Drink This Now: Bottled Fernet & Rose Cola, at Kirkland Tap & Trotter
Kirkland Tap & Trotter’s beverage team, led by Carl York and A.J. Bauman, has helped hone in on the unique identity for the Craigie on Main follow-up. Here, Tony Maws’ fare is a little more casual, and a little more charred, than the Craigie cuisine that earned him a James Beard award. The lively and fun bar program—rare, mostly regional draft beers, also served in a 32-ounce “howler;” house-infused spirits, barrel-aged cocktails—complements it well.
But there’s only so many ways to reinvent a classic, York thought. “Most of our cocktails are stirred, with brown spirits, and are spirit-forward. That’s what people want,” he says. “We got to this point where we said, ‘What else can we do with this?'”
Enter the bottled cocktail. The selections debuted around Valentine’s Day, with a Bijou for Two, which went over well, York says. Next up, a series of house-made, non-alcoholic tonics, kombucha, and drinking vinegars, including a spicy ginger beer. Then, a variety of other cocktails, typically with a brown spirit, like rye whiskey, and vermouth.
“It’s been a slow evolution, but we’re building the program as we put things on and learn what works,” York says. Kirkland currently has three non-alcoholic bottles, plus a Red Hook for two, and one offering that’s working particularly well: Fernet and house-made cola.
Straight, Fernet has been a go-to beverage of choice for industry folks for years. York isn’t quite sure why, exactly, but his hunch is the bitter, Italian amaro appeals to bar veterans because it’s an acquired taste, and because when it started gaining popularity in the U.S. in the early aughts, most customers weren’t ordering it. It’s a contender for the national beverage of Argentina, especially when mixed with Coca-Cola, York says.
But classic Coke isn’t Kirkland’s thing, he says. “So, we made our own cola syrup, with a ton of citrus, rose petals, dark sugars, and baking spices. It’s a pretty unique take on a not-so-unique drink.”
The bottled cocktail program definitely speeds things up behind the bar. “If the drink is already stirred, diluted, and at the right temperature, it takes two seconds to serve that cocktail for two people, whereas it would typically take a minute or 90 seconds,” York says.
“But for me, the largest reason to do it is quality. I’m kind of a nerd,” he says, describing up to a dozen trials for each bottled cocktail, to scientifically hone in on the correct ingredients-to-dilution ratio that appealed to most of his staff.
“You order a Manhattan. The bartender builds it, it’s probably accurate. He dumps in the ice, then lets it sit for one minute or so, depending on how busy he is. Now, it’s diluted by 30-45 percent, based on how much time it sits there. The reality is, if he measured correctly, it’s probably going to taste good, but you could probably make it better by having the dilution a majority of people agree tastes best.”
Plus, the bottled drinks are just another option—and, in a clear, glass bottles, strung with a house-printed label, they’re cute.
“Maybe [a guest] never would have picked that and ordered it. The number of times I heard someone order a Bijou over a bar top is maybe like, two,” York says. “But as a holiday promo, it worked.”
The bottled Fernet & Cola is $8, and the Red Hook for two is $24. The current non-alcoholic options range from $6-$8.
The Kirkland Tap & Trotter, 425 Washington St., Somerville, 857-259-6585, kirklandtapandtrotter.com.