Extensive research of the cocktail bar before a visit is my norm, even when it isn’t scheduled for a write up on the blog. So about a quarter of a year ago when I was reading about The Hawthorne Bar at Hotel Commonwealth, it was mostly to do with how celebrated its position is in Boston and the menu it offers. It had been a while so when I had an opportunity to taste the Holiday menu personally, I was almost a blank slate. I intended to keep my mind a blank slate, unlike the previous times. It helped to walk into this subterranean bar and let it all seep through my olfactory and taste buds at a gradual pace. Let me walk you through my experience of tasting the holiday cocktail menu and the vibe of the bar located just off the Kenmore Square Station in Boston.
Unintentionally eclectic, luxurious and balanced decor is what I gathered from my time at the bar. I love the living room and library-esque decor at bars, the old traditional warmth with modern contemporary furniture is what balances the decor. It feels like a progressive person wearing a vintage outfit with a contemporary twist. I loved the long wooden high table with tall chairs that run parallel to the bar. It offers space to gather around and not be very far away from the bartender. The most striking effect to this space are the mirrors on the walls with deep lighting that warms the corners and sets a cozy mood for the entire space. There are sectioned seating, like a small living space for a group of friends and the traditional looking lounge chairs for a couple to enjoy a drink. The many decorative items on the walls are a must capture. A stag head which isn’t real but looks stunning white on a gray wall. The bar has a cozy private dining room where intimate parties and gatherings can be booked. The private room is furnished like a real living room with a full bar and french doors. A holiday party is waiting to happen here with such intimate space to yourself. And finally, the bar which runs almost the length of the space and has an extensive inventory of labels for copious amounts of libations.
I was introduced to Robert Ficks – the bartender at The Hawthorne and he mentioned the names of three cocktails on the menu for the month of December – Autumn Toddy, Tom and Jerry and Browned Butter Rum. I had a set of questions I wanted to ask but I was rather eager to taste the cocktails. First on the bar counter was Autumn Toddy, a warm spiced clear cocktail. When I took my first sip of the toddy cocktail, a hint of spice stayed on my tongue and the flavor paints quite a picture in your head that of a warm fire crackling somewhere in a cabin. The cocktail is a sweet refined libation that stays warm much after sipping a few times. The warmth definitely comes from cinnamon syrup, Straight Apple Brandy, Elijah Craig Bourbon and Barolo Chinato Cocchi.
Over to the joy of tasting Tom and Jerry, a cocktail I was quite curious for simply its name. Well as it turns out you can’t escape the fragrant nutmeg while approaching your concoction. Tom and Jerry tastes like that feeling of merriment you have when there is holiday baking at home and leisurely afternoons around loved ones. This is a warm and aromatic drink that tastes like a promising cuddle in the midst of winter. Rob worked on the batter for the cocktail which had all the winter baking spices and allspice vanilla flavor. Its a stamped must-have for the holiday season in my personal opinion. But I wasn’t done yet and one last swig at a mug of cocktail Browned Butter Rum was in order.
All images courtesy VindScapes
If you repeat Browned Butter Rum in your head I wonder if you too are reminded of a pub in Hogsmead from the wizarding world of Harry Potter. Upon tasting I found the cocktail to be very subtly spiced yet packed with heat. The methodology seemed very complex to get the ingredients but it looks like a pretty simple drink. Read the interview below to learn more about the ingredients of this cocktail.
I had a few questions to interview the bartender and here is what Robert had to say about the holiday cocktails on the menu, the thousand cocktails in their library, the sourcing of their ingredients in Massachusetts and more. You can visit The Hawthorne Bar to know more about their menu and location.
Is there a theme or an inspiration behind this year’s winter cocktails?
Our winter drinks always hew towards the classics, with updated techniques and ingredients that allow us to pack even more flavor into the time-tested originals. For example, our Hot Buttered Rum uses a browned butter that we freeze to skim off solids, allowing a very rich and textured drink without the “oil slick” that is commonplace on a classic version of the cocktail.
What are the ingredients and their source? What was your thought process behind these particular ingredients?
We search the world for the best spirits for our drinks. Every selection on our back bar has been tasted and approved for use in our cocktails – each item is there for a reason, whether a particular flavor profile, botanical, or texture. Additionally, we are lucky to work with a kitchen team at our restaurants that looks towards what’s local and what’s in season for our produce, even in the dead of winter when Massachusetts may not have as much bounty to offer.
Are patrons fastidious about their bespoke cocktails?
These days I am seeing more and more folks head back to classic drinks, whether a Negroni or a Manhattan, instead of attempting to “design their own” drink in conversation with a bartender. When I’m out at a bar I haven’t been to before, I love reading through their menu and picking out something that sounds interesting, to get a sense of the bar’s philosophy when it comes to ingredient choice and drink making, without putting a bartender on the spot to come up with something they’ve never made before (and expecting it to be delicious on the first go).
Are the usual suspects of winter cocktails available on the menu?
Our menu is short and always-changing – in fact, we release new menus of seven drinks weekly. So, while we are always happy to whip up a Hot Toddy or Lion’s Tail, they may not always be in print on a menu. We have a library of close to a thousand cocktails, ranging in flavor profiles and base spirits, so for most off-menu requests, we are able to get our guests something that will make them happy with a recipe we have already carefully vetted to our standards.
Inventive cocktails usually garner word of mouth quickly. Are there any past hits that will see the menu this year or are there fresh radical libations we will see this year?
At The Hawthorne, we pride ourselves on the exacting and consistent execution of drinks, both classic as well as our modern interpretations. We spend a lot of time with our recipes, tweaking and editing as much as we can muster to make our cocktails as tasty as possible for the wide range of folks that grace our bar nightly. So, perhaps not “radical”, but definitely delicious! Currently, our bartenders are working their way through David Embury’s old cocktail manual “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks”, searching for interesting recipes and bringing them to the table for us to collaborate, digging into their histories and updating the recipes where necessary for the modern palate.
All in all my experience will take me there again and I highly recommend it to all my friends who’d like a spiced cocktail this season.