Drink This Now: House-Infused Strawberry Fennel Liqueur, at Spoke Wine Bar
Despite the forecast, it is, in fact, spring, and restaurants throughout the region are updating their menus with lighter, seasonal flavors accordingly. At Spoke Wine Bar in Davis Square, a brand new cocktail menu hit the bar this week, and a unique new spirit is on the shelf. Bartender Ben Parson infused a strawberry fennel liqueur, the first of what he hopes will be a rotating selection of house-made, seasonal spirits.
Spoke’s bar program, led by Parson and fellow bartenders Hannah Rae Moore and Liz Mann, has featured several house-made syrups and shrubs, but this is the first foray into proprietary booze. “There’s a lot of excitement when we talk about making new cocktails, because we’re really passionate about the drinks we bring to the list,” Parson says. “This is a new step, and I’d like to see it continue to grow.”
Parson developed his knowledge of spirits under Seth Friedus, as part of the opening team at Alden & Harlow. “When I started there, I knew very little,” Parson says, laughing. “I had been a bartender for two years, and I was very interested in cocktail history, and the process of distillation.” Friedus, himself a protégé of cocktail legend Jackson Cannon, has created a number of house-made bitters, vermouths, and liqueurs at what has become one of the Boston area’s most exciting cocktail destinations.
For the uninitiated, a liqueur, or cordial, is a neutral-grain spirit infused with flavor after the distillation process, Parson explains. His new cordial began as vodka. Parson set out to create a Sicilian-style rose liqueur to highlight floral, light flavors and usher in spring, but he had trouble sourcing food-grade rose petals, he says. So, he turned to strawberries, a flavor he loves working with.
“I’ve made a few syrups, like cinnamon strawberry, at home before. Strawberries have a bright and potent flavor profile that blends well with other things, usually something that’s more of a sharper flavor,” he says. “That’s what keyed me into doing a balance between strawberry and fennel, to try and create something that was sweet-focused that has and underlying bitter, sharpness to it that I really like.”
The liqueur is featured in a classic Gin Daisy on Spoke’s new menu. The tall cocktail is made with the complex, botanical-brimming French gin Citadelle, as well as fresh-squeezed lemon juice, the cordial, and soda water.
“The liqueur plays a lot with the botanicals in the gin,” Parson says. “Very light, very refreshing, but you still get a certain depth of flavor from the liqueur and the gin, without it being too overwhelming. There’s a nice dry finish to it, as well.”
The cordial works in other tipples, too—Parson has replaced the traditional curaçao or Combier with the infusion in a riff on a Pegu Club, and has also made an Aviation variation with it instead of crème de violette. “It works very well with gin, because it brings out a lot of the subtler, more delicate flavors,” he says. It’s also delicious by itself over ice.
Intrigued? Parson can’t wait to make you a drink. “I’m a huge proponent of focusing on whatever the guest is interested in trying, and trying to perfect a unique flavor profile they might be searching for,” he says.
Gin Daisy with Parson’s house-infused strawberry fennel cordial, $12, Spoke Wine Bar, 89 Holland St., Davis Square, Somerville, 617-718-9463, spokewinebar.com.