Twelve Drink Minimum: Or, How to Put Your Barman to the Test

1198255799The next time Chowder accepts an invitation from Bostonista for an evening on the town, you can bet your bile duct it won’t be a weeknight. Especially if said evening involves the bar at Eastern Standard. More specifically, an evening at Eastern Standard that entails a flight of cocktails numbering in the double digits.

(To review: Bostonista, weeknight, Eastern Standard, double-digit cocktail flight, not happening again. Any. Time. Soon.)

Here’s how it happened.

We were seated about halfway down the long, low-lit bar, taking in the convivial cheer. While Bostonista kept busy checking out the crowd—the shoes, the lipstick, the illicit affairs, the whatever-it-is-Bostonista-spends-its-time-observing—Chowder was attempting to figure out what was on the one-page menu the bartender was very strategically not-showcasing by tucking it away in a dark, out-of-the-way space next to a cash register.

“Oh, that? Uh, that’s our special Celebration Cocktail Menu. To celebrate the 75th anniversary. Of the repeal of Prohibition.” [Silence.]

Celebration Cocktail Menu? Chowder loves celebration cocktail menus! But why the low profile? Nobody puts celebration-cocktail-menu in the corner. Or so the saying goes.

Taking a peek at the 12-item list (one vintage drink featured every month!), it soon became eminently clear why there might not be celebration cocktail menus strewn across every square centimeter of available surface area on the polished-marble bar. It wasn’t the price break you get for ordering that month’s featured cocktail (July: the Sensation, a minty gin drink “from the roaring twenties”)—$7.50, instead of the usual $10. It was the tiny, italic headnote, writ in fine print near the top of the page:

…or a flight of all twelve in miniature (2 oz. pours each) for $75.00.

Now, if you know anything at all about the bar at Eastern Standard, you know we’re not talking a shot of Bacardi and a squirt of diet coke dumped unceremoniously into a plastic cup of ice. Arguably the most ambitious cocktail program in the city, Eastern Standard takes pride in serving complex, labor-intensive libations, with plenty of ice-shaking, flavor-infusing, herb-muddling, and citrus-peel-twisting thrown into the mix. Whipping up twelve ambitious cocktails, in miniature, couldn’t possibly be easy, or much fun.

Bostonista briefly put the hairstyle-ogling on hold to nod a hearty assent to the damage we were about to inflict upon ourselves—not to mention the bar staff—all in the name of due diligence. Ever the professionals, our two unshakeable bartenders kept their cool. But the intensity of the pregame huddle that followed spoke volumes. It was the upscale, mixological equivalent of a Greyhound bus pulling into the McDonald’s parking lot. (“Drop fries! Now!!!!”)

The rest of the evening was a blur, with a few (well, exactly 12) moments of clarity. The cocktails came out efficiently in groups of three. Some we loved, some we didn’t love, but all were executed flawlessly. Some excerpts from our increasingly sloppy note-taking, thumbed into a damp-ish BlackBerry:

(1) Hanky Panky (gin, sweet vermouth, Fernet Branca, orange twist): Our least favorite of the night. Refreshing but a little astringent. The menu says “invigorating.” Almost like face toner.

(2) Jack Rose (applejack brandy, housemade grenadine, fresh lemon, Peychall’s bitters): Awesome. This one is usually on the regular menu, and it’s long been a Chowder fave. The fresh pomegranate juice and the vanilla notes from the brandy call to mind a raspberry Tootsie Roll pop, but in a good way. And way more cold and refreshing.

(3) Monkey Gland (Miller’s Finest, fresh orange, pastis, housemade grenadine): The licorice-flavored pastis reads on paper like an oddball inclusion in this otherwise fruity, citrusy cocktail. But using a mere drop of the stuff nudges the flavor profile from regular citrus over to something tropical, like passion fruit. Yum.

(4) The Income Tax Cocktail (gin, sweet and dry vermouths, orange, angostura bitters): Floral and citrusy, but not acidic—sort of like tangerine (not orange) juice. And, uh, not the least bit taxing.

(5) The Charles Lindbergh (gin, Lillet Blanc, apricot): Also floral (thanks to the botanicals in the gin), but the apricot takes it into lightly sweetened hard-candy territory. One of Chowder’s three favorites of the evening.

(6) The Scofflaw Cocktail (rye, dry vermouth, lemon, grenadine): This is like a sophisticated spin on the whiskey sour, but full of fresh citrus, not sugary sour mix.

(7) Sensation (marachino, mint, lemon, gin): This is what ’20s-era summer hostesses must have served instead of the mojito, of which this tastes like a gin version. (Very close to a Kirkland, for anyone who’s tried that.) From the speed at which Bostonista gulped this one down, the Sensation clearly has an ardent new fan.

(8) El Presidente (light rum, orange curaçao, dry vermouth, housemade grenadine): A sugary rum punch, a tad too St. Joseph’s Baby Aspirin for Chowder, but Bostonista muddled through.

(9) Maiden’s Prayer (gin, rum, Cointreau, fresh lemon, orange bitters): A nice palate cleanser. Like a less-sweetened Crystal Light, with more aromatics. Notes are starting to get silly and garbled. This better end soon.

(10) Satan’s Whiskers (gin, sweet and dry vermouth, fresh orange, orange curaçao, orange bitters): Orange you glad we did this? Ahahahahahahaha! Ha. Reminds us of one of those hard candies filled with syrup or jelly, orange flavored, though the bitters and vermouth take it just to the edge of butterscotch.

(11) Blood & Sand (whiskey, fresh orange juice, Cherry Heering, sweet vermouth): “lifea cherrys jubille over oice cream leaner and might possbly cure you’re couggh.” I think we liked it.

(12) Astoria (gin, dry vermouth, bitters, olive): Gin. Vermouth. Blurriness. We limp into the nearest cab.

All in all, a Chowder thumbs-up. But not for a weeknight.