Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bubbling over with fine spirits

Kate Moore (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)

Q. What are some common misconceptions about sparkling wine?

A. Probably the most obvious is the provenance of sparkling wine and when it can be called “Champagne.’’ When it is from the appellation of Champagne specifically, and only then, can it be called true Champagne. Not to say that sparkling wine cannot be wonderful outside of the AOC-protected [appellation of controlled origin] Champagne area. The region of Champagne itself is not warm, sunny, or the most friendly climate for growing grapes, another reason why it can be so costly to manufacture.

People are often surprised to see that we have vineyards here in Massachusetts. Westport Rivers in particular produces a fantastic Brut sparkling wine made of the three classic grapes of Champagne (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier) that are producing top-notch sparkling wines right on par with classic Champagne. In fact, I’ve fooled not just a few French people with this in “blind tastings’’ of local versions versus French Champagne.

Q. What should people be looking for when they’re buying a bottle?

A. Find a style that you like. For example, if you love Pinot Noir in general, you might enjoy an earthier, richer sparkling wine. For Champagne in particular, that would be along the lines of Bollinger, which is heavy on the Pinot and lighter on the Chardonnay. If you prefer something crisp and classic, try Laurent-Perrier (France) or Roederer Estate (California), which are mostly Chardonnay-based. Look for a “house’’ style that you identify with, and also consider the food that you’d like it to accompany. I see a trend in people enjoying sparkling throughout an entire evening, and that could include multiple courses. I approach the pairing of sparkling wine with food as seriously as we all do with still wines, and in some cases, I consider sparkling wine the most food-friendly of all in that the bubbles do have a way of lifting certain textures and flavors to a different level than still wines. I think a blanc de blanc Champagne [made with Chardonnay only] is wonderful with a rich triple creme cheese, for example. And sparkling rosé, heavy on the pinot, is fantastic with richer fishes like salmon.

Q. What exactly is it that makes a quality sparkling wine stand out from a lesser one?

A. There is no question that the consistency of the big houses, the “grandes marques,’’ is something that has taken many, many years to perfect. If you enjoy Veuve Clicquot NV, for example, you are pretty much guaranteed to have the same experience each time you taste it. I feel that even more interesting, albeit riskier, is to branch out and try a small grower Champagne, a sparkling wine produced by the same person or family that owns the land and the grapes. Most of what you see dominating the market, particularly in Champagne, is big brands that actually source their grapes from up to 80 different parcels. The “grower’’ Champagnes have smaller margins to work with, and less to invest in packaging and marketing, but what they are showcasing is true “terroir’’ and artisanal wine-making. Hand-harvesting, little manipulation with commercial yeasts, tiny production.
In terms of non-Champagne sparkling, any wineries that are coastal and or cool-climate are almost always guaranteed to be high quality because they mimic closely the conditions in Champagne. I also think Italian Prosecco is top-notch for overall value and approachability, as are some of the sparklings from California like Schramsberg, Domaine Carneros, and Roederer Estate.

Q. Can you recommend a few bottles for the cost conscious?

A. For those looking to buy a few and still come out with some unique selections, go for our local Westport Rivers 2005 Brut or Nino Franco Prosecco from Valdobbiadene, Italy. Both of these come in less than $20 retail. I know Best Cellars has a Pierre Morlet, and the Cheese Shop in Concord has a terrific sparkling selection, as does the Spirited Gourmet in Belmont, and Lower Falls Wine Co. in Newton.


Boston Globe

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursty: Strega strays off the reservation



If you have friends who live in the North End, you know it can be hard to get them to travel outside the neighborhood for dinner or drinks. Why would they, with so many options like Italian favorite Strega nearby? Strega Waterfront, the ambitious new venture from owner Nick Varano, will at least draw them a little further south along the water. It’s already attracting the celebrity and athlete clientele for which Strega is known. 

The second location has more space. There’s also a gleaming modernist design feel to the room, with chic angles and contrasts of smooth stone, wood and light. The presence of the ICA looming in the near distance affects a sort of artsy gravitational pull.

“I feel like when people come to the new place, I don’t know if it’s the decor, they feel like they’re in an expensive place,” says head bartender LJ McKanas. “The whole perspective, if I can use a metaphor, it’s like the family is going from eating in the kitchen to eating in the dining room where they eat on special occasions.”

True to that high-end feel, the cocktails featured here tend toward the aspirational, flashy downtown Boston style. A few too many are of the flavored vodka persuasion, but they are made with care by McKanas and company. With so many herbal Italian liqueurs appearing in cocktails lately — Aperol, Cynar, Fernet, Maraschino and the like — working with these would seem to be a better, natural match to the hearty and rich, if pricey, Italian cooking. The wine list is extensive, with robust reds like the Terrabianca Campaccio Super Tuscan or the Elio Grasso “Gavarini “Nebbiolo standing out. It’s a good match for the vibe here.  

What he’s having

McKanas suggests the Santa Cristina Sangiovese ($10) for a more affordable wine-by-the-glass option. “It’s such a well-rounded wine, it’s great for people who come in as a group, as it will go with anyone’s palate. It’s a great party-starter wine.” 

Strega Waterfront
One Marina Park Drive, Boston, 617-345-3992
www.stregawaterfront.com 

Making art accessible to everyone

Jason Gracilieri, founder of TurningArt, at his Cambridge offices. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)

Start-up firm ships prints to you for trial run at home

If you use Netflix the way a lot of people do — never quite getting around to returning the DVDs for a week or two after you’re done with them — the sight of those red envelopes can be an eyesore. But what if the rental was something that you didn’t mind keeping around, and actually wanted to look at? What if it was a piece of art? That’s the idea behind TurningArt, a Central Square-based start-up that allows customers to select art prints from an online catalog for display at home, and then exchange them for other prints. Jason Gracilieri, 33, founded the company. It’s his fourth start-up (his most successful was an early social networking site called Sconex.com, which he sold off). We asked him to explain how TurningArt works and why he believes he can do for art what the wine industry did for vino: make a luxury good accessible to everyone.

Q. Where did the idea for the company come from?

A. It started when I moved into a new apartment a couple of years ago. I got to a point where I had outgrown my old artwork — I don’t know if you’d really call it artwork. There were only a few pieces that I brought with me that I wanted to keep, so I had a whole lot of empty walls. I realized I wanted something more than Ikea prints, or something I found at Bed Bath and Beyond, or something I had stumbled upon. I wanted something that I actually took the time to think about, but I didn’t have the cash for original art. So I wanted to think about a way that I could discover, learn about, and shop for artwork in my home, and move past mass-reproduced prints.

