Craft Cocktails Go Mainstream at Earls Kitchen + Bar

Mixologist Cameron Bogue wants to bring the speakeasy concept to the masses.

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The Mad Hatter cocktail at Earls Kitchen + Bar. Photo provided

With his tenure at Earls Kitchen + Bar, renowned mixologist Cameron Bogue is achieving the impossible: making the bar at a chain restaurant, well, cool. They would never say that word, of course, “chain” being a taboo in the restaurant game, but with over 65 restaurants throughout the U.S. and Canada, Earls Kitchen has far exceeded its mom-and-pop roots.

Founded in 1982 by Leroy Earl “Bus” Fuller and his son Stanley Earl Fuller, who continues to own and operate the family business, Earls Kitchen has transformed over the years from a simple burger and beer joint into a restaurant that prides itself on its house-baked breads, scratch-made sauces, and high quality local ingredients.

That philosophy drew Bogue to Earls in the first place. A veteran of the Daniel Boulud empire, Bogue joined the Earls team, first as a consultant in 2008, then as its full-time beverage director two years later.

“I started working for Earls because I saw a huge opportunity to take craft cocktails out of high fine dining and nerdy little cocktail bars into something more mainstream,” Bogue says. “I want to make good drinks for a wider audience. We have about a million guests every four weeks, so to influence that many people is a huge opportunity. And it’s something I knew Earls could do because they have the same standards in the kitchen. With most restaurants this size, the bar is a bit of an afterthought, but Earls is baking their own breads and sourcing good ingredients. That might be normal for little independents, but Earls does it at every one of their locations. So, I knew we could bring those same standards to the bar.”

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The Bees Knees cocktail with Aviation gin, honey, Cointreau, fresh lemon, and Angostura bitters. Photo provided

Bogue says the Fuller family took a giant leap of faith by allowing him to expunge all “overly processed, packaged, and pasteurized” bar ingredients, in favor of handmade syrups and freshly squeezed juices. He rotates all 65 Earls Kitchen menus every four months with beverages that span the classical canon (the “Earls Old Fashioned” with bourbon, demerara sugar, and root beer bitters), as well as the more modern and experimental (the Mad Hatter with vodka, pear, black tea, kaffir lime, coconut water, and dry ice).

One defining feature of Bogue’s bar program is the use of whimsical cocktail vessels that go far beyond typical coupes and collins glasses. The “Bees Knees” (gin, honey, Cointreau, lemon, and Angostura bitters) comes in a glass honey bear, the “Cabin Fever” (Crown Royal, tawny port, ginger, pineapple, fresh lemon, and spiced bitters) in a enamelware camping mug, and the aforementioned “Mad Hatter” in a tea pot billowing clouds of smoke.

“That’s one thing that I really wanted to do: make drinks that will inspire some sort of buzz,” Bogue says. “Every restaurant now has some good cocktails, so it’s not enough to say they went to Earls to have Mojitos with fresh lime juice. My inspiration came from the bar programs in other countries such as Nightjar in London. Nightjar is a speakeasy that has tiny little bands playing and great small-batch spirits, but every single drink came in a fun vessel like a gourd or a big pot that looked like an owl. That really opened my eyes. It proved to me that you could have a very cool bar, but have a little more fun with it.”

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The Cabin Fever cocktail. Photo provided

In addition to cocktails, Bogue also takes his craft beer very seriously. For Earls Kitchen’s Assembly Row location, set to open on September 12, Bogue made several trips into Boston to meet local brewers and to get a genuine feel for the beer landscape.

“Beer I spend the most time with because I visit each region to make sure we’re supporting local breweries and doing something relevant,” Bogue says. “Growing up in Portland [Oregon], craft beer has always been something I’ve loved drinking. I came to Boston a little over a month ago and I had such a good time—and because felt there was so much more to learn—I actually scheduled a second visit just to go and drink beer. It’s one of the best beer cities I’ve ever been to. It’s very atypical. What I love about Boston is that there is almost zero domestic presence. When we went from bar to bar, there were no Coors or Anheuser-Busch products. The largest breweries were the cult beers like Narragansett and Yuengling.”

The Somerville menu will include selections from Allagash, Clown Shoes, Slumbrew, Idle Hands, and Downeast Cider. Local spirits will also be a prominent focus at the bar, as Bogue makes subsequent trips to New England to meet with regional distillers. “Sourcing local spirits is something I completely geek out about,” Bogue says. “Even if those products don’t make it into the cocktails, I want to have it on the bar itself. Being able to take a Massachusetts rum or rye off the shelf is crucial. That storytelling goes so far with the customers.”

Earls Kitchen + Bar – Cocktail & Wine Menu by Chris Hughes

#102 698 Assembly Row, Somerville;