This is the initial installment of Becky Sue Epstein's "One New Thing!" column.
WHISKEY AND JAM TEAM UP IN LOCAL ARTISANAL COCKTAILS
When you think about it, the new tendency to combine jam with spirits in a cocktail shaker has all the elements of a perfect mixed drink: pure alcohol spirit, a bit of sweet fruit and zesty acidity. Of course for this you need a natural, artisanal jam without chemicals. Ideally, local preserves-local to the distilled spirits it accompanies. That's the concept of the new partnership between Boston's Bully Boy spirits and
Bonnie's Jams of Cambridge, right across the Charles River from Boston.
The last time I spoke with them, Dave and Will Willis were excited about getting the first few orders for their tiny, artisanal distillery in Boston. One year later their spirits in three states (CT, MA, RI) thanks to a new craft beverage division of their distributor, the Origin division of
Horizon Beverage Company. One of the Horizon owners started this division a couple years ago to focus on artisanal beverages, and they are now up to 50 products, with more than 350 skus in their portfolio-but that's a whole 'nother story . . . .
Anyhow, Dave Willis waxes almost as rhapsodic about Origin as he does about Bonnie's Jams. Well, he would if he were the rhapsodic type. Instead, he's more low key and practical-but enthusiastic, nevertheless. He explains that Bully Boy had once enjoyed working with a bartender who made an infused version of one of their spirits.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BULLY BOY DISTILLING
Now that Bully Boy is up to a total production of around 600 bottles per week, they are naturally looking to further promote their products and expand their market. "We were turned on to Bonnie through a friend. We tried her jams and we love them."
They liked the fact that Bonnie's jams are lower in sugar than most, yet very flavorful (I tried some; it's true). "Jams are this neat little mixology component," Willis says. "Fruit flavors without heavy syrups. We're always looking to create local partnerships with purveyors that have a similar ethos to us: small batch, good people."
Talking with Bonnie Shershow of Bonnie's Jams, I learned that she had grown up in Southern California, where her family made jams from the fresh fruits that grew near their house. When she moved to the Boston area she continued to make jams, but only with fruit at the peak of its flavor; preserves like Red Pepper Jelly, Strawberry Rhubarb and Peach Ginger. For years it was a pastime-something she would do in the summer, something she would turn to when life wasn't going so well.
Then there came a time when life really wasn't going well. Which resulted in a lot of jams. So many that she knew she needed more outlets than just friends and neighbors. Candidly, she admits that her training is in the non-profit world "so there was a steep learning curve in learning how to make a profit." After selling locally for a while, she got a mention in The New York Times, which got her several outlets in New York. Now the jams are carried by retailers in 30 states, and "about three years ago I stopped doing everything else and started doing this full-time," Bonnie relates.
Primarily, Bonnie is about fruit flavor-discovered in the orchards which surrounded her childhood home. Which means that even now, she doesn't make a lot of jam during the winter when there isn't a lot of fresh fruit.
By chance, both the Willis Brothers and Bonnie knew someone at the Boston PR company Marlo Marketing; that was the connection. Bonnie was intrigued by the idea of a partnership with Bully Boys, and it made sense to her. She says: "I think it's the idea that we're both doing these traditional mixtures-and mixing them!"
The next question is, how did the Willis brothers go about forming a promotable collaboration involving Bully Boy-and-Bonnie's cocktails? With empathy from some bartenders because of their local connection, they targeted people they knew and people they wanted to know-as well as people that Marlo Marketing had a relationship with.
Willis explains, "We reached out to some of the bar programs we really respect, and that could take the jam and really run with it." They chose four: Russell House Tavern in Cambridge,
Eastern Standard Kitchen and Drinks and
Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston, along with the artisanal bread-maker/restaurant
Pain d'Avignon on nearby Cape Cod.
The bartenders were free to choose any of the Bully Boy products to create their own colorful cocktails. "Most of the bartenders chose unaged spirits, which are cleaner, and not barrel-influenced," relates Willis. "I think the unaged spirits are the better format [for this]. Our white whiskey has a really nice banana note which emerges from the wheat, and an anise note, and a nice earthiness. The white rum has a butterscotchy vanilla and burnt sugar; ginger works well with this, like in the peach-ginger jam."
At the moment, Bully Boy has four products: White Whiskey, American Straight Whiskey, White Rum and Vodka. By the time you read this, their aged Boston Rum should also be on the market-if it's ready, of course: This is an artisanal distillery. Bonnie currently has nine flavors of preserves, and she's now gearing up for the summer production season.
Below are four great cocktail recipes. And even if you can't get Bully Boy or Bonnie's in your state, the recipes are fun to try with your own local ingredients.
Toast & Jam - $12
Kevin Martin, Bar Manager
Bully Boy White Rum drinks like an agricole: fresh, light and pleasantly funky. The rum with bubbles and preserves is a refreshing combination; a play-off of traditional strawberries in champagne. A name with a double meaning, not only does the cocktail have notes of toasted bread with jam, but a very classic toasting beverage is champagne. This drink is sure to be the new brunch sparkler.
1 oz. room temperature Strawberry/Rhubarb Jam
1 oz. Bully Boy White Rum
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz Bauchant Orange Liqueur
1 dash Peychaud's Bitters
cava to top
Mount ingredients into a mixing glass, add ice and shake until properly diluted. Double strain into a champagne flute and top with 2 ounces of cava.
Secrets That You Keep - $11
Sam Gabrielli, Bar Manager
A play on the Pink Lady, Secrets That You Keep emphasizes the vegetal nature of the peppers and heat from the Tabasco sauce. The sweet flavors of the Bully Boy White Whiskey and Applejack Brandy balance out the citrus and neutrality of the red pepper jelly. The egg white creates a velvety texture while mellowing out the spice.
1½ oz. Bully Boy White Whiskey
¾ oz. Applejack Brandy
2 barspoons Bonnie's Red Pepper Jelly
¾ oz. lemon juice
2 dashes of Tabasco sauce
1 egg white
Shake thoroughly with ice. Serve in a coupe.
Franklin's Ghost - $10
Vikram Hegde, Head Bartender
The name "Franklin's Ghost" pays homage to the rumor that Benjamin Franklin first introduced rhubarb seeds to the American East Coast and white whiskey always brings an ethereal, ghost-like quality to any cocktail. The unaged Bully Boy White Whiskey provides a neutral backdrop on which to build the earthy, nutty flavors of the orgeat syrup and Benedictine liqueur. The distinct herbaceous-ness allows the tart strawberry and rustic rhubarb to really pop. The small pinch of salt integrates the flavors while masking any underlying bitterness, resulting in a smooth cocktail fit for the living.
1 oz. Bully Boy White Whiskey
½ oz. Bénédictine Liqueur
½ oz. orgeat syrup
½ oz. fresh lime juice
1 dash Peychaud's Bitters
1 pinch of salt
2 barspoons Bonnie's Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
Mount all ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice and shake. Strain into a lowball over ice. Mint sprig garnish.
The Snowbird - $11
Brendan Draper, Bar Manager
The use of jam allows mixologists to create cocktails using flavors that are out of season without resorting to artificial flavoring or heavy syrups. The butterscotch and banana undertones in Bully Boy White Rum mix with the herbal flavors of the cardamom tincture and the Peach Ginger Jam blend creating a combination of tropical fruit flavors and baking spices to warm things up as we part ways with the cold winter.
2 oz. Bully Boy White Rum
½ oz. lemon juice
2 demitasse spoons of Bonnie's Jams, Peach Ginger
½ demitasse spoon of homemade cardamom tincture
For more about Becky Sue Epstein, go to beckysueepstein.com.