Q. How does the process work?

A. The idea is, you have this spot in your home where you can try different pieces, but you may not have the time or inclination to go and hunt down art. As a customer you come to the site and you sign up for a subscription plan. We will ship the first piece to you framed, ready to hang in your home. All the pieces on the site are original artworks available from emerging artists across the country. What we send you is prints of those originals, high quality reproductions. Based on the plan you choose, at some frequency, you can change the artwork and explore new things. You can change it once every three months, to as often as you want. It starts at $9.99 a month, with all the shipping included as well as a frame. The kicker is, all the money you spend during your subscription plan earns credit toward purchasing an original work of art. It’s like an original art savings plan.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Damned Things: Ironiclast




Assembling a band is like drafting a sports team, with all the players drawing from the same playbook. Conversely, a supergroup of musicians can be like a fantasy sports team, all about individual performances. For The Damned Things, a new band made up of members of disparate acts Anthrax, Every Time I Die, and Fall Out Boy, heavy music fans may have expected just such a confused mess. Yet there’s enough of each of their prior bands sprinkled throughout to elevate the well-trod formula. Songs like “Handbook for the Recently Deceased’’ soar with the hooky pop choruses of Fall Out Boy, while the title track marries the thrash of Anthrax with Every Time I Die’s scorched metalcore. It’s songs like that where singer Keith Buckley (of the latter band) matches the intensity of the instrumentation with brutal vocals that make better sense than the suburban-rock-radio tones he delivers elsewhere. There and on “Grave Robber’’ his violent scream lines up with the hairpin rhythm turns his bandmates lay down for him like a running back following blockers. A good teammate, in other words. (Out now.)

Boston Globe

Friday, December 17, 2010

Weezer night 1


Reviewing the live show of a band you're a big fan of can be a tricky proposition. On one hand it helps to be familiar with the material, but as a fan you're likely to fill in some of the performance holes with the caulk of fond memory. On the opposite end of the spectrum, reviewing a band you have no tolerance for can be tough as well. Better to come down somewhere in the middle, and discard the highest and lowest scores of the tiny award show judges that live inside your brain and tell you what to think about everything. Right? Maybe that's just me. 

Fortunately for me on Tuesday night (Dec. 14), the band in question embodies both those qualities at once. If I was putting together a list of bands that were most influential in my life, Weezer would be right up there at the top. But like a lot of original fans, the band as I knew it just doesn't really exist anymore in the way that someone you've broken up with after a long romance doesn't exist anymore. I mean, yes, they obviously still exist, but the thing between you doesn't. You aren't a couple anymore, you're two distinct entities piloting your ridiculous bodies around the world unconnected. When you bump into them from time to time seeing all the bad decisions they've made in the intervening years it further erases the memory. Or does it? Maybe that's just a particularly emo way of looking at things, but when you're talking about Weezer, a band that practically invented the concept of emo in the past fifteen years (yes, I know about all the other bands involved, so spare me the lecture), that might be the correct way to look at things, wistfully pining for a past that's no longer there. Maybe it never was? 

Or maybe I'm missing the point of a band's evolution. The next group of sullen youngsters has to come along and punch the clock for their stint in the youthful rebellion factory after all. A band doesn't get to be yours alone forever, unless they break up early, or die young. Anyone who wishes that upon their favorite bands probably never really liked them that much to begin with. 

That said, how about these last few Weezer records? Jesus Christ, what a bunch of turds. Somehow they still manage to churn out a transcendent single or two every album, like “Perfect Situation” or “Pork and Beans”, but for the most part it's not worth going to see the band anymore. Odds are you'll get a smattering of old hits mixed in with goofy joke tracks and formulaic songs with cringeworthy pop-culture referencing lyrics. The aim of the Memories Tour, the first night of which this past Tuesday had the band performing their debut "The Blue Album" front to back, was a salve meant to heal the psychological wounds of disgruntled old fans like myself, an olive branch, if you will. “See, we know you think this was our best work, let us make it up to you.” Or maybe that's just projection on the part of the fan. From all the interviews he's done recently, like the one here in the Phoenix, there's really no indication that Rivers Cuomo thinks any less of the band's recent work. And why should he? Weezer is still very much an every day present for him and the band. We're the ones living in the past.

On Tuesday, living in the past was a sanctioned collective hallucination we all agreed to go in on together. The night began with Weezer running through their most recent single, the appropriately thematic “Memories.” “All the memories, how can we make it back there, back there? I want be there again.” From there they wound the clocks backward, playing a song or two from each album. “2009. Ratitude” Cuomo barked out, launching into “(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To.” “2008. The Red Album.” “Troublemaker” and so on... The set list included welcome latter day hits like “Pork and Beans” as well as execrable ones like “Beverly Hills.”

The band was predictably solid, with drummer Patrick Wilson playing guitar most of the way along side regulars Brian Bell and Scott Shriner. The three part harmonies were largely studio perfect. But the most surprising part of the proceedings was Cuomo himself, who was more energetic and lively than I ever imagined he could be. He climbed on the speaker cabinets (gingerly, and awkwardly, but still), jumped off the drum riser, took his wireless mic out into the crowd (he eschewed guitar for the first set), and even climbed up into the opera boxes. Wait a minute, sir, who are you and what have you done with Mr. Cuomo? He worked the room with so much star-power and charisma, it was practically the antithesis of everything I'd cemented in my brain as being the meaning of Weezer. He seemed more like a Fred Armisen character playing a weird rock star than the mercurial, socially awkward frontman of my imagination. Good. 

For the second set, the band returned to its earlier incarnation, with Cuomo strapping on his guitar, and getting down to the business of making memories happen. After having attended the second night, in which they played Pinkerton, an album I had always thought was my favorite, it was shocking to be reminded just how beautiful "The Blue Album" is. Without a word, the band performed the album, almost flawlessly, with little more than an album's track break between songs. And the hits just kept on coming. From the guitar intro of “My Name Is Jonas” to the glorious crescendo of “Only In Dreams” fans sung themselves hoarse, shed tears, embraced. Maybe it was just a little dusty in the old Orpheum hall, but this fan got something in his eye at unexpected lyrical moments I hadn't even realized meant so much to me. “The workers are going home” “I've got Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler too.” “Do you believe what I sing now?” 

If you're reading this review, all of those lines likely mean something to you. They probably bring you back to the moment when you first heard them. That was the point, with the band operating an emotional time machine effected through their most beloved music.


Boston Phoenix 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Weezer

Weezer takes an emotional, gleeful jaunt down memory lane


When Weezer released “Pinkerton’’ in 1996, it was considered a failure by almost any metric. But for a generation of bands that formed in its endearingly awkward wake, Rivers Cuomo’s perfect document of imperfect longing served as a blueprint for the type of strident and yearning pop punk that was soon ascendant. By then Weezer had mostly moved on, with Cuomo, the band’s evil genius sentencing himself to an eternity of goofy hit-making penance.

As a result, many of the fans for whom “Pinkerton’’ remains the holy grail of modern emo promptly hit the eject button.

