Monday, March 28, 2011

AskMen Tequila Guide part 2

There's no question that tequila is the hottest trending spirit on the scene right now. It still has only a small percentage of the spirits market share in the U.S., but that number is growing every year, and the proliferation of dedicated tequila bars in major cities is a testament to its strong future. It's not uncommon for a bar to offer 100-plus different bottles of tequilas now, so when it's time to belly up to the bar, it can be confusing for even seasoned tequila drinkers to know what to order and how to go about ordering it. With that in mind, here's a basic primer for the various types of tequilas you'll want to order, the lingo you need to drop and some of the best examples of each.

Ashcroft brings charisma and Verve to solo set

Richard Ashcroft performing at Villa Victoria Center for the Arts on Thursday. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)

The response to “United Nations of Sound,’’ the new record from Richard Ashcroft, has been overwhelmingly poor. But for Boston fans, Thursday night’s performance from the erstwhile frontman of the Verve — best known for its 1997 hit “Bitter Sweet Symphony’’ — was nonetheless a long-awaited treat.

“Treat’’ may be an understatement — euphoric surprise, perhaps? One of only two dates on a brief album-release jaunt, the Boston stop found Ashcroft, all slender angles and be-mopped cool, stripping down for an acoustic set that spanned his solo career and leaned heavily on early Verve material, including “History’’ and “On Your Own’’ from 1995’s “Northern Soul,’’ and nearly everything off of 1997 classic “Urban Hymns’’ (“Sonnet,’’“Weeping Willow,’’ “Velvet Morning’’).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Liquid: Popping your sherry


Contemporary cocktail trends can be a little hard to keep track of. Everything old is new again, of course, but everything new is also new again for the second or third time. Sherry cocktails are a case in point. They've been threatening to bubble over from insider status at the trailblazing mixology joints for a while now, and second-tier cocktail bars have started throwing the seminal Sherry Cobbler (sherry mixed with sugar and fruit over ice) onto their drink lists.

It's about time. Aside from having a distinguished literary pedigree (Dickens and Poe, among many others, sung its praises), this venerable staple of 19th-century drinking was probably the first example of an actual worldwide cocktail trend. And it played a huge role in shaping the way we drink, popularizing the drinking straw as well as the practice of shaking a cocktail over ice, something that was a little harder to come by back in the mid-1800s. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Richard Ashcroft Digs America

Quite a month for Brit-rock fans of a certain age, innit? Thus far, we've seen a new Radiohead disc, Liam Gallagher resurfacing with Beady Eye, and even a Primal Scream tour behind the 20th anniversary of Screamadelica (though only in the UK, sadly). Now comes ol' Mad Richard himself.

Ashcroft, who'll perform solo at Villa Victoria Center for the Arts tonight (March 24), arrives with the new United Nations of Sound (Razor & Tie). It's a "challenging" record that's befuddled many of the former Verve frontman's fans with its refusal to rehash the elegiac, sweeping beauty and maelstrom of guitar noise that characterized the Verve's classic material. Instead, it finds Ashcroft, like so many older, more-reflective UK songwriters, turning for inspiration to American shores. In some cases, that means a churning, beat-driven tale of globetrotting discovery like "America," an anthemic banger typical of Ashcroft at his best. Other tracks, like first single "Are You Ready?", are in the strings-driven hip-hop mold he embodied so well in his work with UNKLE.

Tico: A golden age of tequila in Beantown?


The streets of Boston are running gold and silver in a flood of tequila; it seems like there’s a new Mexican restaurant and tequila bar opening up every month now. ¡Que bueno! With hundreds of brands to choose from, demand for —as well as knowledge about — the spirit is growing. This month Michael Schlow (Radius, Via Matta) threw his sombrero into the ring with the opening of his latest Back Bay venture, Tico.

“Boston is celebrating tequila,” Schlow says. “I travel to Mexico at least once a year. I have found it to be fascinating. I’m always trying new ones. When I was first developing the restaurant, I didn’t know, frankly, of the influx of Latin or Mexican restaurants popping up around the city — but I don’t think it would have changed my mind. It certainly feels like we’re joining a party that’s in full swing.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Crystal Castles at House of Blues: Partially broken Glass still shines

Crystal Castles vocalist Alice Glass, seen here at SXSW 2008. Photo by Richard Perry for the New York Times

At: House of Blues, Saturday
In the current musical analogy, laptops are the new guitars, and electro is the new indie. For Crystal Castles, who performed at the House of Blues on Saturday night, it's also the new punk.

