Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pitcher perfect


I've done a lot of thinking about this lately, and I may have finally figured out the best part about going out to a bar: drinking. You know what the worst part is? Standing there not drinking. The latter scenario happens with surprising frequency. Maybe it's too busy and the beleaguered barkeeps are in the weeds. Or maybe they're taking their goddamned time worrying over your cocktail like a surgeon doing a delicate booze operation. 

Dive and sports bars solved this conundrum years ago by serving beer in pitchers, but they forgot to account for the fact that a giant vat of warm, watery beer is gross. Cocktails in pitchers then! It's a eureka moment that more and more bars around the city have been having of late. 

At Coppa (253 Shawmut Avenue, Boston, 617.391.0902), they're offering a simple, refreshing Aperol Spritz ($24), a popular Italian summer cocktail made with Aperol, prosecco, soda, and oranges. Manager Mary Edes says the fun in cocktail pitchers comes from the sharing, which kind of makes me feel guilty about that whole "I'm sick of waiting for a drink" premise I was going with a minute ago.
"I think the communal aspect of sharing a pitcher is a huge part of it. It is sort of like when people order wine." As with wine, Edes says, one person in a party plays the role of host, making sure everyone's glasses are filled.

"I think that people like to share things," agrees Kathleen Semanski, GM at the recently opened Scholars American Bistro and Cocktail Lounge (25 School Street, Boston, 617.248.0025). At Scholars, they're doing 68-ounce pitchers ($40) of cocktails like Kati's Weissen-gria, a sort of rum punch made with Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, peach liqueur, triple sec, fresh lemon juice, and fresh peaches and oranges, all topped with Allagash White. Then there's the Tequila Smash, made with José Cuervo Tradicional Silver Tequila, limoncello, fresh watermelon, basil leaves, ginger ale, and fresh fruit juices. 

A pitcher, Semanski says, "makes for a social atmosphere. It's kind of festive to order a shared cocktail, and nice to have options other than sangria, Margaritas, or a scorpion bowl. You'll see more places doing it and changing them seasonally, giving people a chance to try something new altogether."

There's also a perceived value in pitchers, Edes says, although it can't actually be a deal. At least not according to the law. First off, an establishment can only serve mixed drinks in pitchers to two or more people at a time. So no solo cocktail-pitcher debauches for you, rummy. Bars also can't increase the volume of alcohol contained in a drink without increasing the price. "In other words, if you sold a pitcher of Margaritas, you'd need two or more people to serve legally. And if the size of the pitcher holds five normal Margaritas, and they charge $10 for [one Margarita], you must charge $50 for that," says Jon Carlisle of the Massachusetts Treasury Department, which oversees the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. 

Patrick Sullivan of Legal Sea Foods, which recently opened the Liberty Wharf outpost Legal Harborside (270 Northern Avenue, Boston, 617.477.2900), says that's something a bar has to be conscious of. No pitchers of Manhattans for me then. "That sounds like it could be ugly," he says. "The last thing in the world we want to be doing is overloading our guests. You're sitting the sun, drinking pitchers, and the next thing you know . . ."

But the deeper you get into pitchers of cocktails, Sullivan says, the softer they are. The key is to balance that softening effect with ingredients that will hold up. "Some of these things you put in pitchers, the longer it sits, the water reacts with it and it actually gets better. Something that might have been really intense at the beginning will mellow out as you drink it." Slated to open around the time this issue hits streets, Legal Harborside's roof-deck bar will have 10 dedicated pitcher options, from sparkling-wine cocktails and beer punches to classic cocktails and old-time punch recipes. All of the other standard cocktails on the menu will be available in pitchers of various sizes as well, with prices ranging from $12 to $15 for two imbibers to $30 to $40 for parties of four or more. 

"You can have pitchers of anything now," Sullivan says. "You name it." Except a Manhattan, but that's probably a good thing. 

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