The musical canon has a way of self-correcting egregious oversights, however, as evidenced last night, when the band finally performed the album front to back at the Orpheum before a devoted crowd of relative neophytes and prodigal fans alike.

Acting every bit the charismatic front man he never was, Cuomo bounded about the stage and into the audience for the opening set, ushering fans on a greatest-hits jaunt down memory lane. “Are you ready to take a ride on the Weezer time machine?’’ he asked. Yes please.

Counting backward by album, the band ripped through notable singles from each era, with even the loathsome songs of latter vintage like “Hash Pipe’’ infecting malcontents with glee. Early B-sides like “Suzanne,’’ sung from the middle of the audience, were dreams come true for vintage deep cut hopefuls.

An intermission slide show of old set lists, “Pinkerton’’ recording session photos, show flyers, and a Rolling Stone article calling “Pinkerton’’ the second-worst album of the year set the stage for the main event.

Befitting the album’s sharp shift in tone, the band throttled efficiently through the emotional peaks and dejected valleys of the record without a word. The outsider anthem “El Scorcho’’ inspired a thundering sing-along, as did everything else, really, but nothing more so than the thematically resonant “The Good Life.’’ “I wanna go back, and I don’t even know how I got off the track,’’ Cuomo sang in harmony with the crowd.

The night was a step in the right direction.

Boton Globe

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dashboard Confessional

Chris Carrabba at the Paradise on Saturday night. (Robert E. Klein for The Boston Globe)


More than a dash of raw emotion from Confessional

You may have noticed emo music fans walking around with a little extra mope in their step lately. Cut them some slack. A spate of shows from venerable acts — including the Get Up Kids’ Matt Pryor last week, and Weezer, who will perform their seminal “Pinkerton’’ album on Wednesday — is probably opening up a lot of long-lost musical and romantic wounds.

On Saturday night, perhaps the platonic ideal of the oft-maligned genre, Chris Carrabba, a.k.a. Dashboard Confessional, put heart to tattooed sleeve at the Paradise for an all-ages solo acoustic performance. Carrabba is also currently performing a classic album of his own in its entirety. To mark the 10th anniversary of the release of his debut, “The Swiss Army Romance,’’ he wanted to recapture that early magic, performing solo at smaller venues, and stripping his arrangements, and his throat, bare.

While it may have been his intention to make the large venues he plays now smaller by jumping in the nostalgia time machine, the format here actually had the opposite effect. Dashboard shows are notoriously driven, or rather monopolized by crowd participation, but microphones laid out across the stage to pick up the audience’s collective singing gave the proceedings the thundering singalong feel of an arena show. That would prove to be a big aid for the still boyish, slickly coiffed, and endearingly polite Carrabba, who struggled occasionally to reach the screaming high notes that are the hallmark of his shouted woebegone trade. He has always sung well beyond his natural range, and that’s both the appeal and the drawback of his music. The emotion is in the straining, but that sort of thing can be hard to keep up over the course of a single tour, never mind 10 years of touring.
If the packed room of acolytes cared, they didn’t let on, content as they were to shout along to literally every single word of every song played throughout the night, high notes and all. “I’ve got a cold,’’ Carrabba confessed, after muscling his way through the scorching climax of crowd-favorite “Turpentine Chaser.’’ “That’s OK, it makes me sound like I used to anyway.’’ Exactly what fans were there for.
With the business of performing “Swiss Army’’ out of the way, Carrabba seemed to relax, opening up his catalog for a greatest hits second act encompassing songs poppy (“Saints and Sailors’’), defiantly sensitive (“The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most’’), and blistered and raw (“The Best Deceptions’’). “I remember when it was just you guys and me up here for a long time,’’ he said, humbled by the crowd reaction. Most of the crowd seemed to as well.

Boston Globe

Monday, December 13, 2010

Liquid: Punch drunk

Photo: JOEL VEAK

Holiday party at your place, dude. I've got some bad news though. First of all, I apologize in advance for spilling cheese dip all over the couch. Second, and more importantly, I'm going to have to request that you up your drinking options from last year's bland spread. It's not enough to just throw a few bottles of off-brand vodka and gas-station wine on the counter beside a bucket of ice. But don't worry: you don't have to play bartender all night. Make a punch in advance, and you can spend the evening getting sloshed with your guests as a good host should. A punch that tastes great and shows a little creativity doesn't take a PhD in mixology to pull off, but here are a few expert tips on making a festive brew. 

Don't run out of booze. No booze = no friends. That's one recipe you can count on. A fairly good formula is that one gallon of punch works out to about 30 five-ounce servings, so consider your guest list and make the appropriate calculations. Of course, if your friends are anything like my group of ornery winos, you might be better off hiding the punch under lock and key and doling that stuff out like a stingy soup-kitchen staffer. 

Keep it simple. Matt Coughlin of Aquitaine (569 Tremont Street, Boston, 617.424.8577) just held a holiday punch-making party at his bar, and one of the most important lessons he tried to impart is to take it easy. "Usually people do too much," he says. "Keep one base spirit, and just use something that tastes good to put in it." Coughlin used apple cider, cranberry puree, and a simple citrus mixer as bases for the three punches he featured at his party, and he mixed most of the ingredients in advance. "I told everybody there, the punch party is at six; I started doing everything at four, and we had punches for about 70 people." See? Pretty painless. Head to stuffboston.com for his complete recipes, along with more ideas from Brian Poe of Poe's Kitchen at The Rattlesnake, Michael Florence of Pigalle, and Kelly Coggins of Bistro du Midi.

Less booze is more. Don't just throw everything you have on hand into a bowl and expect the accolades to roll in. Headaches and face plants are more likely. People often use a bizarre mix of juices and spirits and hope for the best, but potluck punch is a recipe for disaster. The sweetness of the juices in a lot of punches makes it easy to lose track of just how much you're drinking, so pour carefully. "You want people to feel good, but you don't want them to be falling down after the first drink," says Coughlin. Adding sparkling water can help throw the breaks on the quaffability factor; it's also a cheap and efficient way to brighten up a dull blend and give the flavors of the juices a little pep. Sparkling wine can do the same - that is, if your recipe isn't already too boozy.

Ice is key. You don't want your bowl of punch sitting out all day getting watered down by ice. Kelly Coggins of Bistro du Midi (272 Boylston Street, Boston, 617.426.7878) says that's one of the biggest mistakes hosts make. Instead, keep the bowl refrigerated until the guests arrive, or else get larger blocks of ice that won't be so quick to melt over the course of the evening. You can purchase a block of ice easily from any ice purveyor, or make your own molds at home if you really want to get fancy. Ideally, the punch should get better over time, not worse. "In all good punches, the flavors start to marry and meld the more time they have together," Coggins says.

