Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain. Credit: Derek Kouyoumjian
I was moaning about the absurdity of the cordials license restrictions here a couple weeks ago, but there's actually a potential upside to it. As in music, or poetry, or any other art form, sometimes stricter parameters can inspire innovation you wouldn't see otherwise. Take away blue from a painter, and they're going to find new ways of seeing red. The same thing, in the right hands, can happen at a bar. Take away vodka, and you get hay-infused whiskey
“It forces us to be more creative,” says Stanislas Hilbert, general manager Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain of the bar's restricted booze palate. “That's why we do infusions and things like that, that compliment flavors or contrast flavors of cordials. That's really the advantage that license gave us.”
People are looking for things that are different now, with so many classic and “craft cocktails” in regular circulation. “Take Bols Genever, which is technically a cordial,” he says of the Dutch style gin that is allowed under their license, but provides a vastly different flavor profile for people accustomed to drinking dry style gins. Or the Rogue Spruce gin from Oregon, which is, as you might guess, flavored with spruce. “It's awesome in a gin and tonic and other things.”
The fact that you might not even be able to order your go-to gin and tonic is also a plus, bartender Joseph Choiniere, who's responsible for much of the cocktail menu, says. “I think the more apt way to put it is it gives us an opportunity to do more creative things. People don't have the chance to fall back on their old standby. We can't make vodka martini, so, we say, this is what we can we do for you. It does push clientele outside their limitations a lot.”
Speaking of limitations, when was the last time you had Skinos, a Greek liqueur made from Mastiha, where mastic spice is derived from? Or the aforementioned hay-infused whiskey? Both show up in Choiniere's The Yankee Division, alongside cachaca, Petal and Thorn vermouth, and Braulio.
“That idea kind of came out of nowhere,” he says of the hay.” A lot of times we have ingredients in the restaurant, the chef at the time brought in hay to do ham and hay, a classic southern prep for a whole pig dinner. I love the warm flavors that came out of the hay, so I looked for something that would handle it well."
He settled on Bully Boy's white whiskey. The infusion itself is, of course, grassy, but there's a curious caraway note that made it drink like an akvavit to my taste. It makes for an interesting match with the Agua Luca cacacha, which is exceptionally smokey. “It adds a certain amount of faux-scothiness to it,” he says, which is helpful, since they can't carry scotch. The vermouth, also from Oregon, adds spicy autumn flavors, he says, while the Braulio, an alpine-style bitter from Torino brings vivid, rich notes to the fore. The Skinos has been one of his favorite ingredients for a while. “It adds a certain aromatic quality to drinks that I have seen in any other ingredients we have,” like hints of frankincense and bergamot. “It's a whole other animal altogether.”
The Skinos also shows up in the Gorilla cocktail, which takes a spiced rye, Cappalletti, and Punt e Mes. It was inspired by a customer looking for something in the style of the classic Cocktail a la Louisiane. Here the Skinos does the work of the absinthe rinse that ushers along the rosemary infused rye, the herbal, orange bitter of the Cappelletti, and the sharp darker bitter of the Punt e Mes. “It's definitely a whisky drink, but somehow ends up being a little refreshing at the same time too.”
I guess we can thank the cordials license for that. Sometimes stupid laws have a way of working out.
If you go Ten Tables 597 Centre St., Jamaica Plain 617.524.8810 tentables.net