The brash Toronto duo punch a defiant fist straight through any meaningful genre boundaries whenever they take the stage – sometimes literally, as in one case of onstage fisticuffs last year. Controversies like that and others including feuds with tourmates, a generally surly and indifferent attitude toward the press, and the occasional canceled gig over sound complaints make it clear this isn't your mother's polite keyboard music.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Status Blast from the Past

F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal

If we've learned one thing from the barrage of status updates from our friends at concert venues and sports arenas lately, it's that the only thing better than going to a memorable live event is being able to brag to everybody who isn't present that you scored tickets. How's the saying go? If it's not on Facebook, it didn't happen?

But what about our favorite sporting and musical memories from the pre-social networking era left moldering, forgotten at the bottom of some drawer? What if you're a Yankees fan who was at opening day in 1978 for the infamous "Reggie Bar" game, where fans littered the field with candy? Maybe you saw Patti Smith play in Central Park on the night of a torrential downpour in August of 1979, Ozzy Osbourne with opening act Mötley Crüe on the Bark at the Moon tour in 1984 or Gretzky's last game at Madison Square Garden?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mixing music and cocktails: Brother Cleve returns to shake things up

 (Bill Brett for The Boston Globe)

In bartending lore, the origins of some classic drinks can be murky. But when it comes to determining who sparked the resurgence of cocktail culture in Boston, the answer is simple: DJ, musician, and mixologist Brother Cleve. Cleve returned to the bar at Think Tank in Cambridge last week for the launch of a new weekly series called “Drink This.’’ Every Monday, he’ll pair classic and original cocktails from his vast library of recipes with themed musical choices.

“I’m calling it the art of ‘remixology,’ ’’ Cleve said. “The idea of having a drink that’s a classic, then a remix of it. The concept is how you pair music and cocktails.’’ Earlier this week he offered up riffs on classic daiquiris and played Cuban jazz. Upcoming nights will feature “Saturday Night Fever’’-era cocktails and, of course, disco.

“I’ll do the 1970s drinks,’’ he said, “but try to make them better, using higher quality, modern ingredients.’’
Cleve, who has toured the world as a musician in bands like the Del Fuegos and Combustible Edison, has been improving the quality of local quaffables for more than 20 years — ever since he had what he calls his cocktail epiphany in the mid-’80s. His efforts — at places like the Lizard Lounge, the Lava Lounge, and the B-Side Lounge in the 1990s — influenced a generation of the city’s most respected (and nationally lauded) barkeeps, such as Jackson Cannon of Eastern Standard and Island Creek Oyster Bar, and Misty Kalkofen of Drink.

Screw the Ides of March — beware Bodega Girls

When music writers start playing the futures game, it's usually a good idea to take our prognostications with a grain of salt. That said, if there's one wager you can bet the house on this year, it's that Boston's Bodega Girls will spend 2011 on a giant winning streak, whether they like it or not. Lock it up.

This self-described troupe of musical perverts and punk-rock Caligulas have stumbled across the recipe for post-"rock band" shine: eschew the trappings of staid old indie clubs and produce exuberant dance jams at once soulful and arch, with a rotating line-up of performers that's like a traveling circus of party kids sweating all up in one another's business.

Given that the band's first official release is titled Et Tu Bootay, it's no surprise that they dropped it this past Tuesday, on the Ides of March. (The label is Burning Mill Records, original home to like-minded musical hyphenates Dom.) There's a slew of Bodega Girls SXSW showcases going on as you read this, plus trips to Europe and Japan in the works. But trying too hard tends to harsh the party.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ellie Goulding: 'Lights'

In theory, a slew of honors — including the Critic’s Choice prize at the BRIT Awards and a No. 1 debut record at home — should be a harbinger of great things to come for UK electro-folk import Ellie Goulding. Of course, trans-Atlantic success isn’t quite as easy to translate on a one-to-one ratio. Considering the company she is keeping on her new stateside label, Cherrytree — La Roux, Robyn, Feist — Goulding flutters into the expansive genre orbit of each touchstone throughout this rerelease of her UK debut. While the beat-driven production and percolating synth sparkle of “Starry Eyed’’ and “Animal’’ call to mind the former two’s strident dance-floor aplomb, Goulding’s crackling voice is capable of affecting a prostrate pose in the midst of the swirl that suggests the latter’s folk-tinged vulnerability. That’s most apparent on the stuttering synth-string thrum of “Guns and Horses’’ and a cover of Elton John’s “Your Song,’’ a sad number she somehow makes even sadder. Who cares if anyone else buys this, then? You’ll be glad you did. (Out now)

Boston Globe

Drink Cynar On National Artichoke Hearts Day

img via

What are your plans for the holiday this week? No, not Irish mardi gras, the big one today, National Artichoke Hearts Day.