Let it go. After you've done the prep work, it's time to actually enjoy the party. If you plan ahead with a solid recipe like the ones we have online, make sure your guests are well lubricated (but not too well lubricated), and keep the bowl filled, everything else is going to fall into place. Unless you invite me over, in which case the only thing that's going to be falling is your expensive lamp into the coffee table. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thursty: Has Newbury Street MET its match?



Opening a restaurant on Newbury Street is a daunting task. Aside from all of the entrenched competition, you’ve got to somehow balance the aspirational aura of the fashionable neighborhood with a concept that’s popular enough to appeal to a broader clientele. MET Back Bay, the fourth offering from the group that includes the popular Metropolitan Club steakhouse in Chestnut Hill, aims to do that with its multi-tiered design. Upstairs, a formal dining room shares space with a clubby “library bar,” while downstairs is geared toward a more casual crowd.

“They are two different bars altogether, just in feeling,” explains bar manager Leo Neves. “The upstairs bar is more intimate, and quiet. The downstairs bar is more of a lively night-style kind of thing, geared toward volume.”

That volume downstairs includes a ham-and-cheese bar, where patrons can get their share of sliced, artisanal, cured meats and cheeses.

Designing a cocktail program that encompasses the concept here called for casting a wide net.

“What I wanted to do was incorporate a little bit of everything,” Neves says. “I like the elegance of classic spirits — Chartreuse, Kirschwasser and Bols Genever — but also things that people use in the kitchen on a regular basis.”

That means you’ll find small batch bottles, classically sophisticated liqueurs, a variety of bitters and plenty of brown spirits alongside popular-taste designs with a slight edge. A boring old pineapple infusion ups the ante by using grilled fruit instead, for example.

Others aren’t designed for the serious cocktailer, but will be popular nonetheless. That’s the idea.

“We kind of want to appeal to everyone,” Neves says. “If you want to stop in and get a beer, we have a great selection. Or if you’re looking for a fruit martini, everything is very approachable. We appeal to all ages, which is great.”

You pretty much have to on a street like this.
What he’s having

“I’m really into the bourbons,” Neves says. “I think the Hudson bourbons are very good, from the Hudson River Valley in New York. It’s a small batch production, and they have a really nice body to it, a really nice complexity. I drink just that on the rocks, or maybe made into a Manhattan as well.” 


MET Back Bay
279 Dartmouth St., Boston
617-267-0451
www.metbackbay.com

Friday, December 10, 2010

Vintage Cocktails and Resurected Spirits



By now we all know that the bartender isn't just the person that gets you drunk and pretends to listen to your drone on about your problems. Instead, ideal contemporary bartenders command the same level of respect we reserve for the most talented chefs. That's in large part because the interest in classic cocktails has forced them to become historians as well as chemists, paging through ancient tomes of cocktailing past for inspiration.

Remaking recipes of yore that call for relatively straightforward ingredients is simple -- bourbon, vermouth and bitters are still readily available in much the same forms as decades ago. But for some obscure, forgotten cocktails, replicating the recipes can be more difficult. That's where the bartender's third scholarly vocation, as an archeologist, or barcheologist if you will, comes in. The increasing demand for long-defunct spirits that investigative bartenders have uncovered in their digging expeditions has inspired distillers throughout the world to dust off recipes that have fallen out of favor, and importers, like Minnesota's Haus Alpenz, to reintroduce them the market. Here are a few resurrected spirits from the past couple years you'll want to know about.

Crème Yvette / Crème de Violette (1890-1969)

This Victorian-era spirit was long popular with bartenders enamored of its floral and berry components. It was sold in the United States from roughly 1890 to the late 1960s, but fell out of favor, perhaps because of its perfumed, matronly character. A few years ago, the similar Crème de Violette was introduced to meet the demand from bartenders looking to make a proper Blue Moon cocktail. You'll find a difference between Crème Yvette and Crème de Violette in theirs colors and the strengths of their berry flavors, but the two are roughly interchangeable.

The Blue Moon
2 oz. gin
½ oz. Crème Yvette
½ oz. fresh lemon juice

Shake well with cracked ice, strain into martini glass. Garnish with lemon.

Cocchi Americano / Kina Lillet (1870s-1986)

Bartenders looking to make an original version of the Vesper, made popular by James Bond, have long been wringing their hands over the missing ingredient: Kina Lillet, which is no longer produced as such. While you'll often find the gin and vodka cocktail mixed with the altered recipe now known as Lillet Blanc instead, that French aperitif wine lacks the original quinine bite of the Kina. Cocchi Americano, a mostly equivalent aromatized wine, made from a base of Moscato di Asti and fortified with herbs, fruits and spices, can also be used as a sweet vermouth substitute, or in cocktails like this one adapted from bar man extraordinaire, Jeffrey Morgenthaler.

The Beauty Beneath
2 oz. Appleton Estate V/X rum
1 oz. Cocchi Americano
½ oz. Cointreau
1 dash Fee Brothers’ Old-Fashioned bitters

Stir ingredients over ice, strain into cocktail glass. Add squeeze of oil from orange peel to garnish.

St. Elizabeth's Allspice Dram (1930s-1970s)

The more traditional name for this type of spirit in old cocktails is pimento dram, although the flavor of the Jamaican berries used to make it are now commonly referred to as allspice, with their notes of cinnamon, clove, mace, nutmeg and pepper. In Jamaica, the spirit has long been produced by soaking the berries in pot-still rum. During the early years of American cocktails and on into the Tiki era it was available here, before falling out of favor and ceasing to be imported to the U.S. This product was reintroduced in recent years, and has taken off in rum-based cocktails, punches and mulled wines and recipes like the Lion's Tail.

Lion's Tail
2 oz. bourbon
¾ oz. Allspice Dram
½ oz. fresh lime juice
½ tablsp. simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake over ice, strain into cocktail glass. 

MP3 of the Week: Bearstronaut "Moniker"

 
 
Pity that the Boston Music Awards nominations were announced late last month, just before the release of this track from Lowell electro-punk quartet BEARSTRONAUT — they could’ve been a contender. Even more so because they seem to have ditched the punk half of the genre niche on this almost six-minute-long excursion through dance-floor euphoria, where they trade attitude and the imperfections of jittery rock angles for a washy synth sheen. Further proof that the young band are figuring this shit out on the fly: at the 3:25 mark, the track flips the script from electronic to almost straight disco pop, packing two songs’ worth of material into one. Last year’s Broken Handclaps showed that Bearstronaut had ideas, but if “Moniker” is any indication, they’ve now figured out how to implement them. Grab the MP3 below. DOWNLOAD
 
 

Double Date: Get Crafty

Kathleen Dustin’s work is on sale at the Craftboston holiday event. 

