A Drinkable History Class

Much of Boston’s history took place in bars. Taverns and pubs were the meeting places of Colonial times, where deals were struck, pacts were forged, and information was spread. So it only seems appropriate that now there’s a Boston bar offering history lessons in a glass.

Take a sip down memory lane this summer at The Merchant Kitchen & Drinks, where bar manager Bryan Ames has concocted a Revolutionary-era drink menu for historically-minded tourists and locals alike. Each drink tells a story, featuring a cast of characters from Boston’s illustrious past as the cradle of the American Revolution. “The Freedom Trail is an obvious destination for visitors to Boston, but one thing it lacks is a place to sit and have a few cocktails that tie in with your trip through Boston’s history,” Ames said of his inspiration for creating the list. “I wanted to give people a place…to enjoy some historic refreshment.”

And these beverages are a bevy of history. Without an early-American cocktail manual for reference, Ames spent weeks at the Boston Athenaeum combing through shipping journals and stock-lists of old Boston-bound vessels to find ingredients that would have been available to colonial tavern-keepers. Every drink on the list uses spirits, sweeteners, and spices that might have been found in the hold of an old seafaring vessel, and, true to the style of the day, the drinks all tend to be spirit-forward (proving that our ancestors knew how to party). “It would be disingenuous of me to put out a historical cocktail list and use elderflower liqueur and guava juice,” said Ames of the accuracy of his cocktails. “These drinks use spirits that were all mentioned in my research: 100% molasses rum, Jamaican rum, hard cider, cherry and vanilla bitters, whiskey, and Madeira.”

Once he had a list of flavors to work with, it was time to name the drinks. From “John Hancock’s 25 Pipes,” named for the rascal patriot’s attempt to defraud the British Government, to “Luke Vardy’s Party,” recounting the tale of Boston’s first (naked) duel, many of the drinks give a wink and a nod to the Colonial chicanery that has since become legend.

The menu will be available through the fall, and Ames says that if all goes well he’ll be concocting a more seasonally-appropriate history lesson for the colder months. (Hot buttered rum, anyone?) The full cocktail list, including recipes and historical inspiration, is listed below. But for the full experience, visit The Merchant Kitchen & Drinks and make a little history of your own.

Friendship’s Bounty
Named for the Salem, MA tall ship Friendship. This rum (Made in Salem, MA) is made using 100% molasses, which mimics the style of rum found in colonial & revolutionary times. To round out the flavors, the distillers also used spices that would have been imported by the Friendship.
($1 of every bottle purchased also goes to support the Essex Heritage Foundation.)

2oz Deacon Giles Friendship’s Bounty Spiced Rum
1oz Downeast Cider
.25oz Luxardo cherry syrup
2 dashes cherry & vanilla bitters
Shake, strain over new ice in Deacon Giles rocks glass.
Garnish with Luxardo cherry.

Otis’ Insanity
James Otis is one of the often-overlooked patriots. Although he considered himself a British Loyalist, he argued against the “writs of assistance”. A law where any British authority could enter the house of a colonist without any cause or reason. He also coined the phrase “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” John Adams said of Otis, “Never one whose service for any 10 years of his life were so important and essential to the cause of his country as those of Mr. Otis from 1760 to 1770.” Later in life, his mental health was called into question by many Bostonians due to erratic behavior. This was further complicated by a severe head injury he received from the cudgel of a British Tax collector named John Robinson. Otis died suddenly in May 1783 at the age of 58, as he stood in the doorway of a friend’s house, when he was struck by lighting. He is reported to have said to his sister Mercy Otis Warren, “My dear sister, I hope, when God Almighty in his righteous providence shall take me out of time into eternity that it will be by a flash of lightning”

2oz Four Roses Bourbon
.5oz Lemon juice
.5oz Lime Juice
.5oz Maple Syrup
Shake, strain over new ice in double rocks glass.
Garnish with lemon swath.

John Hancock’s 25 Pipes
On the evening of May 9, 1768, John Hancock’s sloop Liberty arrived in Boston Harbor, carrying a shipment of Madeira. When customs officers inspected the ship the next morning, they found that it contained 25 “pipes” of wine (roughly 3,750 gallons)–just one fourth of the ship’s carrying capacity. Hancock paid the duties on the 25 pipes, but officials suspected that he had arranged to have more wine unloaded during the night to avoid paying the duties for the entire cargo. They had no evidence to prove this, however, since the two tidesmen who had stayed on the ship overnight gave a sworn statement that nothing had been unloaded. But a month later, one of the tidesmen changed his story and the Liberty was confiscated by the British government, then burned by angry colonists in Rhode Island a year later.

3oz Broadbent Madeira
1oz Lemon Juice
.5oz Caperitif
Shake, double strain into coupe.
Garnish with lemon swath

Luke Vardy’s Party
Luke Vardy was a masonic brother in revolutionary Boston, famous for hosting evenings of “drinking, gaming and recounting love affairs.” At one of these parties, two men got in a fight over cards, wine, or maybe the love of a woman, resulting in Boston’s first duel. It took place on Boston Common, where both combatants stripped naked and dueled with swords. A man named Woodbridge was the loser, receiving a mortal blow. The unnamed victor was whisked away by friends and immediately put onto a ship set to leave the colony. It is rumored that he was related to a powerful Bostonian who might not have appreciated such a scandal being associated with him.

1) Start by peeling 4 lemons into the bottom of a medium-sized container. Muddle the peels with 1 cup of sugar until the oils begin to coat the sugar. Leave the mixture to macerate for 45 minutes.
2) Pour 4 cups of fresh Lipton’s black tea over lemon peels slowly to dissolve the sugar and stir.
3) Add: 1 cup lemon juice, 4 cups Smith & Cross Rum, 2 cups cognac, and 1⁄2 cup peach brandy. Stir together to mix all ingredients. Let cool, then serve.

The Failure of Samuel Sewall
Samuel Sewall was a Superior Court Justice in Massachusetts who presided over the Salem witch trials. He was also well known for his distaste for the consumption of hard spirits in the colonies. However, judging from a story from roughly 1700, his clout as a Justice only extended so far. “Sewall attempted to break up a riotous group at a tavern by shaming them for their intoxicated state. They ignored him and continued in their revelries. Instead of quieting the disturbance, he endured humiliation.”

1 shot of Deacon Giles Spiced rum, served in a small copper mug.
Guests may keep the mug.

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