developed a whole menu section devoted to apertif-style tipples. The whole restaurant is a culinary nod to Colonial New England, so Madeira, a fortified Portuguese wine, plays a role in many of Yarm’s cocktails, including the EC Cobbler, with Amaro Averna, cinnamon, and lemon, and the Navigator, with elderflower, tropical-tasting Falernum, lime, and spices.
660 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-945-2576, loyalninecambridge.com.
Blue Haired Lady, Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant
Ride out the remaining days of summer with this beer cocktail, straight offah Nantucket. Bar manager Robert McAffrey spikes Cisco Brewers’ Grey Lady, a dry and spicy Belgian-style ale, with Triple 8 Blueberry Vodka.
425 W. Broadway, South Boston, 617-765-8636, lincolnsouthboston.com.
LLB&M, at Mei Mei
Mei Mei’s brick-and-mortar in Audubon Circle doesn’t have an actual bar, but it does offer a curated list of beers, wine, and cordials alongside award-winning dumplings, rib tips, and other creative Chinese-American fare. “We take a ‘high-prep, low-pickup’ approach to all our cocktails,” says Caden Salvata, who developed the unique program. “This also makes them ideal entertaining drinks, since you do 90 percent of the work before guests arrive.” All of Mei Mei’s cocktails can be ordered by the pitcher, to make up for low-ABV with volume, he says. “Think of the Tinder dates—serving those folks a surprise semi-mocktail would be unconscionable,” Salvata says. The LLB&M, a sangrita-like blend of lemon, lime, simple syrup, and Amargo-Vallet Angostura, topped off with the Champagne of Beers, is a staff favorite.
506 Park Dr., Boston, 857-250-4959, meimeiboston.com.
Tiger Mama now boasts this year’s Most Imaginative Bartender: Schuyler Hunton earned the North American title last week at the United States Bartenders Guild’s 10th annual competition, presented Bombay Sapphire. From that storied mind comes the Tom Kha Collins, a lower-alcohol riff on the classic, which subs high-proof gin for lemongrass Mizu Shochu and Fino Sherry, along with Falernum, coconut milk, lemongrass kaffir syrup, and soda.
1363 Boylston St., Boston, 617-425-MAMA, tigermamaboston.com.
Riding High, at Waypoint
“Low-alcohol drinks should be just as flavorful as spirit-heavy drinks, without being too sweet or citrusy,” says bar manager Seth Friedus, who also runs Alden & Harlow’s acclaimed program. His go-to lower-proof spirits are cordials, vermouths, and sherries, and this particular highball makes use of briny, Manzanilla sherry, as well as La Muse Vert Absinthe, one of the offerings of Waypoint‘s unprecedented absinthe program. Also with Batavia Arrack, an Indonesian rum, house-made ginger beer, lemon juice, and an orange peel garnish, Riding High is “light, refreshing, saline, and spice forward,” Friedus says. “It makes for easy drinking but with bold flavors.”
1030 Massachusetts Ave., Harvard Square, Cambridge, 617-864-2300, waypointharvard.com.