Stock up on holiday gifts at a sale of local artwork, then take a break with some artisanal brew


THE ARTS  

Remember way back before mass-consumer culture became the norm? I don’t. But I’m told it’s a period of human history that existed. Back then, actual people made actual things by hand, and by necessity these items brought with them a personalized sense of love and hard work. That’s an idea that the boom in hand-crafted products over the past few years has hoped to reintroduce to our consuming habits. If you remember those days and yearn for them (or if you don’t, but just like cool stuff) one good place to start might be the Craftboston Holiday event this weekend.

Beth Ann Gerstein of the Society of Arts and Crafts, the group behind New England’s largest exhibition and sale of craft items, says the demand for handmade goods is still on the rise. “I think as the community continues to grow, people continue to be interested in handmade items,’’ she says. Among those for sale this weekend are ceramics, furniture, clothing, jewelry, glasswork, and artworks in all media, to name just a few. “I think the show is a good place to come to see a wide range from functional to sculptural, to narrative and humorous crafts.’’

More than 90 artists and artisans will come from all over the country, but there is a strong representation of those from the New England area. Even better, many of their works won’t break the bank. While some range up into the thousands of dollars, others might go for as low as $10. Anyone with items under $100 for sale will have tags next to their work that make it easy to identify as you’re walking through the aisles. Mass-produced goods elsewhere are almost always going to be cheaper, but at what cost?

Craftboston Holiday runs through Sunday. $15 for a three-day pass. Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St., Boston. www.craftboston.org
 
DRINKS 

Macrobrews tend to be cheaper than their smaller counterparts as well, but in that case you’re losing a lot in terms of taste and complexity that you’re making up for in price. At nearby Coda in the South End, most of their draft beers aren’t even that much more to begin with, averaging about $5.50.

Michael Moxley, one of the co-owners of the bar (as well as the Common Ground in Allston and the new Canary Square in Jamaica Plain) says having a broad selection of craft beers is pretty much the standard now. Nonetheless, there aren’t many beer bars in the South End. Coda comes the closest with local bottled and draft beers like Pretty Things and Haverhill Brewing Co., and other craft beers like Lagunitas, Green Flash, and Abita.

“It’s expected in most places,’’ Moxley says. “People crave craft beer, and like the diversity now. A lot of these [brewing companies] are really grass-roots kind of stuff, and I respect that.’’

Coda, 329 Columbus Ave., Boston. 617-536-2632. www.codaboston.com

Boston Globe

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Reflecting on the solo path of Faces on Film

DRAMATIC LEAD: “I have moments sometimes when I think, ‘God, people must hear this and think I’m a real mope,’ ” says Mike Fiore. “It’s just what comes out.”
 
The isolated chronicler 

Has the musical landscape always been so glutted with nostalgia, or is it a condition specific to our peculiar period in time? Perhaps it's symptomatic of our inability to grasp the larger context of our moment in history. Or perhaps it's our exponentially increasing slouch toward solipsism. Whatever, it seems the prevailing mode of bands now is one of wistful reflection on things just out of the reach of the recent past. What else did bands ever sing about? I've been so busy remembering other people's memories that I don't remember anything else.

Maybe it's just all the reverb that's making every new record sound like a tear-stained flipbook of expired daydreams. That sort of echoing, elegiac mourning is the stylistic choice that jumps out of Some Weather, the gorgeous and, yes, nostalgia-mining second record from Boston's Faces on Film. It takes me all the way back to the good old days. Like last year, when I was really into Blitzen Trapper. Or the year before that, when I was playing Band of Horses all the time.

But be wary of such comparisons. "It doesn't bother me," says Faces on Film principal architect Mike Fiore. "People make easy associations like that — it's just a fact. I'm certainly not going to take on that battle. But, yes, I do think people would be missing the point if they get too hung up on the reverb. It'd be like comparing the Eagles to the Jets because they both wear green uniforms."

Some Weather does align with the spirit of those bands, but it takes the crying-cowboy persona into unexpected directions while still staking a claim on the unsettled vistas of the same dreary horizon. Fiore affects the role of the iconic American Western pioneer pining under purple skies, writing letters back home in his imagination to loved ones he'll probably never see again.

"The record is sort of based on a recurring dream I was having early in the year," he says of the pioneer analogy. "I was back in the times of the explorers. Or I was one of them. We were moving across new land, conquering, displacing what we found, claiming what was vacant. And it spanned my lifetime: I was young at the beginning and old at the end. I wouldn't call it a concept album or anything, but each song is a little piece of the trip."

Going it alone seems to suit Fiore. Although he's kept a handful of reliable collaborators, Faces on Film is in essence a solo project, with Fiore performing 90 percent of Some Weather. Does that solitary path conveyed in the dusty road, country quiet of his music cross over with his personal identity?
"I don't think so. It's funny, I have moments sometimes when I think, 'God, people must hear this and think I'm a real mope.' It's just what comes out. I don't try to steer it too much. I guess if there's any kind of intention, it's to be broad and blurry, to come from a place that has its first thin layer of reality chipped away and offer a passive account of that, in some way. So maybe there's isolation in that, in trying to act as observer. But, no, I'm not fixated on being desolate."

Fixated on the desolation of memory, perhaps? The hypnotic video for "Harlem Roses" — with its overexposed 8mm home-video footage of a long-shuttered carnival, spooky bonfire revelry, a ticker-tape parade, and anonymous families now long grown out of simpler times — crackles at the edges and burns away before your eyes. Much of the footage was found in a film canister buried in a yard close to where Fiore grew up in upstate New York. Parts of Some Weather are about that long journey he had in his dream; others, like, "Harlem Roses," are about the stops along the way. It's about "falling in love with what you're seeing. Falling in love with anything in its infancy. Seeing those first similarities between where you are and where you started, and having a reverence for that feeling." Nostalgia, in other words.

FACES ON FILM + MARCONI + BIRDS & BATTERIES + ST CLAIRE | Great Scott, 1222 Comm Ave, Allston | December 11 at 9 pm | $10 | 617.566.9014 or greatscottboston.com

Friday, December 3, 2010

Heart and Seoul

Kim Ki-young’s 1960 psycho-sexual thriller, ‘‘The Housemaid (Hanyo).’’
Go out for a landmark film and luscious food — all from Korea — a few blocks apart in Boston

THE ARTS  

When Martin Scorsese says that a particular movie being overlooked is “one of the great accidents of film history,’’ it’s probably worth tracking down that film for a look. That’s how he described the 1960 film “The Housemaid (Hanyo)’’ from South Korean writer and director Kim Ki-young. The film, which screens on Saturday at Emerson’s newly renovated Paramount Center, is a tense psycho-sexual thriller that stands as a landmark of Korean cinema.

It wasn’t easy getting the film to screen, says Rebecca Meyers, the Paramount’s director of film programs. The World Cinema Foundation undertook a lengthy restoration project to bring it back to life. “A copy found in 1982 had missing reels and another copy found in 1990 was badly damaged. The resulting restoration print brings to light what is considered to be among the three most important Korean films of all time.’’

