Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Beija, Mixologist Jonathan Henson & Great Bay

Have you muddled before?

Last evening, I did a bit of muddling, something which I will admit I rarely have done. But it was fun and the end results were delicious. I am talking about using a muddle, a kind of pestle, to mash and crush some fruit and brown sugar cubes for a cocktail.

Kevin Beardsley and Steve Diforio, who created Beija, began their Art of the Cocktail Series last evening at Great Bay in Boston. This is an opportunity for a small group of people to get some lessons in cocktail creation, using Beija, with the assistance of some of Boston’s finest mixologists. I attended their inaugural event and it went very well and everyone present seemed to have a great time.

I have been a fan of Beija since I first tasted it in January. I love its smoothness and unique herbal flavors. It is a very distinctive liquor and is good just on the rocks or mixed in a cocktail. I found it to be a very versatile liquor, that can mix well with a wide variety of items.

At the Great Bay event, we met Mixologist Jonathan Henson who was to be our guide and instructor. Jonathan was very personable, down to earth and knowledgeable. It was a pleasure to meet him, especially when I saw his passion for mixology.

About ten people attended the event, making for a nice, intimate class. We began tasting The Beekeeper which is made with Beija, Laxas Albarino and Bärenjäger honey liquer. This drink intrigued me as I very much like Laxas Albarino and was curious how it would pair with the Beija. I enjoyed the taste of Beekeeper but found it a bit sweet for my tastes. Though I could easily drink one, it would be too sweet for me to want a second. Though people who enjoy sweeter drinks would very much like this. The flavor of the Beija was noticeable and not hidden by the other ingredients. Plus, I detected some of the good citrus flavor of the Albarino as well.

Jonathan was also nice enough to make a couple precursors to the Beekeeper, to show how the cocktail has changed over time. First, we tried it with just Beija and Lillet, and no honey liquer. I very much enjoyed that cocktail and it is the type of drink I could sit and have a few. We also tried it with just Beija and Laxas Albarino, again with no honey liquer. That too was an excellent combination and I definitely preferred it without the sweetness of the honey liquer. In both of these drinks, the flavors of the Beija were prominent but there was the addition of other, intriguing flavors as well that complemented the Beija. Though these two drinks are not listed on Great Bay's cocktail list, just ask Jonathan, or another bartender, for them and they will make one for you.

While we were sipping cocktails, we were served a diverse selection of delicious appetizers, from halibut tacos to tuna maki. My personal favorite of the evening was the pork belly topped with peach and black truffle. This was a new creation of the chef and it was outstanding. The pork was moist, tender and flavorful and the peach and truffle made an excellent combination. I could have easily wolfed down a dozen of them. It is possible, and I will keep my fingers crossed, that the pork belly with get added to their $1 bar menu.

Next up, we tried the Beija New Fashioned and got to muddle. Our old-fashioned glasses contained Peychaud's bitters, orange slices, cherry preserves, couple brown sugar cubes and a little simple syrup. We then took our wooden muddles and started to crush and mash everything together. The fruit became juice and the sugar eventually dissolved into the liquid. When we felt we had muddled enough, ice and Beija were added to the drink. This was intended to be an update of the traditional Old Fashioned, which usually uses bourbon. This was another winner cocktail, and had been voted on at Great Bay as the best Beija cocktail. I enjoyed the blend of herbal and fruit flavors, the Beija's distinctive taste shining through. It was not too sweet and was quite refreshing. I could easily drink these all night.

The final cocktail of the evening was the Expatriate, a Beija version of a Mai Tai. This is certainly a fitting mix, replacing ordinary rum with Beija. Jonathan also put his own spin on it with some different ingredients such as Ginger Beer and Orgeat, a sweet syrup. I like Mai Tais, though they also sometimes tend to be too sweet. The Expatriate though was not like that. It actually had a strong resemblance to a Mai Tai but with a slightly more herbal taste though I liked it very much. Another top notch cocktail.

Jonathan's cocktails let the flavors of Beija stand out and not get masked by the other ingredients. I think that is very important when you have a liquor with interesting flavors. You don't want to drink just fruit juice. You want the flavors of the liquor to shine through as well, and be complemented by the other ingredients. Jonathan succeeded quite well in that regard.

Here are Jonathan's recipes for the Beija cocktails. Stop by Great Bay and order a couple or see if Jonathan has created something new. If you go, maybe you will see me there too as I will be returning for drinks and food.

Beija Beekeeper
1 oz Beija
1 oz Bärenjäger honey liquer
1.5 oz dry white wine (such as Laxas Albarino)
Combine all the ingredients in a shaker, Stir gently 20-25 times. Strain into a wine glass. Garnish with mint or an edible flower.

Beija New Fashioned
2 oz Beija
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
a wheel of orange
a maraschino cherry
2 brown sugar cubes
a dash of simple syrup
Combine all the ingredients, except Beija, in an old-fashioned glass. Muddle until sugar dissolves. Add ice, top with Beija. Stir and enjoy.

The Expatriate
1.5 oz Beija
1/2 oz orange Curacao
1/2 oz Orgeat
1/2 oz lime juice
1/2 oz Ginger Beer
Float of Pimm's No. 1
Combine all ingredients, except Pimm's, in a shaker. Using the back of a bar spoon or the lip of the glass, gently pour Pimm's onto cocktail. Garnish with candied ginger.

I would also recommend that you check out the other upcoming Art of the Cocktail Series events, including September 9 at Vintage Lounge and September 23 at Lobby Bar & Kitchen. This event was a great time, with lots of nice people, delicious food and excellent cocktails. Check out the myriad of possibilities of Beija.

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