Bartending. The job used to be simple — pour a glass of wine, shake up the occasional martini, pop off a beer cap and call it a night. Not so any more. Today there are career bartenders. Mixologists. Professionals who stir the cocktail to levels of esteem usually reserved for celebrity chefs’ creations.
“To watch one of these serious professional bartenders do their thing, it makes you realize this is really a craft,” said Boston-based cocktail doyenne Lauren Clark, author of the blog DrinkBoston.com. “It’s not only about making a great-tasting drink that makes you feel good. It’s all about the ceremony of it and even the artistry behind it.”
On Saturday, Ms. Clark (a devotee of the classic and classy, who frowns upon drinks frozen or topped off with cocktail umbrellas) will bring her expertise to the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown as part of the second annual Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival. In an hour-long seminar beginning at the cocktail-appropriate hour of 5:30, Ms. Clark will mix classic cocktails and modern riffs on old favorites.
“Introducing the vintage cocktail is hugely important,” Ms. Clark said this week. “That’s the foundation upon which all of mixology is based. Some of these drinks date back to the 1860s and Prohibition, and some are really creative, really inventive. They’re not all great, but when they are rediscovered and when you taste them, you understand why cocktails were so important, why cocktail culture was such a big thing. You understand why those grand hotel bars were created.”
A research and development writer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology by day, Ms. Clark was freelance writing by night when she found herself frustrated at the lack of information about the Boston bar scene. “I wanted an authoritative resource on where and how to drink well in Boston,” she said. So she started DrinkBoston.com, the city’s first comprehensive Web site dedicated to bars and drinks. The site lists events and recipes and has pages dedicated to the best Boston bars and bartenders and rules and logistics of how to drink in the city. “I compare it to people who appreciate fine dining,” Ms. Clark said, explaining the thirst of people who read her site. “You go to where the best chefs work.”
So on Saturday, the cocktail connoisseur is bringing her secrets to the Vineyard. For $50, audience members will learn to make two of her standards: a gin and vermouth martini and the Ward Eight, Boston’s best-known cocktail, made from whiskey, lemon juice and a bit of sugar and grenadine. The drink was first served at the city’s Locke-Ober restaurant around 1898 to celebrate the foregone election success of influential politician Martin M. Lomasney, nicknamed the Czar of Ward Eight, in his race for the state legislature. Following the tradition of corrupt Boston politics, the victory celebration took place the day before the election.
Ms. Clark will also stir up two new cocktails, both invented by Boston mixologists. The first is the Can-Can. Created by the Boston chapter of the Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails (LUPEC), the recipe calls for sour cherries (five of them), yellow Chartreuse, fresh grapefruit juice, Angostura bitters and sparkling wine. The second is the Ninth Ward, a spin on the Ward Eight, created after Hurricane Katrina. The drink mixes bourbon, elderflower liqueur, falernum syrup, fresh lime juice and the New Orleans-created Peychaud’s bitters. “Both drinks use vintage ingredients, fresh juices and all the good stuff they used to use back in the day,” Ms. Clark explained.
Samples of all four drinks will be passed. Ms. Clark encourages anyone interested in cocktails, expert or novice, to attend.
“If you’re not sure what a great-tasting cocktail tastes like, then you should come. If you’re a person who cares about food and drink, then you’re a person who needs a good cocktail,” she said.
She warned, however, the experience is not for the timid. “If you’re coming to my session, you’re not going to get a vodka drink. Have an open mind about your taste in spirits,” she advised. “You’re gonna get some whiskey and some rye gin. Don’t be afraid.”
Ms. Clark’s seminar is only one event of many in this weekend’s three-day food and wine festival. The festival, organized by the Edgartown Board of Trade, seeks to highlight the local, seasonal bounty of the Island, and to boost Vineyard businesses as the shoulder season wraps up. “I think it’s really good for the town. It’s really good for everybody,” said one of the organizers, Carol McManus, of Espresso Love Café.
The festival begins tonight with Small Plates from the Grill Grates, a benefit for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. It takes place inside a tent on museum grounds from 5 to 7 p.m. and features sample fare from guest chefs Dante de Magistris and Andy Husbands, both of Boston. When he stepped off the ferry, Mr. Husbands had an unusual piece of luggage with him: an 18-foot smoker which he used today to smoke 200 pounds of pork shoulder, some of which came from the Farm Institute in Katama. Mr. de Magistris will present cod donated by Louis Larsen of the Net Result. Wine experts Nina Wemyss and Margrit Mondavi will be pouring from select bottles and sharing secrets of winemaking, and Katama Bay oysters will be available as well. Tickets to the event are $100, and for the price, guests will also enjoy music from Jeremy Berlin and a silent auction. After the event, attendees are encouraged to dine at Island restaurants.
Things kick off early Saturday with two 10 a.m. seminars — a wine and cheese tasting at North Water Gallery and a beer and cheese sampling at David Ryan’s restaurant. Both events feature guest speakers, experts in their fields, and the beer tasting highlights the home-brewed lagers of Offshore Ale in Oak Bluffs.
At 11:30 a.m., a chocolate and dessert wine tasting takes place at the Christina Gallery, and at 1 p.m., the theme is olive oil and bread at Atlantic Restaurant.
Each of the seminars is limited to 40 guests, and ticket prices range from $60 to $40. Attendees will walk away with delighted palates and secrets of the trade (such as, serve olive oil in dark bowls so the color does not influence the taste; where to buy environmentally-friendly wines; and which beer tastes best with Gouda).
Also on Saturday is the grand tasting, an event which lets guests sample dishes from the Island’s best chefs — Kevin Crowell of Détente, Christian Thornton of Atria, Antonio Saccoccia of the Grill on Main — and sample wines from 15 vintners. Local cookbook authors will be on hand to sell and sign their books. Two hundred tickets ($100 each) are available for the event, which takes place at the museum.
On Saturday night, the festival hosts two private dinners, one at the Boathouse and one at a private home. Both cost $500. One features a local, seasonal menu created and executed by the chef of popular Cambridge restaurant Henrietta’s Table; the other is themed Sustainable Seafood and includes lectures from a Harvard Medical School professor of Healthy and Sustainable Food Programs and from the coordinator of the New England Aquarium’s Celebrate Seafood Dinner Series.
The festival closes Sunday with a Farmers’ Brunch. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., guests can wander through the tent outside the museum and buy breakfast treats and goods from local farmers. Crafts and games for children will take place inside the museum.
Last year, the festival was not a money-maker for the board of trade, but the board is optimistic that in its second year, the event will bring more success. Early ticket sales indicate as much. As of Wednesday, 70 per cent of tickets for large-scale events and 50 per cent of tickets for the seminars had sold out. Tickets are available today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Colonial Inn on North Water street and also at the door of all events.
“This year I think we’ll break even,” Ms. McManus said. She hopes in the future to spread the events across the whole Island and grow as popular as the springtime food and wine festival on Nantucket: “Down the road, we’re only going to get bigger and bigger.”
For more information on the second annual Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival, visit mvfoodandwine.com.