The film, which was remade this year, kick-started the golden age of Korean cinema. “The original, and its use of fantasy and horror to deal with a rapidly modernizing country, and all the tensions and anxieties that accompanied it, was a box office smash in Korea,’’ Meyers says. And despite the fact that the director’s style has been extremely influential, the work remains largely unappreciated in the States. Maybe not for long.

“The Housemaid,’’ Saturday, 7 p.m.; 9:15 p.m. Bright Family Screening Room at the Paramount Center, 559 Washington St., Boston. 617-824-8000. www.artsemerson.org 



THE EATS  

Korean food tends to get overlooked as well when it comes time to choose among the myriad cuisine options available in the city. The Paramount’s proximity to Chinatown offers up post-movie dining at nearby spots like Suishaya and Apollo Grill, but a little further up the road Samurai Boston is your best bet.

Standout menu options include the restaurant’s most popular dish, Kalbi, a Korean barbecue-style grilled short ribs dish. Duk Bok Ki, an appetizer of spicy rice cakes, fish cakes, stir fried onions and scallions, or one of a variety of Korean-style iron pot soups like Kimchee Chigae, a spicy kimchee stew made with pork and vegetables, and the Soon Tubu Chigae, a spicy stew of seafood, tofu, and vegetables, are other can’t-miss selections. Those three, and the house-made kimchee help bring in a healthy stream of Korean customers eager for the authentically homespun experience.

Diners used to more American-style dining might consider taking a note from their eating habits, says Samurai’s Nicole Lewis. “They tend to order more different dishes for the table, then everyone shares, instead of everyone getting their own meal that they eat, which is the Western thing. That way you get more flavors with your meal instead of eating just one dish.’’ In other words, pass your plate please. That looks good. 
Samurai Boston, 827 Boylston St., Boston. 617-236-7672. www.samurai-boston.com
Boston Globe


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Boston music scene ‘shining on the map’

From left, members of DOM: Bobby, Erik, Dom, and Cosmo hang around Worcester City Hall in Worcester, MA.


For 23 years now, the Boston Music Awards have served as an annual who’s who in the regional music scene. This Sunday, the festivities return to the Liberty Hotel for a roving cavalcade of everything great about Boston music. Think of it less as a standard awards show and more like the best musical party of the year; you won’t need to go see another a local show for weeks, but you’ll want to. We asked some of the nominees a few questions about how badly they want to win.

Is it really just an honor to be nominated? Come on, you want to win this thing, right?

Dom of DOM (Nominee for Artist of the Year/New Artist of the Year/Song of the Year/Album of the Year):
Yeah. We don’t wanna be losers. We wanna win big.

Nikki Dessingue of Stereo Telescope (Nominee for Electronic Artist of the Year):
We’re so honored and ecstatic to be nominated. It would be cool to win, but it feels great to be recognized by the BMAs. Seriously, look at who we’re up against, and the other categories!

Chris Warren of Viva Viva (Nominee for Live Artist of the Year/Rock Artist of the Year):
It’s great to be recognized by a city as great as Boston for something we care about, but we didn’t start a rock ’n’ roll band to win a trophy. Unless the trophy looks the Oscar guy holding a guitar. In that case we would definitely want to win.

Ben Potrykus of Girlfriends (Nominee for New Artist of the Year/Rock Artist of the Year):
Winning would be cool, but it’s really just an honor to get to drink fancy drinks in a fancy hotel and play our songs for a bunch of people who might not have heard them otherwise.

Hayley Thompson King of Banditas  (Nominee for New Artist of the Year):
First of all, I would like to be referred to as ‘Boston-Music-Award-Nominee-Hayley-Thompson-King.’ Wait, what were the questions? Oh yes ... um, no ... winning is certainly not important. It’s just another opportunity to wear a unitard.

How would you summarize the state of the Boston music scene this year?

M-Dot (Nominee for Hip-hop Artist of the Year):
On the rise. A lot of the artists nominated are doing things nationally and internationally. I know every time I tour Europe they tell me out there they see “Boston shining on the map.” And that makes me feel good, knowing the city is getting attention globally. Every city and country I go through I have all my Boston gear on, so I always wanna hear people recognizing the production of the Hub in recent years. Hopefully, I can carry the award with me when I tour France in March.

Khuri:
Eclectic and awesome. Fiddles, midi-keyboards and big bands together at last. If bands in Boston joined forces, it’d be better than Voltron.

Thompson King:
For me, Boston is a place where you can afford to live and do your art, where you’re not crushed by the massive pressure of [New York City]. I think we have something really special here.

Keene:
Eclectic would be the word I would use. Some music scenes have one kind of sound. I think Boston has tons of different bands doing all different styles of music. It makes it kind of difficult to have a unified “scene” or one decisive idea sometimes, but it also makes it a lot more interesting. I think I like it better this way.

Any bands you think were overlooked that deserve a nod?

Chris Keene of Mean Creek (Nominee for Album of the Year/Song of the Year):
I think Sodafrog should have been nominated for more categories, that album totally blew me away. That would be my pick for album of the year.

Mikey Lee of Coralcola (Nominee for Electronic Artist of the Year):
There are plenty of great acts who coulda woulda shoulda got a nod like Many Mansions, PPALMM, Ming Ming and Soul Clap, whose “Break 4 Life” record is one of my favorites, hands down, of the year. I also think Endless Wave could’ve been tapped for Best New Artist. They are fantastic.

Dessingue:
Definitely Doomstar! should have been nominated for best live act. I’ve probably seen them a dozen times this year and they absolutely killed it and had the whole crowd moving with them every single time. Super-energetic performance and great songs. They really take the whole garage/surfy/ rock thing that’s been picking up steam lately to the next level.

Potrykus:
Doomstar! are one of the best live bands in Boston, Young Adults just put out one of the best records of 2010, Four Eyes wrote one of the best songs of the year, Earthquake Party is one of the best rock bands in Boston, Cuffs just started playing out and are one of the best new bands we’ve heard. Also the Spirit Kid video for “My Imagination” is a great one, too!

If you can’t win your category, who else do you think it should be?

Reks (Nominee for Hip-hop Act of the Year):
Slaine deserves it more than any of us. Have you heard the song “Run It”? No one has done more in this category than he has this year. Period. Moe Pope’s album is phenomenal and Rain should have been nominated in the producer category for his contribution to “Life After God.” I honestly haven’t heard the new 7L & Esoteric album yet but Esoteric has earned my respect over the years especially since he knows I used to be the biggest hater but I love what he’s doing now. M-Dot, I feel, has earned his spot because of his work ethic and dedication to getting to the top. Cheers to him.