A study a few years back by the U.S. Department of Agriculture tipped artichokes as one of the best sources for antioxidants, so think of today as a gentle reminder that you need to eat a little healthier by incorporating artichokes into your diet.

Alternatively, consider this a gentle reminder that you need to drink more.

Who says you can't do both? Cynar is a bitter Italian liqueur most commonly known (when it's known at all) for its major ingredient: artichokes. "It perfectly conserves all the health properties of the ingredients used in its preparation," claims Gruppo Campari, the company behind the brand.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Weekly Fix: Zelda Fitzgerald At Craigie On Main

It's been about 70 years since F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were the country's most famous tipplers, but we're still paying homage to their boozy influence. At Craigie on Main, bartender Carrie Cole is mixing a cocktail called the Zelda Fitzgerald. She was inspired by the Fitzgerald cocktail, but wanted to use rye in place of gin (the old boy's favorite spirit).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Liquor leftovers


What's in your liquor cabinet these days? No, seriously, what is that stuff in there? I've got bottles of, like, peanut-butter-infused sherry and schnozberry-flavored vodka stacked behind rows of bottles so generic they seem like they should have question marks on their labels: "Brandy?" Then there are the more reputable spirits that you don't necessarily know what to do with, bottles that a friend brought for that New Year's party, for example, or out-of-fashion spirits left over from before you started reading this magazine and learned how to have good taste.

Such situations present the home drinker with a conundrum: you don't really know how to utilize this stuff (or whether you should even want to), but you also can't bring yourself to throw booze away. That's a mindset left over from our ancestors' days as cave-drinkers, when, anthropology tells us, quality spirits were dreadfully hard to come by.

How to taste tequila

  • What You Need To Know
  • Forget about the shot glass. Pick up a set of long-stemmed tequila glasses.
  • It takes three sniffs to truly savor the aroma of tequila.
  • Don't shoot it down; take it in slowly to appreciate its rich flavor.
"It's time for you to slow down and smell the (agave) flowers. "
The proliferation of tequila bars around the country in the past year or two has opened our eyes to the vast selection of styles of tequilas on the market; there are roughly 1,000 kinds available now. But when it comes time to drink the stuff, too many of us revert back to old bad habits from less sophisticated days. It's a shame, because the best tequilas are as complex and ripe for savoring as fine Scotches or wines. In other words, with tequila, it's time for you to slow down and smell the (agave) flowers.

“Not many people are aware how complex and unique tequila is because of the fact that it's associated with kids and parties and that sort of thing,” Jose Cuervo brand ambassador Rene Valdez says. It's time, then, to start drinking tequila like an adult. Here's what you need to know.

Thursty: 94 Mass Ave A bar that ‘feels like someone’s house’

Great real estate doesn’t always mean a restaurant or bar is going to be a natural fit to the area. Consider the space at 94 Mass Ave. that’s now in its third incarnation following the closing of Match — and before that the Blue Cat Cafe, both of which were, counterintuitively, too slick for the upper Newbury section of Back Bay. Now in the hands of the Lyons Group, the newly christened 94 Mass Ave hopes to buck that trend.

“We’re trying to focus on the neighborhood and connect with the people around us,” says manager Dimitra Tsourianis.

The innocuous sounding name and the lack of a sign out front are part of the plan to absorb some of the Back Bay’s inherent charm.

“We went with no name because we wanted it to feel like someone’s house,” Tsourianis says.

The only touch diners might recognize from Match is the huge fireplace along the back wall. “We were like, ‘We can’t get rid of this 12-foot-wide fireplace,’ so we framed it, made it look like a mantle you would have in a Back Bay residence. That’s also how the name stuck,” says Tsourianis.

Discarded alternative names for the space were repurposed on the cocktail menu in drinks like the Snack Bar, Public Common and Book Club. Those options speak toward the less flashy, more casual vibe inside (relatively speaking, of course — it’s still quite dark and stylish here). But dominoes tournaments on Monday nights, $2.50 cans of Tecante and a willingness to incorporate customer feedback on the cocktail list show they’re not taking themselves too seriously. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Weekly Fix: New York Sour Cocktail At Market

For whiskey novices taking the first plunge into the woody realm of the finer brown spirits, a whiskey sour is an easy gateway cocktail. Eventually you'll want to scale back the citrus and let the whiskey assert itself more, but every now and again a sour-riffing cocktail comes along with such a fresh citrus blast that it throws that logic in reverse. That's true of the New York Sour at Market at the W Hotel, where the addition of a dry red wine, in this case a malbec, pulls it back from meandering into acid-overload.