Naseem Khuri of Kingsley Flood (Nominee for New Artist of the Year/Americana Artist of the Year):
For Best New Artist, DOM is blowing up everywhere. For Americana, David Wax Museum is playing a ton and doing really well. And, we’re only ‘Americana’ while they’re ‘Mexo-Americana.’ They have a whole other word in their genre.



Monday, November 29, 2010

Here’s To The Past: Why Anniversary Tours Are All The Rage


When you think about nostalgia-minded single album tours—ones where a band play a classic album front-to-back in its entirety—it used to be old-timers dusting off the hits of yore for one more go ‘round. When Roger Waters or REO Speedwagon do it, it seems like a case of fueling up the wayback machine for Granddad. If it’s an actively touring icon like Bruce Springsteen, it’s a chance to break up the monotony for fans who’ve seen him perform dozens of times. You probably don’t think about the type of bands you actually give a shit about doing the same thing—maybe indie heroes like the Pixies performing Doolittle for a long overdue makeup call cash-in or Slayer,  Megadeth or other metal vets who’ve done similar tours. But those are acts with some serious miles on the tires. When Nine Inch Nails performed The Downward Spiral front-to-back at New York’s Webster Hall in 2009, Trent Reznor told the audience it was something he’d always wanted to do and would probably never do again. They were witnessing history, he said.

Precisely, it was history. But history has a funny way of creeping up on music fans. Lately, some of our favorite scene bands are reaching back into their own pasts for tours that will find them revisiting classic albums. Last year, Jimmy Eat World performed Clarity on tour while New Found Glory performed their self-titled debut for its tenth anniversary. Weezer are about to embark on their much anticipated Blinkteron tour, in which they’ll perform the Blue Album and Pinkerton in sequence. Thursday will head out on the road in January to celebrate the decade anniversary of their breakthrough, Full Collapse, as will Dashboard Confessional, who’ll be marking a decade in business later this month with a tour commemorating the 2000 release of The Swiss Army Romance.

The reasons for attempting something like this vary from a simple marketing concept to revive interest in a band to straight-up nostalgia retread for a band out of creative steam to a quick and easy buck. For DASHBOARD CONFESSIONAL’s CHRIS CARRABBA, the inspiration was paradoxical: pushing himself to try something new, by training something old. Although he started Dashboard as a solo vehicle, Carrabba has largely become accustomed to the full-band set-up. “The reason I stopped [playing solo] was because I didn’t find it interesting,” he says. “I’d learned to do it pretty well, and it wasn’t infused with terror, which would lead me to kind of a greater high, you know? It’s been long enough now that the room for error has increased exponentially. I feel like I’m bad enough to do it again.”

Carrabba was reminded of the appeal of his one-man show during  an unannounced gig in his hometown earlier this year, where he packed three times the capacity into a tiny club. It reminded him of the connection that can be built with the audience at shows that size. “I started thinking, ‘This is just like it was,’” he says. “I thought it was this energy that I got lucky to tap into at one point. I felt encouraged that I could still be in that place. To be honest, it’s a much more rewarding place. We’ve played for thousands and tens of thousands, but that, kind of, lack of air conditioning, no lack of enthusiasm show, is a phenomenal place for live music. That’s when I started thinking about going back to those roots.” That show coincided with the approach of the 10-year anniversary of Swiss Army Romance, so it seemed logical to take the album on the road the way fans probably first heard it.

Carrabba says he didn’t realize the front-to-back album tour was a trend among other bands until people started asking him about it. “I kind of missed the boat on that,” he says. “I would have liked to have seen more than a few of them do that. I’m pretty pissed off that I missed Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity tour. I followed them around for, like, 12 shows [when they first toured on it]. That record was important to me.”

It’s connections like these bands are hoping to recreate by digging into the archives for songs they may have lost track of themselves, yet remain vital in many fans’ hearts. “Almost half of these songs are semi-retired from my live set,” Carrabba says. “For no good reason. There’s just piles of songs to sift through now. To say it’s nostalgia isn’t quite right. For me, it’s more invigorating than that. It’s less passive for me than nostalgia can be. It’s a bit of a new life to visit those songs again.”

Perhaps for him, but for original fans—some of whom didn’t go along for the ride when he went electric—it’s old life revisited. “I have very loyal fans to two different eras of Dashboard. Thankfully, there is overlap... There are fans of the first two records and the next few records. I think I probably lost a good amount of fans when I picked up an electric guitar. Some of them trickled back and some of them didn’t. Some that didn’t are coming back to these shows, which I enjoy, because I’m happy they’ll give it another crack. Or if they’re still in touch with my record that touched them in some way all those years ago, even though they didn’t follow me down the rabbit hole.”

For a band like Weezer, that’s precisely the case for a lot of fans. Carrabba, who toured with Weezer around the time of the 2001 release of their Green Album, recognizes a similar turning point for that band, as well. Many of their older fans, the ones for whom the Blue Album and Pinkerton represent their halcyon days, aren’t interested in seeing a set packed with newer material.

“That happens to every band, your fans are like a turnstile,” says ZACH SMITH of PINBACK. Under the moniker Pinback Presents, he and partner Rob Crow will perform their first two albums, 1999’s This Is A Pinback CD and 2001’s Blue Screen Life, in their entirety early next year. “It’s funny, we play shows now, and there are 15-year-old kids that weren’t around when we were doing the first album. And then there are people that were there who go, ‘What? I didn’t understand that last album.’ It’s a little bit of both now.”
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Smith admits the concept seems like it’s a fad right now, but he and Crow had been talking about doing it for a long time as a means to get back to the vibe they had when they first wrote the records as a duo. Crucial to that process is getting fans to re-listen in the way they did when the records came out in 1999 and 2001, when picking and choosing songs from an album to download wasn’t nearly as common as it is now.Listening to an album from front-to-back is practically unheard of anymore. “That’s another good reason to do it,” he says. “Hopefully fans will have listened to the albums from front to back, but if they haven’t, they willBlue Screen,’ maybe they’ll listen how we intended for them to. Doing it live, it reinforces what we wanted it to be like when we wrote it.”
when they go to the show. Maybe making some people who didn’t listen to the album from beginning to end and just went, ‘Oh, ‘Penelope,’ that’s that one song from

LESS THAN JAKE drummer and lyricist VINNIE FIORELLO—whose band performed six of their albums from front-to-back recently—says after leaving Warner Bros, the shows were a way to start fresh as a band. “Playing all six records was very cathartic,” he says. It’s a treat for fans as well, he admits, because they get to listen outside the usual playlist standards. It doesn’t hurt to inject new life into your band commercially, either. “I think the popularity came with the fact that with album sales down and tickets sales slowing down, bands are looking for a hook to bring people in for a one-of-a-kind event.”

It’s caught on to such an extent, you don’t even need to be an older band to do it anymore. A LOSS FOR WORDS, a pop-punk band on Paper + Plastick Records who will be touring with Streetlight Manifesto (who played their old band Catch 22’s Keasby Nights in its entirety recently) and Terrible Things, plan on performing their 2009 record in sequence next year. Singer MATT ARSENAULT says the reason for that is people were complaining about songs being cut from the set. “Every time we play a show, someone’s bummed because they didn’t hear the song they wanted, so this way everyone will be pleased.” Arsenault saw New Found Glory’s tenth anniversary tour and loved the idea.

THURSDAY frontman GEOFF RICKLY says the excitement goes both ways. “It’s as interesting for the band as it is for the audience,” he says. “Like any artistic pursuit, it’s meant to engage the imagination. I find it interesting that a band continues to age, learn and change, but a record stays the same age forever. By revisiting an older record, you can find out whether momentum prevails or inertia is more powerful. When we wrote the record, we intended to tour for a year, end the band and finish school. I was sure that I was going to be a teacher and not a full-time musician. These last 10 years have been an incredible surprise.”
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Performing Full Collapse is a way for his band to recapture the innocence and the excitement of what it was like first starting out a decade ago, albeit perhaps with a slightly more polished delivery this time. That’s one thing bands that have grown exponentially in popularity have to consider: how will these songs we wrote for clubs and haven’t continued to play over the years translate to larger venues? “If you come to see our band on a regular tour, you’ll see some sort of cross-section of material from throughout our history,” says Rickly. “So it’s quite a bit different for us to go out and focus on one specific group of songs... Some of them might sound ridiculous and dated in a larger venue, but overall, I’m looking forward to playing these songs with the added skill that the band has gained.”

Aside from that, anniversary tours can simply be a way to celebrate the fact that bands still even exist at all. “I think it’s rare for a band to still be touring on a 10-year anniversary of any of their records,” says Rickly. “So if they want to celebrate that, they should go for it.”

Carrabba echoes that sentiment. “It’s unlikely for anyone to get a break at all. To get a break is the first miracle. It’s even more unlikely to be there 10 years later and still have a job. I feel fortunate, and I’m not sure what I would be doing if I hadn’t gotten so lucky with this record.”

There are a lot of fans out there who can probably say something similar about their own lives in relation to these bands’ music. You can expect to see them in the front row at the show, singing like they never forgot any of the words.

The Back Eyed Peas: The Beginning'


Stockholm syndrome refers to the condition in which hostages develop positive feelings for their captors, but there’s also a corollary in pop music. It happens when a group’s music — an album that sells 11 million copies, and yields five Top 10 singles, say — hijacks your aural space so aggressively that the listener is pummeled into acquiescence. On a related note, the Black Eyed Peas’ new record just came out. You can probably imagine what it sounds like: minimalist drum machine beats, techno-lifted synth pulses, plinky keyboard hooks, retro-fitted hip-hop callbacks, pitch-shifted vocals, and songs that chain your brain to the furnace and beat you over the head with their cursed affability. In some cases here it’s easier to cry “uncle’’ than others, like on the Slick Rick-sampling “Light Up the Night.’’ Then again, anything would sound smooth over that “Children’s Story’’ beat. More obvious, and oblivious, is the sure-fire hit single “The Time (Dirty Bit),’’ which shuffles in a few Auto-tuned boasts, De La Soul rhymes, and siren-squiggles under the hook from the “Dirty Dancing’’ classic “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.’’ It’s going to be the biggest song of the year, guaranteed, and you’re going to like it — whether you like it or not. 

Liquid: Arrack attack


Like anything else that people get really, really into - Internet porn, for example - once you've started chasing the infinite possibilities inherent in mixing cocktails down the boozy rabbit hole, you need to work harder to make things interesting. That's why desensitized tipplers turn to increasingly exotic cocktail ingredients and esoteric recipes to get that dopamine going. So while we covered the trend of tiki cocktails a while back in this magazine, the idea of plain old rum drinks just doesn't get our rocks off anymore. Yawn. What else you got?

Fortunately for our city's shark-like bar scene - which is forever swimming forward, devouring anything and everything in its path - there are still largely unknown spirits to discover when regular old missionary-position bartending just isn't doing the trick. One of those spirits, Batavia Arrack, is pushing tiki-style cocktails to another level, giving mai tais, zombies, punches, and the like that extra pinch of strange to spice things up. Batavia Arrack, which is basically an Indonesian "rum" made from sugarcane and fermented with red rice, does that both literally and figuratively, with its smoky, spicy profile. Hungry Mother, Rendezvous, and other bars around town are using it to give a new kick to rum cocktails and the people who drink them.

You might say Batavia Arrack falls somewhere between a smoky Scotch and a spiced rum on the spirit spectrum, and that malleability is what's giving bartenders a brain boner for it. While it can be rather tough to sip on its own, it's ideally suited for adding complexity to multiple-rum-based cocktails or recipes like Swedish Punsch. "The spirit itself has a long history of being used in classic punches prior to the creation of the cocktail," explains Bob McCoy, head bartender at Island Creek Oyster Bar (500 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, 617.532.5300). There, he's used it in a concoction called the Jakarta Punch ($10), shaking it with house-made spiced honey syrup, lime and pineapple juices, house-made cinnamon syrup, a dash of Angostura bitters, and six drops of absinthe - a heady blend of late-fall flavors. The drink, whose name nods to the capital of Batavia Arrack's country of origin, was created as "something to both quench the thirst and warm the spirit during the cold season ahead," says McCoy.

Next door at Eastern Standard (528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, 617.532.9100), Jackson Cannon and his crew have been infusing the spirit with lemon, orange, cardamom, clove, and green peppercorn for a cocktail called the Flying Dutchman ($10), which also features St. Elizabeth's Allspice Dram, pineapple juice, crème de cacao, and 'Elemakule Tiki Bitters. "The cocktail has got a touch of chocolate, and allspice dram, which is really fiery, and a little pineapple juice for acid," says Cannon. The bartenders at Il Casale (50 Leonard Street, Belmont, 617.209.4942) likewise use allspice dram to bring out Batavia Arrack's smoky spice notes; the two ingredients are combined with ginger beer and orange and lime juices in the Sumatra ($9), which blasts the spice through the roof.

Joe Camm, general manager of Gordon's Fine Wine & Liquors in Waltham and Watertown, is somewhat surprised that Batavia Arrack is just picking up steam now. Although he still sees it as a spirit best suited for the serious enthusiast, "It's interesting to try on its own," he says, comparing it to cachaca. "But no one drinks that straight. For the most part, it's meant to be a mixer; it's meant for highlighting of citrus and cocoa flavors. With the resurgence and interest in classic cocktails, I guess it makes sense that it would be making a comeback right now," he says.

Whether anyone besides the "What's next?" crowd will bother using it at home is up for debate, says Camm. But the challenge of working with a tough ingredient like this is precisely what makes it appealing to bartenders jittery for their next fix.